Known for its remote, pristine beaches (reached by several kilometers of hiking trails or 4WD vehicle), Santa Rosa National Park ★ (www.acguanacaste.ac.cr; tel. 2666-5051; entrance $15; day visits 8am–3:30pm) is an isolated place to camp on the beach, surf, bird-watch, or maybe even see sea turtles. Located 30km (19 miles) north of Liberia and 21km (13 miles) south of La Cruz on the Inter-American Highway, Costa Rica’s first national park blankets the Santa Elena Peninsula. Unlike other national parks, it was founded to protect a building, Museo Histórico La Casona ★★, where Costa Rica fought its most important battle on its own soil. In March 1856, days after the mercenary army of U.S. adventurer William Walker invaded Costa Rica on foot, Costa Rican forces surprised, shocked, and routed the foreigners in this very place, killing 26 and capturing 19. Costa Rican–led forces went on to defeat Walker’s men on Nicaraguan soil in the Second Battle of Rivas, setting the stage for Walker’s removal from office and eventual execution. La Casona was destroyed by arson in 2001, but it has been completely rebuilt with exquisite attention to period detail, and it’s among the very best museums dedicated to a single historical event that you’ll find anywhere.
If all this learning has put you in the mood for hiking, try the Indio Desnudo (Naked Indian) trail, a 2.6km (1.5-mile) loop that might take you about 45 minutes. It cuts through a small patch of tropical dry forest and into overgrown former pastureland that is a habitat for white-tailed deer, coatis, and howler and white-faced monkeys.
Camping is allowed at several sites in the park for around $20 per person per day. Camping is near the entrance, the principal ranger station, La Casona, and by playas Naranjo and Nancite.
The Beaches ★★
Eight kilometers (5 miles) west of La Casona, down a rugged road that’s impassable during the rainy season (it’s rough on 4WD vehicles even in the dry season), is Playa Naranjo. Four kilometers (2 1/2 miles) north of Playa Naranjo, along a hiking trail that follows the beach, you’ll find Playa Nancite. Playa Blanca is 21km (13 miles) down a dirt road from Caujiniquil, which itself is 20km (12 miles) north of the park entrance. None of these three beaches has shower or restroom facilities. (Playa Nancite does have some facilities, but they’re in a reservation-only camping area.) Bring along your own water, food, and anything else you’ll need, and expect to find things relatively quiet and deserted.
Playa Nancite is known for its arribadas (“arrivals,” grouped egg-layings) of olive ridley sea turtles, which come ashore to nest by the tens of thousands each year in October. Playa Naranjo is legendary among surfers who have come by boat from Playa del Coco or Tamarindo to ride the towering waves at Witch’s Rock.
On the northern side of the peninsula is Playa Blanca, a remote, calm, white-sand beach. It’s accessible during the dry season by way of the small village of Cuajiniquil.
If you head north from Caujiniquil on a rugged dirt road for a few kilometers, you’ll come to a small annex to the national park system at Playa Junquillal ★ (tel. 2666-5051), not to be confused with the more-developed beach of the same name farther south in Guanacaste. This is a handsome little beach that is also often good for swimming. You’ll have to pay the park entrance fee ($10) to use the beach, and $2 more to camp here. There are basic restroom and shower facilities.
Fun on the Waves
The waters of Bahía Salinas are buffeted by serious winds from mid-November through mid-May, making this a prime spot for windsurfing and kiteboarding. Ecoplaya Beach Resort ★ has good equipment rentals. For kiteboarding, inquire at the Kitesurfing Center, which operates out of the Blue Dream Hotel (www.bluedreamhotel.com; tel. 8826-5221 or 2676-1042) in Playa Copal.
Beach lovers should head to the far western tip of Bahía Salinas, where they’ll find Playa Rajada ★★, a beautiful little white-sand beach, with gentle surf and plenty of shade trees.