Visiting Santa Rosa National Park
Santa Rosa is one of Costa Rica’s first National Parks. This has effectively preserved some of its raw authenticity and character. The park covers approximately 500 square kilometers of the northern half of Guanacaste. The Santa Rosa National Park was originally founded as a way of conserving a site with historical significance for the Costa Rican people, the Battle of Santa Rosa, which is still commemorated in the Hacienda Santa Rosa at the beach trail entrance. Now it also serves as a conservation area for the tropical dry forest and a wide array of fauna. Additionally, it is home to two nesting beaches receiving the Olive Ridley Turtles. Respect, nature and history define this stunning park that will help you experience a unique side of Costa Rica. Next to the appeal of the natural surroundings, Santa Rosa has a great reputation as a surfer paradise. Playa Naranjo is a top class surf destination that can challenge even the most seasoned surfer! It is categorized as a dry forest just like the bordering Guanacaste National Park and the further off Diria National Park, Palo Verde and Barra Honda National Park. The flora and fauna is stunning and varied and can be explored through various hiking trails. The forest as well as the playa is a great destination for the off-road and camping enthusiasts.
Santa Rosa National Park
There are over 100 different species of mammals ranging from jaguars to the white-tailed deer and 250 various species of bird that inhabit this dry yet tropical forest. Some areas of the tropical dry forest contain trees that are at least 500 years old and others that are planted for sustainability purposes. Most of the plateau region now consists of the fire resistant Bignoniaceae trees, replacing African pasture grass. But the further you travel, the more native diversity you can enjoy!
Surfing at Playa Naranjo
The spectacular Playa Naranjo is known for the Witch’s Rock. Does this stunning site look familiar? Then you may have seen it in the classic surfer movie ‘Endless Summer II’. This is Costa Rica’s ultimate spot for the surfer looking to push his boundaries. With the sandy sea bottom, surfing at Santa Rosa is considered less dangerous. In fact, surfers of all levels are welcome depending on the season they choose to visit. For those looking for the highest waves and the best tuberiding, visit during rainy season (May-November). This is the time for the best off shore winds that produce more challenging waves. Sometimes even up to 300 meters!
Getting to this beach is a bit of an adventure and so is staying at it. Unlike most other Guanacaste beaches, this playa is surrounded by protected areas and and all that is provided for you is a camping area just beyond the ranger station and a couple of outdoor showers and toilets. After the monument of Hacienda Santa Rosa, the road is pure rock and gravel and goes straight down. Only travels with a 4-wheel drive car, hikers or brave mountain bikers should go down this 8 k trail. Along the way you have a couple of vistas and may spot wildlife monkeys and even hear the howler monkeys.
Once at the beach, you can take two trails to the witch rock. The short trail through the forest (watch out for snakes!) or simply walk along the stunning, pristine beach.
Playa Nancite is one of the world’s only protected area for olive Ridley turtle mass-nesting sites. Only biologists and students or those that acquire a permit can visit. Playa Naranjo also welcomes these sea turtles and here you can spot them more easily. The turtle nesting is an awe-inspiring seasonal event well worth viewing! If you want to see more of these beautiful creatures, definitely pay a visit to Ostional Wildlife Refuge as well.
Most of us have heard of self-declared 19th century commander William Walker. His ambitions to turn Central America into slaving territory, reached a climactic end at Santa Rosa. Walker’s army of mercenaries were crushed by 9000 Costa Rican civilians. To this day, the battle isn’t only one of great significance in the history of Central America. It is also one that helped create a national identity that still shapes Costa Rica to this day.
If you want to learn more about this battle and actually set foot on the place where it happened, you can. Visit the La Casona Hacienda museum at the park entrance and soak up the atmosphere of this historic site!
Visit during rainy season for surfing: If you are an advanced surfer, you will love the Witch’s Rock between the months of May and November. This time of year produces the highest waves and best tuberiding.
Visit during the dry season for hiking: I you just want to visit the museum and hike, visiting between December and May is a much better idea.
See the turtles during rainy season: For the nature lovers wanting to see the turtles nesting, you will stand a better chance between July and November.
Arrange for a tour or camping trip: Santa Rosa National Park is a pretty remote area. To make it easier on yourself and get the most out of your trip, arrange for a tour covering all the sites you wish to visit.
Liberia is less than an hour away from Santa Rosa National Park. You can fly into Liberia from an international flight or a domestic one coming from San Jose. If you choose to drive, note that Santa Rosa is 250 km from San Jose and can take up to 4 hours to reach. The best option is to take a tour to Santa Rosa National Park with the shuttle rides included.
Santa Rosa’s pristine qualities are well respected and maintained. This means you shouldn’t expect 4-star dining in this area. Your best option is to choose a great hotel close to the park and arrange for an all-in tour from there. We have some amazing options listed below.
Where to stay
Hilton Garden Inn Outdoor Pool
Respecting Santa Rosa’s natural heritage is very important. That’s why it hasn’t been subjected to the construction of big hotels or resorts. Those who love camping can do so on the official camping grounds at Playa Naranjo. But those looking for more class, should definitely consider staying near Liberia or at the Gulf of Papagayo. From here you can arrange a tour to this stunning park. The Hilton Garden Inn in Liberia is located at just one hour from Santa Rosa. Next to the prime location you can also enjoy free shuttle service to and from the airport. For the Gulf of Papagayo, check out Secrets Papagayo Resort & Spa. This all-inclusive hotel is located in a beautiful secluded bay and focuses on an adult only public. For a family friendly option, read more about Casa Conde Beachfront Hotel.