Guanacaste is home to eight national parks, each known for their vast habitats, natural beauty, and varied wildlife. You’ve probably heard of many of them: from leatherback turtle beaches at our own Las Baulas National Marine Park to the canals of Palo Verde National Park, Guanacaste is famous for its parks. Except one. One that flies decidedly under the radar.
Welcome to Guanacaste’s best-kept secret. Kick off your flip-flops and get out your hiking shoes. We’re going to Diria National Park!
Here, what was once a protected area is now a national park – an upgrade courtesy of Diria National Park’s varied ecosystems, strong conservation efforts, and entertainment value. That’s right, Diria is not only beautiful but also a fun place to visit: Filled with crystal-clear river waters, a majestic waterfall, interwoven trails, and an abundance of birds, mammals, and other animal species.
Diria National Park Overview:
Location: 10 miles south of Santa Cruz
Founded: 1991 (became a national park in 2004)
Maximum Altitude: 5,905 feet (1,800 meters) above sea level
Area: 13,410 acres
Hours: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Telephone: 2686-4968 / 2686-4970
Entrance Fee: $6 adults / $5 children
One of the most lovely things about Diria National Park is its dedication to different. In comparison to many of Guanacaste’s national parks, which unroll over hot and arid lowlands, Diria’s scenery is much more diverse – and altitudinal!
Nearly 10,000 of Diria’s acreage is comprised of tropical dry forest, which then climbs to fresh, sky-high premontane tropical wet forest for the remaining 3,500 acres. All this boils down to cooler temperatures, higher elevations (up to nearly 6,000 feet), and varied habitats – a trifecta that creates not only lush scenery, but an important transitional zone for Costa Rica’s plants, birds, mammals and reptiles.
Diria National Park is a park in process – ever developing. That said, as of 2018 there are three hiking trails: one short walking loop, one long loop, and a trail that leads to Brazil Waterfall, which only flows in the rainy season.
The short loop takes about 30-40 minutes to hike, offering three lookout points along the way. The longer loop requires a total 1-1.5 hours and extends off the short loop, weaving through dry forest and two more lookout points to the surrounding mountains, before doubling back to the short loop; alternately, you can take the steep return descent along a gravel road.
The waterfall trail passes two more lookout points and also offers access to the seasonal Brazil Waterfalls and a natural swimming hole. This hike can be physically demanding and is thus recommended only for hikers in good physical condition.
As of 2018, Diria National Park is working hard to build a series of mountain bike trails – and their accompanying mountain bike tours – as part of a community tourism project and sustainable effort. The long, demanding trails will highlight the park’s broken terrain, which can soar more than 3,000 feet in just 7.5 miles.
Flora and Fauna:
And that brings us to the reason you’re here: flora and fauna, plants and animal life. And in this case, you’re in luck. Diria National Park is home to important virgin forest which, unlike secondary (regenerative) forest, has never been cut, farmed, or otherwise changed from its natural state.
All good things for local plant and animal life, which have populated these forests for centuries.
Among other impressive tree species, you may spot the iconic Guanacaste, rosewood, gumbo limbo, ash, and the spiky pochote. Trails are labeled with plaques to identify the trees, so be sure to have a look.
That said, we know you’re probably here for the wildlife, so you should know that Diria houses an exhilarating variety of large mammals, including howler monkeys, coatimundi, coyotes, white-faced monkeys, anteaters, boar, possums, and occasional jaguarondi. Snakes, reptiles, and amphibians are also common sightings, as are all manner of butterflies. (Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for the ethereal blue morphos, which often flutter in eye-catching groups!)
All that said, Diria’s real stand-out claim-to-fame is its birding. This is paradise for birdwatchers, who flock (see what we did there?) to the park to spot at least 134 bird species that live here. Among the possible sightings are the squirrel cuckoo, turquoise-browed motmot, collared aracari, stub-tailed spadebill, ivory-billed woodcreeper, plain chachalaca, broad-winged hawk, elegant trogon, olive sparrow, long-tailed manakin, barred antshrike, a great kiskadee, masked tityra, and banded wren, among many others.
How many will you check off your list?
Spotlight on: Blue Morpho Butterfly
Blue morphos are a common sighting at and around Diria National Park. Did you know:
- There are several blue morpho butterfly species. “Morpho” is actually the genus, which breaks down to nearly 30 different morpho species, including several of which that are blue.
- Speaking of, only the males are blue! Well, usually. Females tend more toward brown, yellow, and black shades.
- And even more mind-bending, they’re not actually blue. A blue morpho’s wings are not pigmented blue, but rather are composed of diamond-shaped scales that refract light to look blue.
- They have brilliant camouflage. To counterbalance their iridescent blue color, which could create problems with predators, blue morphos are brown on their top side. They also feature “eye” spots and emit a stink when they feel threatened.
- They don’t eat. But they do drink! Their favorites include tree sap, decomposing fruits (and even animals), fungi, and wet mud.
- And the love the light! And because they refract light so well, you can see them from far away. Pilots have even reported seeing large groups, flying through the sun-drenched canopy.
To hike Diria National Park, you’ll need hiking shoes or, in the dry season, at least a pair of sturdy, closed-toed shoes (preferably sneakers). It is never advisable to hike in sandals or open footwear, in case of a close snake encounter. Additionally, be sure to pack plenty of sunblock and insect repellent, as well as sun protection (like hats).
Facilities at Diria are sparse; at times, even the ranger cannot be found. Be sure to take plenty of water, snacks, and other refreshments. (You can stock up in Santa Cruz, where you can also grab a quick meal at a local soda, or mom-and-pop restaurant.)
If you’re visiting during the dry season, when every last drop of water has evaporated from the surrounding scenery, then your best chance of spotting wildlife is at river mouths and other wet areas: birds, mammals, and reptiles often gather here, sipping from the oft-trickling waters of the riverbed.
While you can visit Diria National Park any time of year, for best bird-watching, aim for the dry season (December through April). Otherwise known as North America’s winter, this is the season for both resident birds and migratory species alike.
That said, in green season, Diria’s rivers flow freely and the Brazil Waterfall roars to life. Note that in the highlands of Diria, rain falls fast and heavy, and roads, trails, and paths can be very slippery. Do not attempt to cross rivers, creeks, or other unknown bodies of water, if you can’t measure their depth.
Facilities & Services:
As Costa Rican national parks go, Diria’s facilities are rather sparse. Officially, you’ll find potable water, lookout points, camping areas, restrooms, and parking.
Unofficially, Diria is one of Costa Rica’s least-visited national parks. The on-duty ranger is often out in the field, rather than manning a front desk that receives few daily visitors. If you arrive and no ranger is on duty, you may consider leaving your entrance fee at the front desk.
How to Get to Diria National Park:
Diria National Park is located near the city of Santa Cruz, about 50 kms (~31 miles) southeast of Tamarindo.
To Drive: From Tamarindo, take Route 152/Route 160 east to Santa Cruz. From there, take Route 21 south to Arado; in Arado, the road becomes gravel for the final 6 kms. Follow signs to Diria National Park. A 4WD vehicle is highly recommended. You must cross a riverbed to reach the park entrance; in rainy season, the river can be high. Some choose to park and wade across the river.
Private Transportation/Tours: If you’re not quite up for the adventure of tackling Costa Rica’s backroads on your own, but you still want to hike, then your best option is to hire a driver or book a guide to Diria National Park. With either option, a guide will pick you up in Tamarindo and ferry you to the park in an air-conditioned 4×4. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.
If you’d like help arranging a tour to Diria National Park, a rental 4×4, or private transport, please get in touchwith our concierge, Cris! Her services are free and we promise, she’ll hook you up with the best option to match your adventure style.