Tropical Dry Forest
Santa Rosa National Park protects some of the last remaining tropical dry forest in the world. The small patch of oak forest near the entrance to the Comelco Ranch is probably representative of the original habitat of much of the park. Ranchers burned most of the plateau region, and African pasture grass (Hyparrenia rufa) and the fire resistant Bignoniaceae trees define the current landscape. Nearer the beaches the habitat becomes more native-like.
Guanacaste National Park was created in 1989 to connect Santa Rosa National Park with the high elevation cloud forest of Orosi and Cacao volcanoes and across the continental divide to the Caribbean rainforest of Northern Costa Rica. The hope is that together these two parks protect enough land to ensure sufficiently large habitats for wide-ranging species such as jaguars and mountain lions while simultaneously creating a biological corridor for birds and insects to make local seasonal migrations between the dry forest and the evergreen cloud and rain forests.
Beaches-Turtles, Scuba and Surfing
There are two important sea turtle nesting beaches in Santa Rosa, Naranjo and Nancite. The latter is one of two beaches in Costa Rica (the other is Ostional) where Pacific Ridley Sea Turtles come ashore each year in large arribadas to lay their eggs.
These mass arrivals can include thousands of individuals in a single night, usually on a new moon in late summer.
The beach at Naranjo is also famous for surfing, and the area near witch’s rock was a filming location for the cult surfing classic ‘Endless Summer II.’ There is a campground at Naranjo beach.
From outside the park you can arrange scuba-diving trips to Islas Murciélago, (the Bat Islands), off the Santa Elena Peninsula.
Hiking Trails and Maps
There are a number of excellent trails in Santa Rosa National Park for day or overnight trips.
1:50,000 Topographical maps are available online from Omni Maps (sheets CR50 3048 I, and CR50 3048 IV cover most of the park, but CR50 3048 II, and CR50 3048 III are required for the southern edges)
When to Visit
This is one of the hotter drier areas of Costa Rica, and the whole Guanacaste region has more predictable seasons than the rest of Costa Rica. The chance of rain is much less during the dry season from December to April.
Although it is fairly likely that it will rain on any given day during the rainy season (AKA the green season), it is also fairly likely that it will be a short shower in mid-afternoon. The rainy season which lasts from May until November is also usually interrupted by a two or three week dry spell in late July or August called the veranillo de San Juan (little summer).
Use the menu to check the seasonal information to help you decide the best month for your visit.
Location – Santa Rosa National Park is located at the northwestern tip of Costa Rica 118 miles (190 km) northwest of San José (136 miles, 219 km by road). Nearest towns Liberia & La Cruz.
Driving directions – From San José, take the Interamerican Highway (1) north 136 miles (219 km) passing through San Ramon, Cañas, and Liberia to the signed left turn at the entrance road.
Bus – Unfortunately there is not a direct way to reach the Santa Rosa Ranger Station by bus. Buses from San José or Liberia to La Cruz and the Nicaraguan border will drop you at the turnoff from the PanAmerican Highway and you’ll have to walk or hitch-hike the 4miles (7 km) to La Casona.
Air – The nearest airport is LIR outside Liberia.
Quick Facts Santa Rosa National Park
One of Costa Rica’s larger parks, Santa Rosa covers 49,515 hectares with a wide range of habitats including beach, mangrove estuary, marine, pasture/farm, and tropical dry forest.
History at Santa Rosa National Park
Santa Rosa may owe its early designation as a National Park to an attempted invasion by U.S. troops. The battle that occurred here is a source of great pride in Costa Rica, and the historical significance of the park helped win its protection by executive decrees in 1970 and 1977.
William Walker was an American lawyer who had designs on an empire. In June of 1855 he arrived in Nicaragua, propped up a failing regime, and set him self up as Commander-in-Chief. With this tenuous authority, he planned to convert all of Central America into slaving territory and use the slaves to build a canal from Lake Nicaragua to the Pacific (the San Juan River is navigable from Lake Nicaragua to the Caribbean so this canal would have linked the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans as the Panama Canal does today).
With the financial backing of the Confederate Union of the southern United States, Walker sent an international army of mercenaries into Costa Rica. When word of the invasion reached the capital, President Juan Rafael Mora organized 9,000 civilians to march to Guanacaste. At the hacienda of Santa Rosa on March 20, 1856, the mercenaries were routed in a 14 minute battle. The victorious Ticos pushed Walker’s forces across the border into Nicaragua where they made another stand in a wooden fort in Rivas. On April 11, 1856 a drummer boy named Juan Santamaría, from Alajuela volunteered to set the fort afire, and although he successfully flushed the mercenaries he lost his life in the battle. He is remembered as a hero.
Walker returned to the United States, where he practiced law for a while before returning to Central America in another takeover attempt. In 1860, he was captured by the Honduran government, found guilty of treason and shot. Interestingly, another central figure in this history met a similar fate. President Mora lost political favor and his job after the battle. When he tried to regain control of the country in a military coup, he was captured, tried for treason and died in front of a firing squad the same year as Walker.
Amazingly, this single incident encompasses much of the military history of Costa Rica. While Ticos are proud of their war heroes, and established Santa Rosa National Park in part to protect La Casona and the other buildings where the victory occurred, they are even prouder of their remarkably peaceful history.