The National Parks of Costa Rica
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Destination content © Christopher P. Baker, used from Moon Handbooks Costa Rica, 5th edition.
Parque Nacional Palo Verde, 28 km south of Bagaces, protects 13,058 hectares of floodplain, marshes, limestone ridges, and seasonal pools in the heart of the driest region of Costa Rica--the Tempisque basin, at the mouth of the Río Tempisque in the Gulf of Nicoya. The tidal river rises and falls up to four meters and is navigable for about 36 km, as far as the confluence with the Río Bolsón. There are 15 different habitats (including several types of swamp and marshland) and a corresponding diversity of fauna. Plump crocodiles wallow on the muddy riverbanks, salivating, no doubt, at the sight of coatis, white-tailed deer, and other mammals come down to the water to drink. The banks of the Tempisque are also lined with many hundreds of archaeological sites for the curious.

Palo Verde is best known as a bird-watchers' paradise. More than 300 bird species have been recorded, not least great curassows and the only permanent colony of scarlet macaws in the dry tropics. At least a quarter of a million wading birds and waterfowl flock here in fall and winter, when much of the arid alluvial plain swells into a lake. Isla de Pájaros, in the middle of the Río Tempisque, is particularly replete with waterbirds, including white ibis, roseate spoonbills, anhingas, and wood storks, which prefer the isolation, and jabiru storks, the largest storks in the world. Isla de Pájaros is also home to the nation's largest colony of black-crowned night herons.

The park is laced by three well-maintained trails that lead through deciduous tropical forest and marshland to lookout points over the lagoons. Others lead to limestone caves and large waterholes such as Laguna Bocana, which are gathering places for a diversity of birds and animals. Limestone cliffs rise behind the old Hacienda Palo Verde, now the park headquarters, eight km south of the park entrance. Ask a ranger to point out the mango trees nearby. The fruits of the mango are favored by peccaries, monkeys, coatimundis, deer, and other mammals.

The park, which derives its name from the palo verde (green tree) or horsebean shrub that retains a bright green coloration year-round, is contiguous to the north with the remote 7,354-hectare Dr. Rafael Lucas Rodríguez Caballero Wildlife Refuge and, beyond that, Lomas Barbudal Biological Reserve, to the north. The three, together with Barra Honda National Park and adjacent areas, form the Tempisque Megapark. Dr. Rafael Lucas Rodríguez Caballero Wildlife Refuge has a similar variety of habitats--from swampland to evergreen forest and dry forest--and wildlife.

Dry season is by far the best time to visit, although the Tempisque basin can get dizzyingly hot. Access is far easier then. Deciduous trees lose their leaves, making bird-watching easier. Wildlife gathers by the waterholes. And there are far fewer mosquitoes and bugs. When the rains come, mosquitoes burst into action--bring bug spray. Biting insects abound. And bring binoculars.

This is an small excerpt from Moon Handbooks Costa Rica. CentralAmerica.Com highly recommends that you enhance your vacation by taking a copy of Moon's comprehensive Handbook with you. For more information visit the Moon Handbooks page on this site.

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