Parque Nacional Santa Rosa

Santa Rosa National Park holds a coveted place in the hearts of Tico and international visitors for its historical and natural importance. Tucked in the northwestern corner of Costa Rica, the 38,674-ha national park has grown to encompass the entire Santa Elena Peninsula and now protects, with the Murciélago Sector to the north, the largest area of dry tropical forest in Central America.

The historical significance of the region is also an essential part of
Tico
identity. As early as 1663 the land was prized for cattle raising with the founding of a ranch in the area. In the 1850s, the prying eyes of US filibuster William Walker saw the Santa Rosa Hacienda - La Casona - as an essential foothold for his imperialist ideals to take over and reunite Central America. After a brief but fierce battle at La Casona, impassioned Costa Ricans ousted Walker's forces after what was to be the greatest threat to the recently created independent republic. The park and the house have become an essential visit for every
Tico
. A more recent threat to La Casona saw the historic building almost destroyed by fire in May of 2001 - its restoration is now complete and the new building as good as the old.

Wildlife

The immediate appeal of the park is the abundant and relatively easy to see wildlife. During the dry season from November to May, the mainly deciduous trees shed their leaves and the animals depend on shrinking water holes until they dry up completely. Descending from the park's upper reaches, the open dry tropical forest makes it easier to spot the fleeing white-tailed deer and the dozing howler, spider and white-faced monkeys found within the park, but keep expectations realistic. In coastal regions, mangrove swamp is the
predominant vegetation. Between August and December on
Playa Nancite
, the phenomenon
of the
arribada
involves thousands of Olive Ridley turtles arriving on the beach in an orgy of collective reproduction. South along the coastline,
Playa Naranjo
is one of Costa Rica's most beautiful beaches, a surfing mecca, and one of the hardest to reach - the sight of a near-deserted beach of golden sand is a just reward for a sterling effort.

To the north the
Murciélago Sector
, reached through Cuajiniquil, protects over 70 species of bat found in this part of the park.

La Casona

Arching roof ridges and straining beams once took the tremendous weight of both the century-old tiles and the history bestowed upon this unassuming hacienda building that has been at the crux of Costa Rican history. First records show the property was created in 1663, but the strategic significance of the region was bought to the fore by the north American William Walker. An advocate of slavery, Walker believed the independent aspirations of Central America had strayed too far from the interests of its northern neighbour. Having walked into Nicaragua and gained the presidency, Walker's attention turned to its southern neighbour Costa Rica. His attempts to conquer Costa Rica were founded on, and floundered, at La Casona.

The Costa Ricans, under the leadership of José María Cañas, defeated Walker's band of filibusters on the afternoon of 20 March 1856. The strategic significance of the area was reinforced again in 1919 when troops marched from Nicaragua to overthrow President Federico Tinoco, and again in 1955 during the presidency of José Figueres Ferrer 'Don Pepe'. On both occasions the invading troops were defeated.

The arson attack of May 2001, by a couple of vengeful hunters angry that hunting was banned in the park, completely destroyed the collection of military paraphernalia and exhibits recording the lifestyle and events that took place at La Casona. The structure was reconstructed using money raised through private donations from
Ticos
outraged at such a sacrilegious act. Restoring La Casona to its former glory was an impossible dream, but the inclusion of original features such as the late 19th-century roof tiles salvaged from the flames have added a historical aura to an otherwise sterile replica. Behind the hacienda there are good views across the surrounding area.

Treks and trails

A number of short trails lead out from the administration area and a detailed trail map is available at the entrance. Behind the Casona, the short
Indio Desnudo
(naked Indian) nature trail (1 km), takes a loop through fine stands of dry tropical forest with the red peeling bark of the gumbo limbo tree,
with annotated signposts. The
Tierras Emergidas
trail runs parallel to the entrance road. The longest sensible one-day trek is to
Mirador Valle Naranjo
, some 6 km from the administration buildings.

Longer treks to
Playa Naranjo
and
Playa Nancite
require an overnight stay and should be booked with the administration offices. (There is a 4WD track leading to both beaches, but do not rely on being able to use it.) The trail descends gently over 12 km, moving slowly through dry tropical forest and a multitude of butterflies. By the time you've reached the lower altitudes, your eye will be well trained in spotting the iguanas, crabs and monkeys that are very much in evidence. With luck, you may even see green macaws, white-lipped pecaries, tapirs and possibly pumas, which are reported to be increasing in number in the park. A left fork leads to Playa Naranjo, the right to Playa Nancite, a restricted area that receives thousands of breeding Olive Ridley turtles. Heading south to Naranjo is the brackish
Limbo Lagoon
home to the American crocodile. The beach itself is awesome; stretching for miles around the bay and will probably be deserted. That said, it's a popular surfing spot, and out in the bay, is the surfing mecca of
Witches' Rock
- one of the oldest geological formations in Costa Rica at 680 million years old. Even so you'll still have the place to yourself. At the southern end of the Limbo Lagoon is the 6-km Carbonal trail taking in dry forest and mangroves; back on the access road to the north of the lagoon is the 3-km Los Patos trail with good panoramic views.

Murciélago Sector

The annexation of the Murciélago Sector to the north incorporates the whole of the Santa Elena peninsula within the park boundaries. While access to this section of the park is more difficult, it is possible to camp at the entrance to the park and there are several trails. It is possible to get out to
Playa Blanca
in the dry season in a 4WD, but at other times of year you will need permission from park authorities. This small beach with its pristine white sand is one of the most isolated and beautiful beaches in Costa Rica and is also one of the safest bathing areas in the region.

Close to Cuajiniquil is the airstrip built by Oliver North during the 1980s to supply the Nicaraguan Contras. It was built on a property formerly owned by the Nicaraguan leader Somosa before it was purchased for the national park. The
Bahía Junquillal Wildlife Refuge
is also part of the national park. It's a popular spot with local families and has facilities for
camping
. A dirt road continues north eventually reaching the
Bahía de Salinas
- a 4WD vehicle is essential in the wet season.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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