Diria National Park: Hiking Near Guanacaste’s Gold Coast

Costa Rica’s Guanacaste region no doubt hosts some great beach destinations. But for those looking to do some hiking, the terrain, which consists of rolling farm fields and patchwork forests, can seem well, a little flat. To find good hiking, many travelers go to the popular Rincon de la Vieja National Park, northeast of Liberia. Rincon is a great choice, but there is another, lesser known park a bit closer to the coast. Diria National Park is located near the town of Santa Cruz and is less than an hour’s drive from many of the popular beach towns like Tamarindo, Playa Grande, Playa Flamingo, Playa Avellanas, and Playas del Coco. Diria hosts an array of interesting plants and wildlife that you probably won’t see from your beach chair. This post will help get you out of your flip-flops and into your hiking boots­.

 

Diria National Park Photo

Orientation

The closest major town to the park is the small city of Santa Cruz, which is located just to the north. Most roads leading to Santa Cruz are nicely paved; however, once you get outside of town, the road turns to dirt and has some steep hills, sharp curves, and stream crossings, depending on the season. We highly recommend a 4×4 vehicle at all times of the year. For detailed directions to the park, check out the bottom of this post.

Trails

The park has three main trails. The first is a short loop which can be hiked in 30-45 minutes. This trail is fairly flat and easy at first but then makes a short accent to a lookout point before turning back toward the ranger station. The second trail continues off the first and is a longer loop (about 1-1.5 hours). This trail follows a ridge along slightly steeper terrain which eventually connects with a dirt road before descending steeply back to the ranger station. From the second trail, you will have nice views of the surrounding mountains. The third trail goes to a seasonal waterfall. At the time of our visit during the dry season (April), the river and waterfall were almost completely dry so we opted not to make the trek. Here’s a trail map to help you get your bearings.

 

Diria National Park Photo 2

What You’ll See

When hiking the park, you’ll notice a difference in the plant and animal life compared to that found along the coast. All of you science buffs will appreciate that this is because you will have left the tropical dry forest of the coastal plain and entered the beginning of the premontane forest. That all sounds a little boring but it basically means that Diria is greener and cooler than the beach, especially in the dry season, because it’s at a higher elevation (150-1,050 meters) and the hills capture more moisture. This makes it an important transition zone for plants, birds, and other animals. When the surrounding lowlands are dry and desolate, birds, mammals, and other animals are able to find food and water here. What that means for you is that more animals live there, making it easier for you to spot wildlife.

 

Diria National Park Howler Monkey and Baby
Mantled Howler Monkey & Baby

 

Animals

We spotted families of mantled howler and white-faced capuchin monkeys, a few white-nosed coati, several spiny-tailed iguana, and a giant blue morpho butterfly or two. Ironically, we saw the most wildlife once we got off the trail. Troops of monkeys were devouring the ripe mangoes in the trees right next to the ranger station.

Birds

Diria is a birding paradise. We aren’t experts but, with all the species around, have gotten into birding since living in Costa Rica. We were delighted to spot many different types of birds along the trail, including Collared (red bellied) Trogons, Turquoise-browed Motmots, Long-tailed Manikins, a Barred Antshrike, a Great Kiskadee, a Squirrel Cuckoo, a Yellow-throated Euphonia, and a Lineated Woodpecker. For tips on improving your bird photography, check out these hints we got from a pro.

 

Diria National Park Birds

 

Plants

Along the trails, you’ll notice some plaques labeling a selection of the tree species found within Diria. Some of them have a wide range like the Guanacaste tree while others, like the laurel, grow here specifically because of that extra moisture. Others we saw included the pochote, ceiba, gumbo limbo, mango, and many more that we could not identify.

What to Wear/Bring

On your way to Diria, stock up on snacks and refreshments in Santa Cruz. Although the ranger station does have basic facilities (they are very basic), there isn’t anything else in the immediate area. Santa Cruz is also a great place to sit down for a meal. There are plenty of sodas (local mom and pop restaurants) just off the main avenue. For the trail, a pair of sneakers will suffice in the dry season but we recommend hiking boots for the rainier months. A hat and sunscreen are also a good idea for the dry season when the canopy is thin and many of the trees have lost their leaves.

Directions

*Note: Costa Rica is known for having poor signage but it is especially bad getting to Diria. There are almost no signs until you’re right outside of the park. If you get lost, your best bet is to ask a local. Costa Ricans are very friendly people and almost always willing to help.

Coming from the north on Highway 21, enter Santa Cruz. Take a right onto Calle Central in Santa Cruz (at the Banco National). Continue on Calle Central until you see a large church on your left and a public park on your right. Take your next right. Go through five intersections and take a left at the sixth one to get onto Calle 12 (Note: Like everywhere else in Costa Rica, most roads in Santa Cruz are not marked or named. We use them here because Google maps does). Calle 12 will lead you out of Santa Cruz to the south. In about six kilometers, you will come to the small village of Arado, marked by a soccer field. Stay straight and the road will turn to dirt. Follow this dirt road until a major fork, stay left and follow signs for Diria National Park (about six kilometers more). When you reach the next fork, pat yourself on the back because you made it! Take a right and a quick left at the bottom of the hill. The ranger station is across the river (river bed in the dry season).

*      *     *

If you’re visiting Costa Rica’s Gold Coast, consider heading inland for a day trip to Diria National Park. Diria is a wonderful off-the-beaten path park that sees little foot traffic and offers the chance to see plants and wildlife that you wouldn’t otherwise see at the beach. So turn in your towel and hit the trail.

 

Post by: Jennifer Turnbull-Houde & Matthew Houde

 

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25 Comments

  1. Great, detailed rundown on this park, which I’d never heard of. Sounds like an excellent short tour. Can’t decide if the Motmot or the Squirrel Cuckoo is my favorite CR bird. Both are chevere’!

  2. Hi Casey, it is a nice little hike. There was literally no one else there when we went so you’re not the only one who hasn’t heard of it. Tough call between the Squirrel Cuckoo and Motmot. I think my vote would have to be for the Motmot though because of its flashy tail.

  3. The one time I went to Guanacaste, it was with my study abroad program (a sponsored field trip) and definitely a “roughing it” kind of deal. So sadly, I never got to lie around beach or pool side while there.

    This looks like a great hike, one where you’re really “one” with nature 🙂 Awesome monkey picture! And the bebe is so cute!

    1. Hi Julie, it is one of those hikes where you really feel like you’re off on your own with nature. Good place if you’re looking to escape, that’s for sure. Hope you get back to Guanacaste soon for some hiking and R&R at the beach!

  4. I love these off the beaten path places that others haven’t found yet. You sure you want to keep this post up 🙂 I love the bright colors and amazing array of animals you can see. Seems like a pretty ideal spot!

    1. It’s very off the beaten path, Kelly. The ranger seemed sort of surprised to see us and didn’t even charge to get in if that’s any indication. It is a bit hard to get to so I don’t think it’ll become a hot spot anytime soon. Well worth the effort though once you’re there- the bird and wildlife viewing was great!

  5. Love, love, love monkeys of all kinds so I just died when I saw that little baby! I have adopted a chimpanzee at the Chimp Haven in the piney woods of Louisiana (the govt has retired all chimps from medical testing). I just love to see chimps and monkeys enjoying their lives, playing and climbing trees.

    1. How wonderful that you adopted a chimp, Becca. If you ever come to Costa Rica, you have to visit Manuel Antonio. The national park there has 3 kinds of monkeys and they’re really easy to spot. A lot of times you can even see them swinging through the trees in the rainforest near the hotels. It’s really cool!

  6. Thanks for the great article! We hiked there today and we had a wonderful time. It is the rainy season and the roads were in poor condition which required a 4×4 vehicle. The river current was moving quickly and we did not want to drive across, so we parked and waded through the river to the ranger station. We did not see any sign of the ranger. We took the loop to the spur and then we walked up the dirt road for a while before turning around. We missed the sign to get back on the spur, so we continued down the road to the ranger station without finishing the other half of the loop. We did not see much wildlife, but we enjoyed the lush scenery and we had the place to ourselves. We did not have a copy of your map, so we did not hike to the falls because we were not sure where the trailhead was located. On our way there, we stopped in Santa Cruz for an authentic breakfast and we stopped there on the way back for an authentic lunch. It was a nice way to spend the morning and early afternoon!

    1. Gary and Dan, That’s great that you had a good time at Diria! It is a very remote park but as long as you have the right mindset it can be really enjoyable. Also, wow that is really impressive that you waded across the river! When we were there the water was so low and we were able to just drive right through. Anyway, glad that you found it okay and you got to experience the culture in Santa Cruz too. Enjoy the rest of your trip.

  7. We are going to be in the region in December and I am interested in Diria for birding and the wildlife. Two quick questions: Do you know of any bird guides in the area, and do you think it would be safe to hike in Diria alone? Thank you!

    1. Hi Greg,
      It is definitely safe to hike the park alone. The trail is easy to follow. Just be sure to check in at the ranger station when you get there and have them explain the trail map to you (they did give us a map when we went last year but you could print out the one we link to above, just in case). Diria is a great spot for birding and we do have a recommendation for a local guide. You should get in touch with our good friend Jeff from Distinctive Expeditions. He’s a native Tico, birder, and wildlife photographer who knows a ton about Costa Rica’s birds. You can contact him through his website: http://www.distinctiveexpeditions.com/. Have a great trip!

  8. Great directions Jenn and Matt, we enjoyed Santa Cruz and the trip out to the park. Unfortunately as we got to the park (top of the hill down to the river) we found a rope tied across the road indicating a closure. Although we were disappointed we saw a variety of flora and fauna – and thought we might have spotted the Park Ranger heading in as we were on the road out. Next time maybe. Thanks for all the information

    1. What a bummer, Peter. I wonder what happened and if that really was the park ranger- so frustrating. Glad you see the silver lining of getting to explore the area on the way there though. It’s all part of the adventure, right? Matt and I recently drove on a super bumpy mountain road for a half hour or so only to find that the waterfall we were trying to visit was closed on Sundays. Like you said, maybe next time.

    1. Hi Amy, An SUV without 4×4 would probably be fine during the dry season but maybe not the rainy season. There were some steep parts in the road and it can get rough when there has been a lot of rain. As someone noted above, there’s also a river right when you get to the ranger station that can get high with the rain. Let us know how it goes if you make the trip!

  9. We went there today and the river was above our knees. The mud was soft on the other side but we managed to get t o the ranger station but not a person in sight. We walked t o t he right and found the trail. My friend was uneasy about the leaf covered trail seeing snakes in every park we hiked so we will walked the road trail. Almost immediately we saw howlers about six in the tree. Once we got to the top we saw a bunch of cows down the hill. We decided to turn around after hearing strange animals sounded like snezzy. On our way down we saw a man on a horse who rounded up the cows who beat us back to the river crossing Leaving a bunch of hof holes in the mud. We managed to get back and put our ride in 4x which is necessary getting back up a short hill. If your vehicle is not a 4x then park at top.

    1. Hi Mat. And Jenn,
      Thank you for the great directions and info. It wouldn’t be easy to find. We saw a few small water falls some iguanas and howler’s on this adventure. Also a bunch of birds and a rancher taking back cows to the ranch. I would recommend a 4x but doable if you you stop at the end where the sign says you need a 4x and park there. It is a short walk down to the river.

    2. Hi Lou, Sounds like you had quite the Costa Rican adventure! Glad it worked out. A lot of times at these more remote parks the ranger isn’t there or they don’t charge you admission if they are there. That has happened to us a few times. Good tip on the 4×4. We visited at the end of the dry season and the river was basically nothing, but I can imagine how that could change with a lot of rain. Thanks for sharing the story of your visit!

  10. Thank you for this info! I will be staying in tamarindo and I’m looking for some good day hikes in March. It seems like the drive is about an hour to an hour and a half from Tamarindo. About how long is this hike? I am an avid hiker and I’m looking for a long day hike, but this hike in this park seems secluded and well worth it even if it’s shorter !

    1. Hi Rachel, Yes, this is a great hike. It’s not super challenging or long (plan on a few hours), but is definitely worth it because it’s so secluded. You can scroll up to the trails section of the post for more detailed duration info. Another awesome park in Guanacaste that we recently discovered is Lomas Barbudal (read our post for more info). Rincon de la Vieja also has a good network of trails and the ones going to the waterfalls are more challenging. Just be sure to ask the park ranger about the waterfalls to make sure they’re still flowing in March (some dry up in the dry season).

      1. Great thanks so much! I was trying to look up driving directions to this park but couldn’t find any. Do you have any suggestions on how to get there from the Tamarindo area?
        Looking forward to checking the other hikes on as well!

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