The Juan Castro Blanco National Park was created on June 26th, 1975, in order to protect a large strip of primary and secondary forests, including cloud and rainforest, located between 700m and 2,267m, divided in five zones of important flora and fauna species. The park also protect a vital watershed on the slopes of Platanar Volcano of great importance to the northern area, both for human and industrial consumption, as well as hydroelectric power generation.
The Juan Castro Blanco National Park is part of the Arenal Huetar Norte Conservation Area (ACA-HN in Spanish) and is located in the northwest of Central Valley in Alajuela province, to the east of Ciudad Quesada, surrounded by districts of Aguas Zarcas , Venecia, Zapote, Laguna, Tapezco, Palmira, Sarchi Norte, Toro Amarillo and Rio Cuarto, with the Poas Volcano to the southeast and Braulio Carrillo National Park to the east.
The Juan Castro Blanco National Park starts from 1975 when it was declared as Juan Castro Blanco Forest Reserve, with an approximate area of 13,700 ha, comprising the Hills Platanar, Volcan Viejo, El Siete, Avion and Pelon, covered mostly by natural forest. In 1989, in collaboration with the Government, the Municipality of San Carlos and Civil Society, the area was declared a protected zone with an area of 14,250 ha. Finally, on April 22th, 1992, under Decree No. 7297, was declared Juan Castro Blanco National Park.
This was achieved thanks to pressure from the forces of the area, as a transnational company wanted to exploit some deposits of sulfur and other minerals in the open, which cause severe pollution to water sources, which mostly are used for food and agribusiness.
The Juan Castro Blanco National Park is one of the least explored national parks in Costa Rica, located in the center of some of the most popular tourist destinations. However, it is well known for providing an incredible opportunity for bird watching in the primary forest and rainforest, which represents 50% of the park.
The temperature of the Juan Castro Blanco National Park is usually between 15°C and 27ºC (60ºF and 80ºF), with an average annual rainfall of 3500mm (140 inches) of rain per year. That’s why in this area has been possible to identify three major zones, containing the abundant natural life with pre-montane forests, humid forests and very humid forests, as well as low montane rain forest. (premontane rain forest, very wet premontane forest )
The vegetation of the area is very varied and diverse with more than 50% of the reserve covered by primary forest with some patches of regeneration forest, caused by the constant landslides of the steeper areas. These forests contain trees up to 30 meters high and over, among the most outstanding are the Alder (Alnus acuminata), Aguacatillo (Persea vesticula), Balsa Tree (Ochroma pyramidale), Spanish Elm or Salmwood (Cordia alliodora), Oak (Quercus seemannii), Spanish cedar (Cedrela odorata), Cipresillo or Pinillo(Podocarpus guatemalensis) and Yayo (Xylopia sericophylla) as well as varieties of palms and ferns. In areas of lower slopes, landslides do not occur, which allows you to find very mature forest aged over a hundred years, while in the upper parts is a vegetation covered with lots of orchids, bromeliads, mosses, shrubs, and many different types of climbing plants, or epiphytes, that leech off of already established vegetation.
Like many national parks in the country, Juan Castro Blanco Park is an excellent place to see a diverse collection of wildlife, in a very isolated place. However, exploring the vast territory of Juan Castro Blanco National Park, is possible thanks an extensive, yet rugged trail system that allows visitors the opportunity to truly appreciate and discover the vast collection of flora and fauna of Costa Rica up close. The park has about 57 species of mammals, being the most common the Howler Monkeys (Alouatta palliata) and Capuchin Monkeys (Cebus capucinus), Two-toed Sloths (Choloepus hoffmanni) and Three-toed Sloths (Bradypus variegatus), Collared Peccaries (Tayassu tajacu), Coyotes (Canis latrans), Nine-banded Armadillos (Dasypus novemcinctus), Spotted Pacas (Cuniculus paca), Baird’s Tapir (Tapirus bairdii), White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), Raccoons (Procyon cancrivorus), Red Brocket (Mazama americana), at least 22 species of bats and various felines, such as Jaguarundi (Puma yagouaroundi), Cougars (Puma concolor) and Ocelots (Leopardus pardalis). More than 44 species of amphibians (15% of national total) and reptiles are also found within the park such as frogs, lizards, basiliks, crocodiles and snakes. The park also boasts over 230 species of birds including the national bird of Costa Rica the Yigüirro or Clay-colored Robin (Turdus grayi), Black Guan (Chamaepetes unicolor), Bat Falcon (Falco rufigularis), Blue Peacock (Pavo cristatus), Great Curassow (Crax rubra), Plain Chachalaca (Ortalis vetula), Lark Sparrow (Chondestes grammacus), Black-faced Solitaire (Myadestes melanops), Boat-billed Flycatcher (Megarynchus pitangua) and even the Resplendent Quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno) as well as a variety of hummingbirds, cuckoos, hawks and falcons, making it a paradise for birdwatchers. Ii is important to explain that about 64 of these species are classified as threatened or endangered in Costa Rica.
Within the Juan Castro Blanco National Park are important geo-morphological features such as boilers (Fila Chocosuela), active and inactive volcanic foci, as well as Quaternary volcanic cones, alluvial cones and alluvial sedimentary forms of very steep topography. The grounds are deep with a good content of organic matter derived from volcanic ashes, but very susceptible to erosion. Several volcanoes surround the park, making this rugged destination an adventure for everyone. The three volcanoes that exist within the park are the active Platanar Volcano (2183m or 7162ft), Porvenir Volcano (2267m o7.438ft) and the inactive El Viejo Volcano (2122m or 6962ft) currently inactive with the Cerro Pelon. On the northern edge of Platanar sits the Aguas Zarcas group of nine cinder cones, which are hill-sized miniature volcanoes made up of lava rock or ash. Although there have been no eruptions recorded during recent history, these geological beauties heat the thermal waters and sulfur baths that can be discovered throughout the park that emerge from its northern flank flowing into the region’s important rivers, including Toro, Platanar, La Vieja, Tres Amigos and Aguas Zarcas.
In fact, the hydrology of the area is what gives special relevance to Juan Castro Blanco National Park. It is the tenth most important body of freshwater on the planet. It identifies several watersheds, which have numerous streams and cold and crystalline rivers with abundant lagoons and waterfalls. The streams of these rivers provide 15% of the country’s electrical power, as well as potable water to 105 surrounding villages and serve as a viable food source as they are also brimming with trout.
The Juan Castro Blanco National Park is also an excellent destination for history lovers, as archaeological findings have indicated that the site was used as a meeting place for the ancient civilizations of Costa Rica, bringing together North and South American cultures.
The MINAE (Costa Rican Ministry of the Environment) station can be found next to the police station in El Sucre, six miles away from the entrance to the park at San Jose de la Montaña. The station at Bajos del Toro Amarillo does not have a telephone, radio, or any other method of communication.
Except for the trail system, unfortunately, the government has yet to finance the purchase of the private property affected by the declaration of this park, and so to date there are no facilities for visitors at Juan Castro Blanco National Park, so a guide is highly recommended for hiking excursions. Only two of the eight entrances to the park are government sanctioned: one is located in San Jose de la Montaña and the other in Bajo del Toro Amarillo. Other national parks nearby include Arenal Volcano National Park, Arenal Volcano Forest Reserve Emergency Zone and Bosque Alegre National Wildlife Refuge.
Getting to Juan Castro Blanco National Park:
From San Jose take the Pan-American Highway to Naranjo and follow the road through the villages of Zarcero to Ciudad Quesada, also known as San Carlos. The entrance to the park is East of Ciudad Quesada. The main entrance to the park, is by the village of San José de la Montaña, 10 km east of Sucre. During the rainy season, it is highly recommended to use a 4×4 vehicle. Driving time from San José is about 4 hours.
From Liberia (Daniel Oduber Airport), equally scenic, take the road heading towards the city of Liberia. At Liberia’s intersection take the Pan-American Highway to Naranjo and follow the road through the villages of Zarcero to Ciudad Quesada, also known as San Carlos. The entrance to the park is East of Ciudad Quesada. The main entrance to the park, is by the village of San José de la Montaña, 10 km east of Sucre. During the rainy season, it is highly recommended to use a 4×4 vehicle. Driving time from Liberia is about 3 hours.
You can take a bus from the route San Jose – Ciudad Quesada which takes about 3 hours (Auto Transportes San José-San Carlos, 2256-8914). From here you can take a taxi to the park entrance.
You can also take a flight from the Juan Santamaria Airport to La Fortuna Airport, either with Sansa Airlines or Nature Air every day. From here you can rent a car and drive to the refuge, which is about 40 minutes, or you can take a bus from the route La Fortuna – San Jose, making the stop at Ciudad Quesada, and from here you can take a taxi to the park entrance.
Location: 10km east of El Sucre in Ciudad Quesada, Alajuela, Costa Rica.
Ciudad Quesada GPS Coordinates: 10.321064,-84.428653 (10°19’15.83″N, 84°25’43.15″)
Size: 14,453 ha (35,700 acres)
Altitude: from 700m to 2,267m (2,300 ft to 7,440ft) above sea level
Schedule: from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Juan Castro Blanco National Park Telephone: +(506) 2460-5462
Arenal Huetar Norte Conservation Area (ACA-HN) Telephone: +(506) 2460-0055
INFOTUR Tourist Information: 1192