Barra Honda National Park

Size: 2.295 hectares.
Distance from San José: 335 kilometers.
Dry Season: January through March.
Trails: Yes.


Barra Honda National Park was created in 1971 primarily to protect its famous cave system. Although most of the park has been cut over in the past, wildlife is fairly abundant and increasing with protection. A good trail system takes the visitor to the caves, unusual limestone formations, and a spectacular lookout.
Located 22 kilometers northeast of Nicoya, this park’s 2,295 hectares protect an important geological feature: a system of calcareous caverns with stalactite and stalagmite formations. At 450 meters high, Barra Honda hill is made up of ancient coral reefs pushed up out of the earth by tectonic faults.
Ages ago, nature started a detailed carving process that rendered Barra Honda National Park’s famous caverns. So far, 42 have been explored but scientists believe that many underground wonders are yet to be discovered.
The park protects 5,670 acres (2,295 ha) of wild limestone highlands located west of the Tempisque River flood plain. The adventure will take you through an exhilarating 100-foot (30 m) roped descent and into the caverns where you’ll encounter amazing dripstone formations, delicate stalagmites and stalactites, evidence of pre-Columbian exploration, and exclusive species of animals that have evolved to better suit their dark homes.
Save some energy for above-ground hiking through the dry forest, where monkeys, anteaters and scarlet macaws wander freely. Climb up to the top of Cerro Barra Honda (1,459 feet, 445 m) for the superb view of the Guanacaste landscape around the park
Around 19 caverns have been explored. Terciopelo is most accessible and is open to the public. Its stalactites and stalagmites are formed by calcium carbonate in the cavern ceiling dissolving upon coming into contact with water. The park offers parking, drinking water, outhouses, lodging, information, trails and viewpoints showing landscapes of the Rio Tempisque.
Barra Honda Peak, which rises almost 300 meters high, is composed of reef-type limestone, that is, ancient coral reefs that emerged as a result of a geological upheaval caused by faulting. This peak which dates back to 60 million years is especially striking because of its steep, jagged sides, especially on its southern flank, and because it is almost completely flat-toped. The surface of the summit is pitted and pockmarked everywhere one walks. Some of the holes are no longer than about 10 cm. In diameter while others measure several meters across. In some cases there are large craters left from cave-ins. Deeply eroded and razor-sharp rocks just out in whimsical shapes over almost the entire summit and especially on the southern rim.
An extensive network of independent caves has been found on the park, 20 of almost 40 have been explored to date. The depths of the caves vary considerably, with the deepest, Santa Ana, descending 240 meters underground. The most spectacular caves are Terciopelo, La Trampa and Santa Ana where a profusion of stalactites, columns, pearls, chalk flowers and needles, helictites, popcorn, mushrooms, shark’s teeth and other formations can be seen. Terciopelo is the cave with the greatest number of formations and the most beautiful ones. One such formation is called The Organ which produces different melodic tones when gently tapped. Trampa Cave has the largest steepest vertical descent of all the caves: from the entrance at its mouth to the first ledge, there is a sheer drop of 52 meters. This cave also has the largest chambers of any discovered so far. One is made of pure white calcite which gives it a dazzling effect. Stink-Pot Hole, which owes its name to the stench of bat guano deposits, is the only cave with a large population of these mammals. In Nicoa Cave, believed to be an ancient cenote, a large number of human remains were discovered in 1970 and some time later, pre-Columbian artifacts and adornments. This cave also has several gigantic stalactites that have collapsed from the roof and now sprawl on the floor.
Barra Honda caverns are renowned for their pristine condition. The reason they have managed to retain all of their geological and biological features is that they all have vertical entrance shafts requiring special equipment to get into them. One cave, La Trampa, has a vertical drop of 52 meters from the entrance to the first ramp. One might think that the technical nature of gaining entrance to the caves makes them inaccessible to those not in possessions of the necessary equipment and knowledge, but it’s not the case.
The park service personnel can take you into La Terciopelo cave, which contains some of the most impressive formations of all the system. The descent is by cable ladder, and the rangers tie a rope around you and set up a two-person belay around a tree in case of a slip. They then come down after you and will guide you around the cavern. You need to set this up well in advance with the parks people, a week at least.
To explore other caves in the park on your own, get permission from the park supervisor through writing him in care of Parque Nacional Barra Honda, Quebrada Honda, Costa Rica. You need to be well experienced in the use of rappelling and ascending devices, and have at least one experienced caver in your party.
The vegetation in the park is mainly deciduous. Some of the most common tree species are: the wild plum, gonzalo alves, tempisque, monkey’s comb, lemonwood, gumbo-limbo, wild cotton, quamwood and pond apple. A considerable amount of wildlife is found inside the caves. Besides several species of bats, there are blind salamanders and fish, and many species of arthropods, some of which are probably yet to be discovered and described by zoologists.

Animals and birds found here: white-faced capuchin monkey, coyote, common long-nosed armadillo, white-tailed deer, common raccoon, white-nosed coati, southern opossum, Amazonian skunk, magpie jay, orange-fronted parakeet and the turkey vulture.