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Santa Rosa National Park was Costa Rica’s first official park !!

Sometime they’ll give a war and nobody will come. ~ The People, Carl Sandburg, 1936

Divided from Guanacaste National Park by the Inter-American Highway, Santa Rosa National Park was Costa Rica’s first official park. In the quixotic world of environmental protection, the government created Santa Rosa to protect a battlefield – but wound up benefitting a multitude of microhabitats, including dry deciduous forests, mangrove swamps, oak forests, evergreen forests, dry savannahs and turtle nesting beaches.

The park is part of Area de Conservación Guanacaste. Contact their headquarters (based here) for information, 506/666-5051. Admission is US $6; pay at the booth on your way in. Open 7:30-4:30 daily.

WILLIAM WALKER’S BATTLE This fateful battle occurred in late March, 1856, when William Walker, an American conquistador, invaded Costa Rica after taking Nicaragua with a mercenary force called the Filibusters. He made the Hacienda Santa Rosa (Museo La Casona) his headquarters and it became the scene of the battle between a hastily assembled Tico force and Walker’s mercenaries.

The good guys won, as they did again in 1955. On January 11 of that year, a well-armed band of calderonistas, a self-proclaimed anticommunist group made up of exiled Costa Ricans and Nicaraguan mercenaries, invaded Costa Rica and captured the city of Quesada. One of their planes even strafed San José.

The United States immediately sold Costa Rica four fighter planes – which deterred further air attacks – and the invaders were driven out 10 days later. The final pitched battle was fought at Santa Rosa.

The landscape in Santa Rosa is similar to the African plains – high temperature and a long dry season that browns everything, including your skin.

The park is managed in two large sections, Santa Rosa to the south and Murciélago along the north coast of the peninsula that the park encompasses. It was recently expanded with the addition of a huge cattle ranch, complete with an airstrip used in the Iran-Contra affair by the infamous Colonel Oliver North.

The gringo owner won a lawsuit over the expropriation of his land by the Costa Rican government so some of your park fees will go toward the US $16 million he was awarded.

Very close to La Casona are camping facilities and a hiking trail, El Sendero Indio Desnudo (Naked Indian Path). But most people come to this park for the beaches, especially surfers and windsurfers. A rutted road leads down to the long bright-white beach of Playa Naranjo (camping but no drinking water) and the most famous surfing break around, Witch’s Rock.

Access to Playa Nancite is restricted because of its importance as a turtle nesting ground. Beaches in the Murciélago sector can be accessed from the fishing village of Cuajiniquil. North, along the ocean from this little town, is an annex to the park, the Bahía Junquillal Wildlife Refuge, which boasts a good swimming beach and camping. Remember – because it will affect your enjoyment – this entire area is buffeted by strong, warm, westerly winds in the dry season.

Two entrances on the Inter-American Highway access Santa Rosa The next town north is La Cruz, 20 km/12.4 miles south of the Peñas Blancas border crossing (the border station is open daily 8 am-6 pm). There’s not much to do or see here, but if you take the six-km/3.7-mile dirt road to the fishing village of Puerto Soley, you can hire a boat for a trip to the National Refuge for Forest Fauna on Isla Bolaños, three km/1.8 miles offshore. Look but don’t touch.

Visits are prohibited from December to March so as not to disturb the nesting seabird colonies. Isla Bolaños is home to some 200 pairs of brown pelicans in the scrub trees on the north side and 100 pairs of magnificent frigate birds on its southern cliffs. It’s also the only place in Costa Rica where American oystercatchers have been found nesting.

If you’re hungry while in La Cruz, eat at Coopetortillas and support a women’s cooperative.

Tourteen km/8.7 miles from La Cruz near the Nicaraguan border is the famous Los Inocentes Lodge a working hacienda that’s more than a century old. This was one of the first ecolodges open for guests in Costa Rica. It borders Guanacaste National Park and has a fabulous view of the Orosí Volcano. Rooms are in the main lodge or in very spacious separate cabins. The food and service are excellent and the ranch exudes old-fashioned charm. Day visitors can eat and horseback ride.

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