La Cangreja National Park – San Jose’s Lesser-Known Delight!
Just two hours out of San Jose lies a national park that’s as captivating as any of the big-name reserves in Costa Rica – one that so many visitors to our shores don’t even know exists. Amazingly, this pristine park is almost always deserted, even though it makes for a fantastic day trip outing from the capital and a brilliant stop-over on the way to Playa Hermosa and Manuel Antonio on the Pacific Coast.
Expert biologists rate La Cangreja as one of the country’s most important and endangered reserves.
What makes La Cangreja so special
Wilderness – The park has been a protected reserve since the late 1980s and was the first designated national park in the San Jose Province. Local biologists had long since recognized that this was the last virgin rain forests in Puriscal County and the discovery of an endemic pant (plinia puriscalensis) finally enticed the establishment of a national park in 2002, covering an area of 2,500 hectares. New species of flora and fauna are still discovered to this day and many plants, endemic to the area, are currently being studied for their medicinal benefits.
In terms of vegetation biodiversity, La Cangreja is comparable to the Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica’s most bio diverse reserve.
Wildlife – All up, the park boasts almost 50 distinct species of exotic plants and hundreds of unique bird species (including toucans and scarlet macaws). La Cangreja also hosts coatis, pumas, White Face capuchin monkeys, deer, two-toed sloths, coyotes, ocelots, and an abundance of exotic frogs, although your chances of seeing wildlife are infinitely higher if hiking with an experienced local wilderness guide.
Visitor Experience – A wonderful place to get away from the bustle of the city, La Cangreja is all about hiking in wilderness along riverside trails, admiring ethereal rock formations, and soaking up outstanding views from well-placed miradors. Given the distinct lack of crowds, birding and wildlife spotting chances are quite impressive.
The only time a guide is required is if you wish to ascend the peak of Cangreja – this is a strenuous trail through a lot of overgrown forests so guidance is essential – but the views are incredibly rewarding! Nevertheless, as with all parks in Costa Rica, and all dense forests anywhere, your chances of spotting wildlife are enhanced by having a local, experienced wilderness guide by your side.
About La Cangreja…
The highest peak of La Cangreja (Spanish for ‘the crab’) is 4,280ft above sea level and, according to locals, looks like an enormous crustacean, which is how the park got its name. The highest waterfall in the park is the double-fall of El Encanto (“the spell”) which attracts the hard-core hikers, whilst most visitors tend to stay along the 4mi trail that accosts the Rio Negro – either way, you’re hiking in untouched wilderness and crossing five gorges and an array of natural whirlpools and waterfalls you can swim in.
How to plan your visit to La Cangreja
La Cangreja National Park is open every day from 8am to 4pm and the entry fee is just $10 per person. The main entrance gate is just north of the town of Santa Rosa and, although the trails are relatively well-maintained, there are some steep sections and some scrambling and crossing of rivers are required so a certain level of fitness and agility helps if you want to complete the main walking trail and reach every viewpoint.
Make sure you pack plenty of drinks, snacks and insect repellent for your visit, and wear sturdy, non-slip hiking shoes!
If you crave a more immersive experience, pay a visit or enjoy an overnight stay in Rancho Mastatal, an amazing farm and sustainability education center that’ll blow you away. The farm is in the indigenous village of Mastatal right next to La Cangreja, and offers an array of incredible guest experiences – from short and sweet tours and stunning homemade (and framed) meals to week-long permaculture workshops – all aimed at promoting sustainability agriculture, farm-to-table experiences and even wilderness medicine.
The farm also runs a private 200-acre wildlife refuge which was set up the same year that La Cangreja received its national park status.
La Cangreja National Park may be small but what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in unmatched biodiversity and intensity of the experience. Reaching it and exploring it thoroughly takes some perseverance – much of the road is unpaved and trails can be challenging, but that’s what you get when exploring an unspoiled and quite magnificent corner of paradise. It is almost inconceivable that you can enjoy all of this just a short drive from the capital city!
Discovering this treasure of nature, and feeling like you’re just one of a handful of people who’ve ever seen it, definitely makes a visit all the more worthwhile. The forest is dense, the smells divine, and the experience of being immersed in this kind of pristine wilderness simply awe-inspiring.
A ‘stop over’ visit to La Cangreja is easily done even at the last minute but if you wish to climb the highest peak, just tell us in advance so we can get the required permits.