Barra Honda National Park
The attractive Barra Honda National Park is not far from Nicoya. Constant erosion during the last 70 million years has produced 42 karst caves over an area of 2,300 hectares. The caves were only discovered at the beginning of the 1970s, and to date only 20 of them have been explored. Very few of the caves are open to the public. Ancestors of Indians still living in Costa Rica inhabited the caves more than 2,300 years ago. The remains of skeletons and stone artifacts – particularly in the Nicoya Cave – confirm the human habitation.
In the 200-meter-deep Cueva Santa Ana, the deepest cave, is a chamber known as the “Pearled Hall,” containing many stalactites and stalagmites. The limestone formations in some of the caves fire the visitor’s imagination: lion’s heads, fried eggs, popcorn and shark’s teeth decorate the walls and ceilings. Certain pillars give off musical tones when tapped. In many places bats swarm in the dark areas only to swoop down, narrowly missing visitors’ heads. In a cave called Pozo Hediondo (Stinkpot), bats have left their “souvenirs” – which has done nothing to prevent salamanders and fish from living there.
The descent into the caves is very strenuous and should be undertaken only with a guide and only in the dry season. On the path to the caves it is often possible to spot many of the wild animals that inhabit the national park: howler monkeys, red deer, agoutis, peccaries and anteaters.
Visitors who still have a surplus of energy after visiting the caves can climb the 442-meter-high Barra Honda for a lovely view of the Gulf of Nicoya. From its elevation it is also possible to see Las Cascadas, the limestone sediment along the bottom of the river that runs through the park.