Tárcoles is a quiet little town that lies just on the outskirts of northern Puntarenas, Costa Rica. Though it may be small, it boasts an abundance of both indoor and outdoor activities, beautiful fauna and exotic wildlife. It is dotted by unassuming structures along dirt roads and sits parallel to the ocean, offering a million-dollar ocean view. Though you might not think much of Tárcoles at first, if you take a minute to explore the outskirts of the town, you will discover a trove of hidden treasures.

Catch a Glimpse of Costa Rica Crocodiles

Whether you’re an adrenaline junkie or just looking for a way to entertain your unimpressionable teenager, a trip through Carara National Park is bound to get your heart pumping. Carara National Park is home to the large and intimidating American Crocodiles. You can observe these beasts at a safe distance from the Tárcoles River Bridge or you go big and sign up for a croc tour through the mudflats. The croc tour takes you along the river by boat and is led by a brave bilingual tour guide who has no qualms about performing hair-raising tricks designed to grab the crocs’ attention.

The Tárcoles River, also called the Grande de Tárcoles River or the Río Grande de Tárcoles, in Costa Rica originates on the southern slopes of the Cordillera Central volcanic range and flows in a south-westerly direction to the Gulf of Nicoya. The river is 111 kilometres (69 mi) long and its watershed covers an area of 2,121 square kilometres (819 sq mi), which encompasses around 50% of the country’s population.

The river’s watershed drains approximately 67% of Costa Rica’s untreated organic and industrial waste and is considered the most contaminated river basin in the country.

The river’s upper reaches form the northern border of the Carara Biological Reserve. It is a habitat for American crocodiles, while the marshes located at the river’s mouth have many waterfowl and wading birds. Among the many herons and egrets are the boatbill and bare-throated tiger heron, and other birds found here include double-striped thick-kneemangrove warbler and American pygmy kingfisher.

Reptiles, such as the American crocodilecommon basilisk and large iguanas, are also easily seen.

A park for all, in a transition forest

Carara National Park is located within Turrubares and Garabito cantons from San Jose and Puntarenas Provinces, between coordinates 9º51 ‘and 9º44’ north latitude, 84º36 ‘and 84º29’ east longitude, i.e. 90 kilometers from San José – Costanera South Road. The main entrance is located 2 kilometers south of Rio Grande de Tarcoles Bridge River.

The Carara Carara National Park, which in indigenous Huetar language means “River of lizards”, has the only transition forest in Central Pacific, resulting in diversity of flora and fauna, where converge typical species of dry and humid forests.

 

This National Park is a worldwide known birding destination as it has very diverse birdlife, where stands out the Scarlet Macaw (Lapa Roja – Ara macao – ), a species that is in danger of extinction, being the second largest species of Psittacidae of Costa Rica.

It is certainly one of the major sites in the country for birdwatching, so it will be included in the next guide made by the Costa Rican Tourism Institute in this segment of tourism at national level.

Due its location and ease of access on Route 34, this park is also ideal for one-day visit, visitors can easily move from the capital city, using their own car, rented or by public transport.

It is the first national park in having a universal access trail, where the visitor can live the experience of being in the forest, known endemic species like the Cafecillo (erythrochiton gymnanthus), large trees, and see the relationship between some of the species.

HISTORY

Originally current Carara National Park was the La Gran Hacienda Coyolar, one of the largest private landholder’s property that has been in Costa Rica.

Initially, it was established as Carara Biological Reserve on April 26, 1978 by Executive Decree № 8491-A, subsequently its management category was change to National Park on November 18, 1998 by Executive Decree № 27411-MINAE. 

HOURS

Opening hours:

  • From May to November, every day from 8am to 4pm.
  • From December to April, daily from 7 am to 4 pm.

SERVICIES AND ATRACTIONS

Services:

  • Drinking water
  • Sanitation services
  • Parking lot
  • Local guides (they are not part of park staff)

Attractions

  • Universal Access trail: a distance of 0.74 miles (1.2 km) with nine resting bays; drinking water systems all the way; sanitation battery adapted to the requirements of the law 7,600 (Equality law opportunities for people with disabilities); labeling in Spanish, English and Braille; maps with this system for blind people; sculptures; auditive system; QR code app, and most of the road has Wii-fi, among other facilities.
  • Las Aráceas Trail:circular trail of approximately 3.937 feet (1.200 meters) long, it takes about one hour. Gets its name from an important family of plants, Araceae. On this trail you can see plants growing on trees, one of those is known as Mano de Tigre (Monstera deliciosa) which is easily distinguished by its large and lobed leaves with small holes that allow the passage of sunlight pierces to other leaves and allows the plant to make efficient use of the limited sunlight it receives in the forest. Its long roots down to the ground where they absorb the nutrients needed to live. Other examples of this family are the genera Anthurium and Philoderdron. 
  • Laguna Meándrica Trail:a little lineal trail around 6.561 feet (2000 meters) that runs between two and four hours. Its name is related to the meander formed in the Tarcoles River with a lake formed in the sector of approximately 1.968 feet (600 meters) long and 131 feet (40 meters) wide. On the river you can observe crocodiles (Crocodylus acutus) and it the trail stands the Cafecillo (erythrochiton gymnanthus). This trail is usually used by ornithologists to observe many birds, mainly in the morning.
  • Quebrada Bonita Trail:circular trail with a length of 4.265 feet (1.300 meters), it can be covered in approximately half an hour. Its main attraction is Quebrada Bonita, hence the name of this trail, there you can appreciate large and tall trees and climbing species, among others.
  • Ecosystem Meeting Point Trail: it is a linear trail of 2.132 feet (650 meters) that connects Quebrada Bonita trail with the universal access trail, among its attractions are bird watching and interpretation of forest and environment.
  • Flora y fauna:among the fauna species that more feature it are howler monkeys (mono congo), three-toed sloth, agouti, armadillo, opossum, raccoon and the scarlet macaw (lapa roja), emblem of this area.

According to scientific data, it presents the following records of flora and fauna:

  • 480 species of plants, including trees and shrubs, with 14 endemic species and 29 species that are considered rare and endemic.
    • 124 species of reptiles, corresponding to 53% of the species of reptiles in Costa Rica (234).
    • 112 species of mammals, being 47.8% of these species in the country (237)
    • 62 species of amphibians, being 32.8% of the 189 species of toad in Costa Rica.
    • 420 species of birds, 47% of the 893 species reported in the country, considered one of the most important sites in CR for observing birds in their natural state. 

RECOMMENDATIONS

It is recommended to use comfortable clothes and shoes as well as insect repellent.

  • During your visit, please stay on the trails, if any eventuality go to the official’s area.
  • Inside the park smoking is forbidden in all areas: vehicular parking, restrooms and trails.
  • Help us keep clean areas, do not leave garbage or footprint of your visit. Within the trails you will not find trash containers to deposit the garbage.
  • It is not allowed to ingest alcohol and other drugs, protect the labels and take care of them.
  • Enjoy nature properly, do not touch plants or wildlife.
  • We invite you to walk the trails, when needing information please contact park officials.
  • To walk the trails in the forest, it is recommended to use proper footwear, it is not recommended wearing sandals and try not to make noise, do not go out from permitted areas neither climb on sculptures or labels.
  • Take care of your belongings.
  • Do not interact with the animals, keep an appropriate distance from wildlife and do not leave food available for them.

Located in the western central part of the country, Pacífico central Conservation Area (ACOPAC) encompasses the land between the community of Manzanillo, in the extreme north of the province of Puntarenas to the Barú River in the canton of Aguirre and intermediate lands in the southwest of the Central Valley and part of the land of high mountains in the Talamanca Mountain Range.

ACOPAC represents 11% of the country (562.552 ha). It is a region full of contrasts because of its varied terrain, diverse climate, biodiversity and historical patterns of colonization. 16 of the 34 most important Watersheds of Costa Rica converge within it, 11 of the 12 life zones, 7 of the 9 transitions and presents the 6 altitudes where the country is divided. Furthermore, in ACOPAC are the hills of Turrubares, which together with the floors of Bahia Salinas in Guanacaste, were the first points to emerge from the seabed to form the Costa Rican territory.

For the territory of ACOPAC there are reported 5640 species of plants from almost 90 million collected for our country, figure that corresponds to 62.7%, according from the National Museum data and the National Biodiversity Institute. The average levels for this conservation area is 1014 species per 1000 km2, being 5.76 times higher than the average reported for all Costa Rica, reaching the 176 species per 1000 km2 plants. Of the approximately 10,000 endemic species to the country, they are reported to ACOPAC 5000, and over 76% of the timber species in danger of extinction. In addition, 201 species of 238 mammals existing in Costa Rica, among which 4 species of primates reported to Mesoamerica, the 6 species of big cats and the largest in the neotropical area (Panthera onca), like the tapir, which represents the largest wild terrestrial mammal reported for this country.

In ACOPAC, there present 746 bird species representing 83.6% of the 892 set for Costa Rica, more than 14 thousand species of lepidoptera and 11 of the 18 endemic species of freshwater fish.

Within it there are important ecosystems as mangroves, high Andean plateaus located further north of the planet, Las Turberas which have been declared RAMSAR site as historical data, it is important that ACOPAC protects the first national park declared for our country (Robledales National Park, established in 1945) and the most recent statement National Park (Quetzales national Park, decreed in 2006).

In short, ACOPAC hosts 60% of flora and over 70% of mammals, birds and Lepidoptera of the country.