Costa Rica is a world leader in conservation with over 25 percent of its land mass under various levels of protection. Their system of National Parks encompasses a broad variety of ecosystems across the entire country. We have visited several and recently returned to Carara, located near the mouth of the Tarcoles River in Puntarenas. It is a small park, but contains a variety of flora and fauna as it is in a transition zone from the dry forests of the Northwest and the rainforests of the south. It can be busy as well due to its proximity to San Jose, popularity as a day trip, and its location on the well traveled road to Jaco and Manuel Antonio.
There are two main systems of trails accessible to the public, but most people opt for the one leading from the main entrance and parking lot. In 2015 when we visited for the first time we hired a private guide who took us on the less traveled trail located a kilometre down the road from the main entrance. At the time we felt it was money well spent as he was an experienced guide and could identify and imitate all of the birds that so often are just heard.
This time there were 4 of us and the guides wanted $20 USD per person so we opted for a hike on our own. We are getting quite good at spotting birds, animals and insects and so unless we are specifically birding a new area we will usually strike out on our own. The entrance fee for the park is $10 USD per person which is lower than some others.
The park map shows a short loop trail of about 2 km but we were pleased to find several smaller loops off of the main trail that weren’t quite so busy and followed a small river. There were a few large groups on the main trail the morning we were there, so it was nice to find some areas where we could hear the sounds of the rainforest. As well we found the sound of the trucks and motorcycles quite distracting until we were quite a distance from the highway.
We finished our walk after about 2.5 hours which was plenty in the heat and high humidity of this area. We didn’t see a large variety of birds, but overall were very happy with the variety of wildlife we did spot including many green and black poison dart frogs, a basilisk lizard (Jesus Christ lizard), an agouti, a beautiful blue-crowned manikin (a lifer for us) and our first ever armadillo. The dramatic backdrop of the massive ficus trees, hanging vines and the flash of butterflies all added to the enjoyment of a rainforest walk.
The park borders on the Tarcoles River which is home to a large population of crocodiles which is the derivative of the park’s name. Just before reaching the entrance to the park, the highway crosses the river and tourists are treated to amazing views of these menacing reptiles from a hundred feet above. We’re not sure which is more scary – the jaws of the crocodiles or the roar of trucks just a foot away as you walk across the bridge which has no sidewalks.
We completed an enjoyable morning with lunch at a nice restaurant in Jaco and a walk on the beach.