Braulio Carrillo National Park
A wilderness of steep mountains and hidden valleys cloaked in lush rain forests, Braulio Carrillo National Park is one of the largest national parks in Costa Rica. From the misty, windswept vegetation on Barva Volcano to the steamy lowland rain forests of Sarapiqui, its 45,900 hectares are home to an incredible amount of biodiversity. Ironically, despite its proximity to San Jose, Braulio Carrillo National Park is one of the most inaccessible national parks in Costa Rica due to the steep topography, dense forests and high rainfall.
Location and how to get there
Found to the north of San Jose, a forested mountain with three peaks seen from the city marks the edge of Braulio Carrillo. The principal route through this national park is along the main route to Limon (highway 32). Highway 32 and the park are accessed from San Jose by taking calle 3 north, then following signs to Guapiles. Barva volcano can be accessed from the end of a rough road at Sacramento (follow the brown signs to Barva Volcano from Barva de Heredia). For the extremely adventurous, a trail starts at Barva that transects the park from the highest point to the lowest.
Braulio Carrillo National Park plays an important role in protecting Costa Rica’s rich natural heritage. A park of superlatives, at least 6,000 plant species (half of Costa Rica’s total), 500 bird species, 140 mammal species (including all 5 cats), dozens of reptile and amphibian species and countless insects occur within the park boundaries. Such high diversity can be attributed in part to the presence of 4 Holdridge life zones and heavy rainfall- 4.5 meters on average per year! Some of this rain fills volcanic craters to form cold, clear lakes on Barva and Cerro Danta.
Attractions: rain forests of the Quebrada Gonzalez Ranger Station
This ranger station is the main point of access to the forests of Braulio Carrillo National Park and also the closest rain forest to San Jose. The drive to the ranger station along highway 32 allows a glimpse into the rugged topography and stunning scenery; watch for distant waterfalls that spout from the dense greenery. Unfortunately, parking isn’t an option until Quebrada Gonzalez is reached. Only 45 minutes from the city, the Quebrada Gonzalez ranger station offers four kilometers of well-maintained trails through spectacular primary rain forest. Information for a self guided tour is provided with the $8 entrance fee for the loop trails behind the station and across the road. Both sets of trails are easy walking and showcase excellent birding. Collared Peccaries, Northern Tamanduas and Sloths are sometimes seen. Bring water, a lunch and don’t forget your umbrella. Poisonous snakes are very shy but common; watch your step and never leave the trail!
Hotels near Braulio Carrillo National Park
A wide variety of lodging is available in the San Jose area. There are also hotels geared towards the ecotourist in the Sarapiqui area. If visiting Barva volcano, the Hotels Catalina, Condesa and Tirol are a few of the closer options.