Carara National Park
Primary rain forest with giant trees stretching into the sky. Bits of flowers and wild fruits drifting to the forest floor; leftovers from canopy-foraging monkeys and parrots. In the dim, humid understory, neon green and black poison-dart frogs. The forest echoes with the yelps of Toucans and screams of brilliant Scarlet Macaws. An exciting, rain forest experience; this is Carara National Park. One of the most visited of the Costa Rican National Parks, a well-maintained, handicap-accessible trail also ensures that everyone can experience its rain forests.
Location and how to get there
Two hours by car from San Jose, the 5,000 plus hectare Carara National Park is found in the hot lowlands of the central Pacific coast. The Tarcol River, known for its healthy American Crocodile population, marks most of the northern boundary of Carara. To get to Carara National Park from San Jose, drive past the airport and take the exit to Orotina and Jaco. Follow signs to Jaco along highway 34; the main road along the Pacific coast south of Puntarenas. The entrance is 5 kilometers past the bridge over the Tarcol River.
A meeting point of two major ecosystems makes Carara National Park a biodiversity hotspot. At Carara, the dry forests of the Pacific mingle with the endemic-rich wet forests of southern Costa Rica and western Panama. Aquatic habitats such as mangroves are found here as well. This junction of different habitats gives Carara a list of around 400 bird species. Carara’s importance is further highlighted by a healthy population of endangered Scarlet Macaws; about 200 at last count. Plants, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and arthropods are likewise highly diverse.
The rain forests of Carara National Park are the principle attraction. If you want to see more than just trees, though, take a guided walk. An experienced guide will reveal rain forest wonders you probably won’t find on your own; monkeys, colorful dancing birds known as manakins, a macaw nest, you might even see a Boa Constrictor. Walks with experienced guides can be arranged at the entrance to Carara National Park. The park is open from 8:00 until 4:00.
Crocodiles and a sunset boat ride
Crocodiles are common in the Tarcol River and can be seen from the bridge. If seeing them from 100 feet away doesn’t satisfy you, take the Crocodile Safari Tour. This popular, informative boat ride will bring you eye to eye with 12 foot Crocodiles as they are fed cooked chickens. If you would rather see birds and sunsets than crocodiles, end your day with the sunset birding tour for relaxed viewing of graceful egrets, beautiful kingfishers and a gorgeous sunset over the Pacific Ocean.
Hotels near Carara National Park
The largest variety of lodging is found at Jaco; a popular beach town 40 minutes drive from the park. A few options closer to Carara are the cheap Cabinas Crocodilos on the north side of the bridge over the Tarcol River. The Cerro Lodge and Hotel Carara are mid-range and the Villas Lapas Hotel is expensive.