Carara National Park
- Location : 10 miles north of Jaco
- Area : 12,950 acres
- Hours : 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily
- Entrance Fee : $10.00
- Guided Tour : $25-40 per person
- Telephone : 2637-1054
Flocks of scarlet macaws swarm the palm trees in search of fruit inside Carara National Park; a crucial sanctuary for wildlife in the increasingly developed area around Jaco. The 13,000-acre park encompasses a transitional forest of both dry and tropical rainforest.read more close
Walking among the park's three trails visitors can see umbrella-shaped Guanacaste trees, Costa Rica's national tree, overgrown with cactus beside the tall, straight trunks of some of Costa Rica's tallest rainforest trees like the kapok and the wild cashew that can grow 200-feet above the forest floor.
Trails through Carara feature thick, ancestral forest that's remained unchanged for thousands of years replete with towering ancient trees, vines and dense shady canopies that block out the light. Nearby, Carara's secondary forest has grown over an old fruit farm and remains filled with banana, fig and other fast growing fruit trees that pioneer the land for the regeneration of its primary rainforest.
Venture into the park early in the morning with a guide ($25-$40 per person) for the best chance to see white-faced, howler and spider monkeys swing through the canopy looking for fruit like those found on the gnarled branches of the strangler fig trees – sometimes you can even see both howlers and white-faced sharing the same trees. Scarlet macaws fly through the forest, perching on royal palms and squabbling over fruit among the park's 400 other species of birds. Sloths, peccaries, agoutis, coatis, basilisk lizards and boa constrictors are just a few of the other animals dwelling in the park.
The Tarcoles River with its 2,000 crocodiles forms the northern boundary of Carara National Park. These prehistoric reptiles can measure more than 20 feet from snout to tail and can be seen under the Tarcoles River bridge on Route 34 while heading to the park from San Jose.
March and April are the hottest and driest months in Carara National Park.
Average Temperature: mid 80s
Annual Rainfall: 110 inches
Wildlife watching, rainforest hikes and crocodile tours along the Tarcoles River are available. Hire naturalist guides for a two-hour hike through the park for the best chance to see wildlife or venture in on your own for a more intimate experience.
The Quebrada Bonita visitor's center has picnic tables, restrooms and maps available for hikers. The visitor's center is located on the left side of the road as you are driving toward Jaco, about three minutes after crossing the Tarcoles River bridge.
Three hiking trails wind through Carara National Park and one a few hundred feet west of the main entrance. Carara is a relatively flat park that makes for easy hiking.
- The Laguna Meandrica trail, 2.5 miles, is located west of the main park entrance and winds through the park's secondary forest, past lagoons and marshlands. This trail features some of the national park's best wildlife watching.
- The Araceas trail, .75 miles, parallels a creek and passes through primary forest.
- The Quebrada Bonita trail, .85 miles, traverses dry transitional forest and passes into the densest part of the primary forest available to hikers in the park.
- The Universal Access trail, .80 miles, has a paved path that leads through the secondary forest and part of the primary forest and is accessible for the physically disabled and elderly.
Flora & Fauna
Wildlife enthusiasts will relish spotting sloths, anteaters, agouti, white-faced monkeys, vine snakes, boas, kinkajous, margay cats, collared peccaries and white-tailed deer. Among the 400 species of birds that live in the park are toucans, roseate spoonbills, jacanas, herons, manakins, trogons and scarlet macaws.
Carara National Park is one of only two areas in Costa Rica where scarlet macaws are endemic. These large parrots are easiest to spot early in the morning or late afternoon.
Guanacaste, strangler figs, wild cashews, cicropia, kapok and banana trees are some of the park's native flora.
Archeological expeditions in the surrounding areas have uncovered the village of Lomas Carara, thought to exist between 300 and 1,500, A.D., the village included a cemetery on the hill overlooking the Tarcoles River. Digging has unearthed a rectangular foundation of a structure made from rocks taken from the river. Archeologists speculate that the village flourished before the 16th century, probably wielding political and economic control over the land near the Tarcoles River.
Carara National Park is roughly an hour and a half drive from San Jose, or the Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJO).
From San Jose, follow Route 27 for 35 miles toward Orotina. Three miles past Orotina, turn right on Route 34, the coastal highway toward Jaco. Continue for 11 miles over the Tarcoles River bridge. The Carara National Park entrance is half a mile farther south, on your left.
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Naturalist guide specialized in Carara National Park