Costa RicaCosta Rica

Day 2: A Hike Through Carara National Park

Destination: Jaco

Buttressed tree trunks at Carara National ParkFully caffeinated by 6:30 am, we were raring to go on our morning hike through Carara National Park. With a local population of nearly 450 birds, the park is one of the country's top areas to view the scarlet macaw. We were joining two other travelers on our excursion with King Tours, a full-service operator in Jaco that also specializes in deep-sea fishing.

As our naturalist guide Roy explained, Carara is unique in that it hosts both the wet rainforest of the southern Pacific and the dry tropical forest of the northwest. Located in this transition zone, Carara has flora and fauna that you might see in both the Osa Peninsula and Guanacaste Province. 

Spider at CararaAnteaters, agoutis, sloths, wild pigs and white-faced monkeys inhabit the varying ecosystems of Carara.

We hiked the easy four-kilometer Laguna Meandrica trail, a relatively wide path that follows the Tarcoles River and ends near a small lagoon and marshland area. Boat-billed and blue herons, jacana, aningha and several juvenile crocodiles occupied the lagoon's swampy bank. The cicadas hummed by the thousands, providing a deafening soundtrack to our jungle hike. We walked beneath towering kapok and ficus trees, dodging iridescent webs made by the golden orb spider.

Heron and crocodileAlthough we could hear the macaws' loud squawks as they flew overhead, we had yet to see one up close. Our guide suggested we drive back to Carara's ranger station and try our luck on a different trail. Scarlet macaws nest in natural tree cavities during the dry season (December through April), and Roy knew which trees they frequented.

Sure enough, a large female revealed her scarlet head in the opening of a cozy tree hole as she incubated her clutch of eggs. I had only seen these magnificent birds in captivity and was amazed at their size and vibrant colors, living prisms in the jungle.

Banana flowerWe returned to our hotel in time for a refreshing dip in the pool, a nice retreat from the blazing noon sun. Doce Lunas offers free in-room Wi-Fi, a definite plus for the business traveler or for those who just want to stay in touch. Our laptops never far from our sides, we managed to get a few hours work in before joining other guests at the hotel bar for a pre-dinner cocktail, which always taste better at the beach.

Brian, one of the owners of Doce Lunas, invited us to join him for dinner at the hotel's restaurant, Eclipse. He raved about their new chef, whose talents we were about to relish. Over a fabulous appetizer of seared tuna followed by tender pork medallions served with an aromatic mushroom mole, Jaco hotel groundswe chatted about Brian's 28-year journey in Costa Rica and recent involvement with the local community.

This past January, Doce Lunas hosted a rock concert featuring members of Phish and the Grateful Dead with proceeds benefiting the neighboring school for environmental education.

An attendee I met later that week described the event as a mini-Woodstock with patchouli in the air and more hippies than you could count -- an all-night celebration of good music and interesting people.

Had we known, our trip to Jaco would have been re-scheduled to include the festivities, but fortunately, there are more concerts to come.

Day 2: A Hike Through Carara National Park in Pictures

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