Tarcoles River Crocodiles
Our tour leader, a crocodile whisperer if you will, knew many of the older crocs in the river. He called them by name, recognizing each by discerning physical markings and their location. I watched in anticipation as Jose waded out into the water with a hefty piece of raw chicken. Smack! smack! He thwacked the meat against the muddy riverbank, alerting the nearest croc that dinner was served. This was just one of dozens of American crocodiles that inhabit the Tarcoles, a 62-mile river that forms the northern border of Carara National Park.
The jungle crocodile safari started on a high note, as an eight-foot female silently glided up and engulfed the chicken with one clamp of her massive jaws. Believe it or not, this prehistoric reptile was on the smaller side for a Tarcoles crocodile; some of the males measure up to 18 feet from snout to tail. The river has one of the planet's biggest populations of American crocodiles, with an estimated 2,000 crocs living in its murky waters.
While scaly, carnivorous creatures aren't on the top of everyone's "must see" list in Costa Rica, once you glimpse one in the wild, it's hard to look away. Their size and strength becomes apparent as you watch two males spar over a mate, or shuffle quickly in a low, sprawled belly walk along the river shore. Not much has changed in these reptiles in the last million years.
If a boat tour with Costa Rica's Crocodile Dundee isn't on your itinerary, you can make a quick stop at the Tarcoles River bridge, just before reaching Jaco. Stop by any time and you're bound to spot several crocs basking along the river's edge. Some sport radio collars, placed by biologists for tracking purposes, while others laze in the sun au natural. Less than an hour from San Jose, the Tarcoles River has been a popular tourist pit stop for years, and will hopefully continue to be a haven for American crocodiles.