The last noteworthy portion of primary rain forest in the Central Pacific region is located within the very accessible Carara National Park (Parque Nacional Carara). It ranks among the most popular due to its close proximity to the capital city, however, if you can beat the crowds, the experience and wildlife which runs rampant throughout the park will impress any nature enthusiast.
The park is uniquely situated between Amazonian and Mesoamerican habitats in a transition zone which harbors distinct flora and fauna from each respective habitat. It is truly a special place. The park's name, loaned from the Huetar natives, means crocodile. Anyone who visits will understand the significance of the name as the Tarcoles River (Rio Tarcoles), which forms the northern boundary to the park, is inhabited by crocodiles almost year round.
Other wildlife you are likely to see include white-face capuchin monkeys and scarlet macaws, which migrate daily from the interior of the dense forest canopy to the mangroves near the mouth of the Tarcoles where they tend to perch. If the colorful streaks in the sky left by the macaws aren't alluring enough, birders will enjoy toucans, parrots, aracaris, kingfishers and herons, which flourish in the coastal mangroves. Other animals found inside the park include peccaries, anteaters and poison-arrow frogs that hop tentatively around the moist forest floor.
Carara National Park is located just 9.3 miles (15 km) north of Jaco and about an hour from San Jose. Several miles of hiking trails are open for visitors. Inquire for information with the Quebrada Bonita Ranger Station, which sits along Hwy 34 just minutes south of the Tarcoles River. The ranger station will be happy to give advice and current information on much of the wildlife described above. Early morning, or around sunset is often the best time to see the wealth of birds living in the park, especially scarlet macaws.
The park opens at 7 am and closes at 5 pm. The entrance fee is $7. Don't forget to bring insect repellent. The Tarcoles River, which borders the park and flows into the Pacific Ocean, is an amazing place to witness the American crocodile close up. Boat tours are available to see them, as they can be up to several meters in length! At the mouth of the Tarcoles, the Guacalillo mangrove plays a vital role for the survival of many species of wildlife that may be viewed here.