The National Parks of Costa Rica
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Destination content © Christopher P. Baker, used from Moon Handbooks Costa Rica, 5th edition.
Rainforest exploration doesn’t come any easier than at Carara National Park, 20 kilometers south of Orotina and beginning immediately south of the Tárcoles bridge.

Carara is unique in that it lies at the apex of the Amazonian and Mesoamerican ecosystems—a climatological zone of transition from the dry of the Pacific north to the very humid southern coast—and is a meeting place for species from both. The 5,242-hectare park borders the Pan-American Highway, so you can literally step from your car and enter the primary forest.

Carara protects evergreen forest of great complexity and density. The diversity of trees is one of the highest in the world. The 10 rarest hardwoods in the country are here, as are some of the rarest and most spectacular animals of tropical America: American crocodiles, great anteaters, ocelots, spider monkeys, and poison-arrow frogs.

Carara is also one of the best bird-watching localities in all Costa Rica. Fiery-billed aracari and toucan are common. So, too, boat-billed herons. And around dawn and dusk, scarlet macaws—there are at least 400—can be seen in flight as they migrate daily between the wet forest interior and the coastal mangrove swamps (a macaw protection and reintroduction program has been very successful). The bridge over the Río Tárcoles is a good place to spot them as they fly over.

Carara also has numerous pre-Columbian archaeological sites.

The Visitors Center (tel. 506/200-5023, 7 a.m.–4 p.m. daily, $8 admission) sits beside the coastal highway, three kilometers south of the Río Tárcoles. Here begins the Las Araceas Nature Trail, a one-kilometer loop; and a handicapped-accessible trail that links to the Quebrada Bonita Trail. The 4.5-kilometer Laguna Meandrica Trail begins beside the highway and follows an old road paralleling the Río Tárcoles; the entrance gate, however, is usually locked.

The rest of Carara is off-limits. Camping is not allowed. You can rent rubber boots ($2), and the Asociación de Guías del Pacífico Central (tel. 506/826-7438, asoguipace [at] yahoo [dot] com) hires out guides for $20 per person.

Most tour operators in San José arrange tours to Carara. Even if you want to explore on your own, it pays to have a guide, which can be booked through Costa Rica Expeditions or other tour operators.

Robberies have occurred. Avoid parking by the Laguna Meandrica Trail; park by the visitor center and ask rangers about current conditions. The ranger station has secure lockers ($1).

Getting There
All buses bound between San José or Puntarenas and Jacó and Quepos pass by the reserve.

This is an small excerpt from Moon Handbooks Costa Rica. CentralAmerica.Com highly recommends that you enhance your vacation by taking a copy of Moon's comprehensive Handbook with you. For more information visit the Moon Handbooks page on this site.

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