Between San Jose and the central Pacific coast, you will find an interesting ad hoc tourist attraction.
It is a narrow bridge that spans the Tarcoles River. From that bridge, you can often view up to forty American crocodiles swimming in the river and sunning themselves on the shore.
The Tarcoles River
The Tarcoles River in Costa Rica is so associated with crocodiles that it is sometimes known simply as the crocodile river. The river begins in the mountains of the Central Cordillera range, at the convergence of the Virilla and Grande de San Ramón rivers. It drains into the Gulf of Nicoya.
The Chucas Hydroelectric Station on the river provides electricity for the area.
The Tarcoles “Crocodile” Bridge
The Tarcoles bridge is on route 34. This highway is also formally known as Carretera Pacifica Fernández Oreamuno, but most people just call it la Costanera, roughly translated as coastal highway.
Travelers that arrive via Juan Santamaría Airport (SJO) and travel overland to popular destinations on the Pacific coast, such as Quepos and Manuel Antonio, will probably pass over this bridge. It is worth the stop. But you should be careful.
Although the crocodiles below are a popular attraction, the bridge isn’t designed for pedestrians. Visitors need to be careful. There isn’t much room for walking and viewing; automobiles pass uncomfortably close.
Since 1995, on average, one person dies and two people are injured as part of their activities attempting to interact with a crocodile, which all happened in the water.
In 2017, Costa Rican law firm sued to force the government to remedy the risk associated with this bridge (link in Spanish).
A Costa Rican lawmaker, Carmen Chan, has proposed the building of a ecotourism park that would allow visitors and tourists to safely and comfortably experience the crocodiles. (link in Spanish).
There is a small building near the northern bank, housing all manner of tourist-oriented products and services, as well as a small parking area.
Why Spend More Time Around the Tarcoles River
If you are interested in spending a day exploring the crocodiles of the area, you might consider a crocodile tour operator such as Crocodile Man Tours, whose tour guides are experienced interactive with the scaly animals.
Besides crocodiles, you can also see other reptiles such as iguanas and caimans. You can also spy birds such as the Mangrove Vireo, Mangrove Warbler, Panama Flycatcher, various hawks, toucans, parrots, and egrets.
Carara National Park
South of the crocodile bridge is the Carara National Park. In fact, the river marks the northern edge of the park.
Carara covers almost 13,000 acres (or 5242 hectares) and has the distinction of containing two distinct climates, the rainforests of the Pacific and the dry tropical forests that you find in Guanacaste. This mix and climate transition provide interesting wildlife viewing opportunities.
If you like to hike, Carara will serve you. There are multiple trails in the park, including a 5.1 kilometer loop upon which you may enjoy the sight of wildflowers, birds, white-faced capuchin monkeys, and other wildlife.
Carara is a daytime-only experience as it opens at 7 am and closes at 5 pm.
While the park can be enjoyed at all times of the year, the most comfortable time to visit is during the dry months of March and April.
The national park and the Tarcoles river are only 15 kilometers from Jacó. After a day of outdoor adventuring in Carara park, you can enjoy the luxury of Costa Rica’s most populous and developed beach town.
In Jacó you will find a variety of activities, lodging, restaurants, and bars to suit your tastes. For a luxurious experience, we recommend the all-inclusive Crocs Resort and Casino.
For a more laid back experience, check out the small restaurants, bars, and hotels just north of Jacó, in Playa Hermosa.
If you are visiting Carara, the Tarcoles River, or getting off of the beaten path near route 34, you should make your normal forest preparations. Use sunblock and insect repellent. Wear long pants and hiking footwear. Consider covering your arms.