Carara National Park
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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 among the highest in the world. Some of the most spectacular animals of tropical America are here: American crocodiles, great anteaters, ocelots, spider monkeys, and poison-dart frogs.
Carara is also one of the best bird-watching locales in all Costa Rica. Fiery-billed aracari and toucans are common. So, too, are 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 (Centro de Visitantes, tel. 506/2637-1080 or 2637-1054, 7 A.M.–4 P.M. daily; last entrance at 3 P.M., $10) 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 wheelchair-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. 506/8723-3008, asoguipace [at] yahoo [dot] com) hires out guides for $20 per person. Even if you want to explore on your own, it pays to have a guide, which can also be booked through Costa Rica Expeditions (tel. 506/2257-0766, www.costaricaexpeditions.com) or other tour operators.
Note: Robberies have occurred. Avoid parking by the Laguna Meandrica Trail; park by the visitors center and ask rangers about current conditions. The ranger station has secure lockers ($1).
Getting to Carara National Park
© Christopher P. Baker from Moon Costa Rica, 8th Edition