- The Best of Costa Rica
- Costa Rica’s Top Spots for WIldlife
- Costa Rica’s Most Beautiful Beaches
- Costa Rica’s Best Beaches for Wildlife
- Best Surfing Beaches in Costa Rica
- Costa Rica’s Unique Retreats & Resorts
- Surf’s Up in Costa Rica
- Off-The-Beaten-Path Eco-Adventures
- Costa Rica Family-Friendly Adventures
- Adrenaline Rush
Twenty-five kilometers south of Orotina, Highway 34 crosses the Río Tárcoles. The bridge over the river is the easiest place in the country for spotting crocodiles, which bask on the mud banks below the bridge: Don’t lean over too far.
Crocodiles gather at the rivermouth, near the fishing village of Tárcoles (the turnoff is signed 5 km south of the bridge).
The estuary is also fantastic for bird-watching: More than 400 species have been identified. Frigate birds wheel overhead, while cormorants and kingfishers fish in the lagoons. Roseate spoonbills add a splash of color. Scarlet macaws fly overhead on their way to and from roosts in the mangrove swamps that extend 15 kilometers northward.
Note: Several tourists have been victims of armed robberies here, but a bigger threat is the danger of being hit by fast-moving trucks and buses as you walk along the bridge (heaven forbid you’re knocked over the bridge!).
Mangrove Birding Tours (tel. 506/2637-0472, 6 A.M., 9 A.M., noon, and 3 P.M. daily), by the river mouth, offers exactly that, as does Airboat Expeditions (tel. 506/2582-1965, www.airboatexpeditions.com), on the west side of the bridge over the highway.
Opposite the turnoff for Tárcoles from Highway 34, a dirt road leads east and climbs steeply to the hamlet of Bijagual. About two kilometers above the road is the SkyWay (tel. 506/2637-0232, www.villalapas.com, $20 adults, $10 children), a canopy tour with bridges and fantastic views down over the coast. You must buy tickets at the Villa Lapas Hotel, which also operates a zip line ($35 adults, $17 children).
Continuing uphill, about five kilometers from Highway 34 you pass the trailhead to Catarata Manantial de Agua Viva (tel. 506/8831-2980, 8 A.M.–3 P.M. daily, $20 admission), a spectacular 183-meter-high waterfall, also known as the Bijagua Waterfall. Best time is rainy season, when the falls are going full tilt. They don’t cascade in one great plume but rather tumble down the rock face to natural pools good for swimming. There are scarlet macaw nesting sites, and poison-dart frogs hop along the paths. The trail is a stiff two-hour hike each way (take lots of water).
Two kilometers from Highway 34 brings you to Pura Vida Botanical Garden (tel. 506/2645-1001, www.puravidagarden.com, 7:30 A.M.–5 P.M. daily, $20), a delight for the botanical minded. Manicured gravel trails through the gardens offer dramatic views over mountain ridges toward the Manantial de Agua Viva waterfall and the coast. A self-guided tour takes about one hour. It has a delightful restaurant and a gift store. A bus (tel. 506/8831-2930) departs Orotina for Bijagua at 11 A.M. (returns from Bijagua at 5:30 A.M.) and will drop you at the front gate.
Kayak Jacó (tel. 506/2643-1233, www.kayakjaco.com) offers outrigger canoe and kayak trips, including inflatable kayaks on the Río Dulce. It’s based at Playa Agujas, three kilometers south of Tárcoles.
Hotels and Restaurants
Restaurante y Cabinas El Cocodrilo (tel. 506/2661-8261, $30 s/d), on the north side of the bridge of the Río Tárcoles, has eight basic cabinas with fans and shared baths with cold water. There’s a kids’ playground, a souvenir store, and an atmospheric restaurant serving típico dishes and casados (set meals, $4).
Hotel Villa Lapas (tel. 506/2637-0232, www.villalapas.com, $116 pp low season, $126 pp high season, all-inclusive), on the road to the Manantial waterfall, is set amid beautifully landscaped grounds on the edge of Carara reserve. It has 55 comfortable (albeit dingy) air-conditioned rooms aligned along the river with simple yet attractive decor, fan, and large bathrooms. Facilities include an elegant hacienda-style restaurant-bar with a deck over the river (alas, food is mediocre at best), plus a swimming pool, whirlpools, miniature golf, volleyball, and nature trails. There’s a netted butterfly garden. Bird-watching and nature walks are offered.
© Christopher P. Baker from Moon Costa Rica, 8th Edition