We had a fun day with mom and dad watching the huge crocodiles that congregate in the Rio Tárcoles under the Crocodile River Bridge in Tarcoles as well as hiking in nearby Carara National Park. Both sites are just a couple kilometers from each other and only about 40 minutes from Atenas so it was a perfect day trip for us, but they’re also easily accessible from San José or anyone heading towards the South Pacific Coast (Jaco, Manuel Antonio, the Costa Ballena) of Costa Rica as they’re located right on the main route, Route 34.
The Crocodile Bridge is a quick stop, but definitely worthwhile as the crocs are HUGE and fun to watch right below the bridge. The nearby town of Tarcoles also offers crocodile boat tours for those with a bit more time.
Carrara National Park ($10 entrance for adults) is an unassuming national park where if you blink, you might miss the sign and parking lot just off the highway but I highly recommend a hike and spending at least an hour or two exploring. It’s always hot and humid, but the trails are mostly all shaded.
This was our second visit and we’ve seen monkeys both times. It’s located in a transition zone where the Pacific dry north meets the humid south coast so there is an abundance of flora and fauna in the park. We decided not to hire a guide this time around, but there are typically a few waiting around the main entrance and they are fantastic as they know where the animals are hiding, what to look for and they often have a telephoto zoom lens or spotting scope so hikers can see up close the wildlife high in the trees.
Despite our not having a guide, we still saw a ton of wildlife and other hikers are usually happy to point out what they discovered or where to find a specific species on the trail which is super helpful. We discovered a scarlet macaw high up in a hole in a tree pruning itself as well as agoutis, leaf cutter ants, two howler monkeys swinging from the canopy, a number of unique birds and towering trees with amazing root systems. We hiked all of the trails in the park (3 interconnected loops) and estimated we walked about 4 miles in total. On a side note, I highly recommend the Costa Rica Wildlife Guide (Amazon aff link) so that you can identify what you see. Even the kids get into this!
After all that exercise, we enjoyed a delicious typical lunch with fresh fruit juices at Soda El Guacimo, a popular roadside restaurant with excellent service, just a couple miles north of the Croc Bridge.