The Carara National Park is located about an hour away from San José. The streets lead you through the mountains, which gives you spectacular nature views. The entrance is about 2 km before Tarcoles Bridge, from where you can watch crocodiles that are always enjoying the sun or swimming with the light flow of the river.
Carara National Park is a transition forest, which means that the rainforest of the south and the dry forest of the north of the country meet. For this reason, there are animal species from both regions and even half of the species that live in Costa Rica can be found in the National Park. The Park is also known for the many bird species you can observe there, especially for the red Ara Macaw.
From May to November, the park is open from 8 am to 4 pm and from December to April from 7 am to 4 pm.
We visited the park in September and it was quite empty. The park rangers welcomed us at the entrance and explained the different hiking trails. There are five in total, which lead through the green, lush forest of the Park.
One of the trails is fixed and also accessible for wheelchairs. In this way there are some benches to take a little break and just listen to the sounds of the different animals. The other ways are not fixed, so I recommend you to wear closed shoes. Also, I recommend using repellent for mosquitoes, even in long clothes.
Unfortunately, Quebrada Meandrica Trail was closed, but we walked all the other trails. We were lucky that the park was empty, so we had time to just stop and watch the animals. And we saw many of them! Iguanas, many colorful birds and butterflies, spiders, an agouti ... and a monkey, which we only noticed because he was throwing canes down. We didn’t see an Ara Macaw, but we read on one of the information signs that they are located along the trails that there are better chances to see them between December and April. Furthermore, we couldn't get enough from all the different plants and red, yellow and orange flowers.
The trails lead over bridges to cross the riverd that separate one part of the forest from the other one. From there we had a great view and were able to see even more colorful birds, that were flying over the treetops.
So besides closed shoes and repellent, you should bring your camera and binoculars, to watch the wildlife in the high trees!
We spend 4 hours at the park, but we also took a lot of time to watch nature and try to see animals in the trees. I think this park is a great option as a day trip from San José or as a stop on a long trip in the car to Manuel Antonio. If you have time and want to see the beach, you can drive for about 20 km more to Jacó, eat something, watch the sunset over the pacific ocean and then go back to San José. But in the rainy season, I do recommend you to go in the morning because it is usually raining in the afternoon.
The National Park is definitely worth to visit and a nice trip for families. If you have time and patience, you will see many animals here and become one with the beautiful forest nature.
If you have any questions, feel free to contact me, I’ll be more than happy to assist you!
Photos and Story: Caroline Brandt