Want to get off the beaten track while communing with nature? Look no further than Carara National Park – a lightly tread reserve that boasts just as much wildlife as neighboring Manuel Antonio, but with fewer tourist crowds. Located on the outskirts of Jaco, this gem is one of two spots in the entire nation to host breeding scarlet macaws. The park’s northern border is framed by the serpentine Tarcoles River, a crucial haven for more than 2,000 American crocodiles. If planning a trip to the central Pacific coast, don’t miss an opportunity to visit this unique protected zone.
Fast facts about Carara National Park
Admission fee: $10 for adults, $1 kids
Hours: Daily from 7 AM to 4 PM
Location: 9.3 miles north of Jaco
Weather: Low 80’s to mid 90’s year-round
Facilities: Visitor’s center with restrooms, picnic tables and maps
Nearby Destinations: Jaco central, Playa Hermosa & Playa Esterillos
Guided Nature Tours: Available daily, from $20 – $35
Unique transition zone forest shelters wide variety of species
Created in 1978, Carara is somewhat of an anomaly among parks in the area as it is comprised of two distinct habitats: dry tropical forest and wet primary rainforest. As such, visitors are treated to an amazing diversity of wildlife that you might see in the lowland jungles around Manuel Antonio and the more arid regions of Guanacaste. Carara is especially popular for its bird species, including boat-billed herons, motmots, woodpeckers, hummingbirds, night hawks, manikins, black guans, trogons, toucans and aracaris. But the real showstoppers are its resident scarlet macaws, which can be seen roosting and nesting in large numbers throughout the year. Most visitors spot at least 30 avian species during a guided tour of this 13,000-acre park.
Tips for wildlife viewing
Camouflaged creatures are best seen with the aid of an eagle-eyed naturalist guide. Well-trained in identifying local flora and fauna, guides charge around $25 for a three-hour journey through Carara’s groomed trails. Improve your chances of spotting macaws by scheduling a tour as early as possible, as the birds are most active and vocal before 10 AM. If you’re not an early riser consider a late afternoon tour, when you’re likely to see wild peccaries, poison dart frogs, anteaters, agoutis and coatimundis. Be sure to bring plenty of insect repellent as the mosquitoes can be relentless, and wear sturdy hiking shoes. Your guide will also bring a spotting scope, which will enable plenty of close-up photos of your animal encounters.
Sanctuary for scarlet macaws and other creatures
An estimated 450+ scarlet macaws inhabit the transitional forests of Carara National Park. Locally known as lapas, these magnificent birds mate for life and can be seen in groups of 20 noisily roosting in the treetops and soaring overhead. If visiting the park during the dry season months of December through April (the macaw’s mating period), you might spot them nesting in the hollowed cavities of trees.
In addition to macaws, the park’s varied habitats provide shelter for two and three-toed sloths, kinkajous, tayras, white-faced, spider and howler monkeys, basilisk lizards and boa constrictors. Don’t forget to pay a visit to the Tarcoles River Bridge, just a half mile from the park entrance, where enormous (12 foot) crocs are often sunbathing by the river’s edge.