Costa Rica is full of nature reserves and wildlife parks, but one of the most popular is the Carara National Park, an easy day trip just 2 hours drive from San Jose and a key attraction for cruise travelers docking at the coastal resort of Puerto Caldera. Straddling Costa Rica’s northernmost region of Pacific rainforest and the dryer tropics of the Northwest, the 5,242-hectare park is home to a unique medley of wildlife.
With the varied scenery spanning marshlands, lagoons and cloud forests, Carara is renowned for its diversity. Armadillos, possums and sloths can be found crawling through the vines; crocodiles and waterfowl reign over the rivers and margay cats, white tail deer and jaguars roam free in the jungle.
Birdwatchers will also be in their element in Carara – the biological reserve has Costa Rica’s largest population of colorful Scarlet Macaws, one of the country’s most rare and most sought after birds, who swoop in from the coast to spend their days amidst the greenery. Hundreds of bird species are found fluttering through the treetops, among them a number of extraordinary Jacamars and Trogons.
Hiking is another popular pastime in the park, with two marked trails taking in the scenery. The 4.5 km (2.7-mile) Araceas Nature Trail follows the river, where you can take in spectacular views from the Rio Tarcoles Bridge and spot the famous crocodiles after which the park was named (Carara is an indigenous word translating as River of Crocodiles). Alternatively follow the historic trail through the Central Valley, where a number of archaeological sites and tombs from between 300BC to 1500AD are dotted around the track.