Carara National Park is a unique area in Costa Rica and a popular national park for bird watchers. Though it used to be a biological reserve, the immense popularity made the government change its status to a national park.
If you’re planning on visiting Carara, find out what you need to know about it before you go in our post.
Carara National Park
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About the park
Established in 1998 as a national park, Carara National Park is a favorite destination for bird watchers due to its immense amount of primary rain forest. It actually has more primary rain forest than its popular neighbor, Manuel Antonio National Park. It is also home to one of the largest population of Scarlet macaws in Costa Rica.
Another reason why this national park is special is that it lies directly in the transition zone between the tropical dry rain forest and tropical rain forest. This mesh of two habitats means flora and fauna from both live in one area, making it an extremely biologically rich zone.
Carara National Park is 20 square miles and it protects the river basin of the Rio Tarcoles.
Location and Directions
The Quebrada Ranger Station is right off of the highway a little bit after the Rio Tarcoles bridge. There is no bus that goes directly there so the best way is to take a taxi. To get back, prepare transportation because after dark, it is hard to flag down a bus. You can ask the rangers to call you a taxi but it is also a good idea to think about joining a tour so you have transportation and a guide.
Hours and fee
The park is open 8AM -4 PM during rainy season (May to November) and 7 AM – 4 PM during dry season (December to April).
The entrance fee is $10 for foreigners.
Though many mammals call Carara National Park home, it is harder to see them due to the dense canopy cover. Birds however, are easily seen as a handful of colorful tropical and water birds live in Carara.
We visited the park in January and the parking lot was filled with birdwatchers. We encountered several groups of them as we walked through the park, all them decked out in bird watching gear, binoculars, telescopes and long zoom lenses.
As we knew the birdwatching was excellent in Carara National Park, we decided to practice our bird spotting skills. Neither of us are very good at it but it was really fun trying to locate the source of all the interesting calls. For mammals, we only saw a troop of White-faced capuchin monkeys.
Here are the birds we saw in Carara. We heard the Scarlet Macaws but didn’t see them, we were really hoping to see the Fiery-billed Aracari but no luck 🙁
If you want to know more about birds, check out our birds in Costa Rica post!
And the White face monkey…
The Hiking Trails
There are two sections of Carara National Park open to visitors: the trail around Laguna Meandrica and Sendero Universal Access/Quebrada Bonita/Los Araceas at the main ranger station.
The Laguna Meandrica trail is closed September and October due to flooding from the rains and you have to watch out for crocodiles. This trail takes about an hour to complete.
This is a nice leisurely trail where we saw many birds and heard the macaws. It’s separate from the main ranger station, about 2 kilometers (there is a sign) and there is a parking lot with a guard.
One of the rangers gave us a tip for the trails: go to Laguna Meandrica first since it has less canopy cover than the main trails. That way you aren’t walking during the peak hours of sunlight (10AM-2PM).
Ranger station trails
The trails at the ranger station take up to 2 hours to complete. One very nice thing about Carara National Park is that their universal trail is designed for people with disabilities. It is very flat so it’s wheelchair accessible, they have signs in Braille and animal sculptures.
The Quebrada Bonita trail is 1.3 kilometers and the Las Araceas is 1.1 kilometers, so it’s not a very long walk. They all connect together so you can easily loop around to all of them.
These trails were quite pleasant to hike. It has well made platforms and bridges and we saw people raking leaves to clear the paths. The universal access path is very impressive. Most national parks in Costa Rica aren’t handicap friendly so it was nice to see one that was extremely accessible for those with disabilities. They also have small rest areas on the universal access loop with restrooms and water.
As for wildlife, we saw only birds at Carara. Mammals are definitely there as we heard monkeys and saw a squirrel, but it is tough to see them!
Tips for Visiting
- It’s best to hire a guide if you really want to see wildlife or are there to see birds. You can go with a tour company or hire a guide at the ranger station.
- Wear long pants, shirt/tank top and hiking shoes. The bugs there were pretty intense so bring mosquito repellent. Sunscreen and a hat is also a must. Don’t forget plenty of water – it’s not a tough hike but it is humid!
- Don’t leave any belongings in your car. This is a popular national park that’s right off the highway and it’s easy for thieves to see which car is easy to get in and out of.
- Bring a field guide. I have this field guide which was so useful in identifying birds. Super helpful for bird lovers!
Read about other national parks here!
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