Costa Rica Part I: Carara National Park

Costa Rica Part I: Carara National Park

Apryle and I took a trip to Costa Rica (January 18th to January 28th) and traveled around the central portion of the country. Part one includes travel from San Jose to Jaco and Carara National Park (19th to 21st). Part two highlights travel from Jaco to Santa Elena, along with Monteverde National Park and Curi Cancha Reserve. Part three focuses on travel from Santa Elena to La Fortuna and the Bogarin Trail. Part four highlights travel from La Fortuna to Puerto Viejo and La Selva Biological Station along with the return back to San Jose. In this series we will highlight some specifics of the trip, some facts about the area, and review all the wildlife sightings.

Scarlet Macaw

Apryle: Zach and I traveled to Costa Rica on January 18th with an overnight flight. We arrived at 11:30 a.m. on January 19th and waited in a line at customs for about 1.5 hours. We shuttled from the airport to the Nu rental car pickup. As described in some forum posts I read, the car rental cost about 10 times the stated daily rate after they added in the required insurance. Buyer beware! We hopped into our little Suzuki SUV and found we would be driving stick shift for the week. Buyer beware!

It felt good to be on the road to our destination, Jaco. We followed our GPS and printed map with our hotel reservation details. After just a short drive, we would be spending the afternoon taking in the sun and sand at the beach. We would have the evening to prepare for a Carara National Park visit the following day. We wished we had some local currency to pay for the toll road on the way, but the toll attendants accepted US dollars (though we understand we probably didn’t get a very good exchange rate on it!). As we winded south past Carara National Park, I glimpsed a pair of dazzling Scarlet Macaws with sweeping tails, and knew this was a special place. Arriving in Jaco, we easily found Calle Hidalgo and drove the street looking for the Seaside Inn and Suites. Many of the buildings were not clearly marked. Fences made it difficult to see what the buildings looked like. After our initial drive-by, we decided to park at the end of the street and walk. Zach stayed with the car while I walked up and down the road looking for our hotel. I went round and round the block, spoke broken Spanish to the security guards and waiters at the beachside restaurants. Nobody knew our hotel. Nobody could get through on the phone. After about 3 hours, we accepted that our hotel didn’t exist. It was a weekend and many Costa Ricans were vacationing so hotels were packed. Luckily we found one opening, which sat right along the beach. We got some quesadillas, listened to the live music, and went to bed early so we could get to Carara National Park when they opened the gates the next morning.

Zach: Carara National Park is located in the Central Pacific Conservation Area and was established as a biological reserve in 1978 but due to its popularity was upgraded to a national park in 1998. The park is 5242 hectares (or about the equivalent of Tiger Mountain), but was once a part of a large agricultural property. It is situated between dry forest and humid forest, making it the last remnant of transitional forest in the country. It is mostly primary growth forest, making it a hotspot for wildlife and a true treasure of Costa Rica.

Apryle: As with most national parks in Costa Rica, Carara National Park opened at 7 a.m. We arrived about 15 minutes early and found only one car in front of us. It was the car of a private guide named Freddy, who when we hopped out of our car with our binoculars, popped up his scope so we could start birding in the parking lot as we waited for the gates to open. From the parking lot, he pointed out the Tropical Kingbird and Clay-Colored Thrush, Costa Rica’s national bird. His enthusiasm sold us on hiring a guide so when the park opened, we opted to join Freddy’s tour group. Freddy impressed us with his language skills, alternating seamlessly between spanish, english, french, and bird. We started on a hiking loop by the ranger station. We saw Scarlet macaws up in the tree tops. After doing a loop there, we drove 2 km north to a second entrance into the park. We walked out a bit and back. He showed us a Northern Ghost Bat and several Lesser Sac-winged Bat, which we otherwise would have walked right by. Any birds that flitted by, Freddy knew them. When our tour was over, we had walked 2 miles and seen so much!

Streak-chested Antpitta

We left the park to go grab a quick lunch. We went up to the crocodile bridge over the Tarcoles River and had lunch. We quickly got back to the park and went out hiking on our own this time. This time, we hiked the outer loop, where we crossed a stream and spotted some Jesus Christ Lizards basking on rocks in the sun. We continued on the loop and ran into some high-tech birders. They whispered how they had been waiting for an hour or two to call in this bird. We stumbled on them on the trail and reaped the benefits of their patience. We crouched down and joined them in photographing the Streak-Chested Antpitta. On our way back to the trailhead, we spotted a family of Capuchin Monkeys. We were racing against time to get to the other trail, out to the lake, and back to our car before the park closed at 4 p.m.

When we reached the trailhead, we jogged the road up to the other parking area. We waived hola to the parking attendant and headed in. We were hoping to reach the lake shown on the map, but found the trail was closed at a certain point so we did not make it to the lake. We did see a bunch of different birds and a lot fewer people. It seems the people arrive to the parks early, do their tours, then leave for the day. At each of the parks we visited, we really enjoyed the late afternoon when the parks seemed to be less crowded.

We jogged back to our car hot, thirsty, and tired. We had explored about 7 more miles of the park, making it a 9 mile day. We headed back to our hotel in Jaco and decided to skip Manuel Antonio. It was originally on our itinerary but the French folks who were on our tour said it was mobbed with people when they were just there. We were excited to get out of the heat and head up to the cloud forest. We would leave in the morning to head to Monteverde.

Wildlife Check List for Carara and Jaco

Mammals

  1. White-faced Capuchin Monkeys
  2. Howler Monkeys
  3. Agouti
  4. Northern Ghost Bat
  5. Lesser Sac-winged Bat

Reptiles

  1. American Crocodile
  2. Jesus Christ Lizard
  3. Black Iguana

Birds

  1. Scarlet Macaw
  2. Golden Hooded Tanager
  3. Turquoise-Browed Motmot
  4. Willit
  5. Wood Stork
  6. Rufous-naped Wren
  7. Variable Seedeater
  8. Black-headed Trogon
  9. Black-hooded Antshrike
  10. Streak-chested Antipitta
  11. Rofous-naped Wren
  12. Clay-colored Thrush
  13. Orange-billed Sparrow
  14. Gray Hawk
  15. Inca Dove
  16. Bare Throated Tiger Heron
  17. Lesser Night Hawk
  18. Purple Crowned Fairy
  19. Rufous-tailed Hummingbird
  20. Rufous-tailed Jacamar
  21. Yellow-headed Caracara
  22. Barred Antshrike
  23. Dusky Antbird
  24. Tropical Kingbird
  25. Great-tailed Grackle
  26. White-Shouldered Tanager
  27. Wedge-billed Woodcreeper


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.