Carara National Park and the Tarcoles River are fantastic birding sites. The location marks the northernmost limit of the Pacific rainforest and it is also here that the tropical dry forest finds its southernmost reach. This wonderful phenomenon of habitats converging into one spot produces incredible biodiversity. Carara and Tárcoles then contain a wonderful sample of species of wet tropical pacific habitats and species that would be common in the drier areas of the northwest of Costa Rica. Over 400 species of birds have been registered in the area.
Carara National Park (30 m / 98 ft)
Carara National Park offers three excellent trails. Firstly, the Meándrico Trail, not far from the Tárcoles River offering mostly secondary forest along an old country road, good for mixed species flocks. Offers Gartered Trogon, Slaty-tailed Trogon, Rufous-breasted Wren, Black-bellied Wren, Orange-collared Manakin and occasionally Yellow-billed Cotinga and Turquoise Cotinga. Secondly and thirdly, two loop trails starting from the ranger station and heading south. Quebrada Bonita and Araceas Trails, which contain second growth and mature forests, also offering excellent mixed species flocks and wonderful sightings of Great Tinamou, Streak-chested Antpitta, Golden-naped Woodpecker, White-whiskered Puffbird, Bicolored Antbird, Chestnut-backed Antbird, Spot-crowned Euphonia, Red-capped Manakin, Blue-crowned Manakin and Baird’s Trogon. Other typical wildlife includes White-faced Capuchins, Mantled Howler Monkeys, Green Iguanas, Black Spiny-tailed Iguanas, Central American Agouties, Brown-throated Three-toed and Hoffman's Two-toed Sloths and White-nosed Coatis.
The Tárcoles River (4 m / 13 ft)
The Tárcoles River offers great habitats too. The best way to explore this is by boat, and occasionally reaching portions of the mangrove by foot from the village. The muddy banks of the river and the surrounding mangroves branching off the main canal contain a vast number of shorebirds, seabirds, and mangrove specialties. Targets for Tárcoles River typically include Mangrove Vireo, the resident subspecies of Yellow Warbler, known locally as Mangrove Warbler, the endemic Mangrove Hummingbird, Mangrove Cuckoo, Panama Flycatcher, Northern Scrub-Flycatcher, American Pygmy Kingfisher, the endangered endemic Yellow-billed Cotinga, the rare Rufous-necked Wood-Rail, Bare-throated Tiger-Heron, Boat-billed Heron and Common Black Hawk.
We recommend a minimum of two nights in the area, ideally three.
Two hotels are available in the area, Cerro Lodge and Villa Lapas Hotel. Both only an hour away from the Juan Santamaría International Airport and within a 10 minute drive from Carara National Park.
Cerro Lodge (80 m / 262 ft)
Cerro Lodge offers a great location nestled right into the dry habitats, close to the influence of the Tárcoles River, with a lot of good birding around. The rooms are comfortable, equipped with air conditioning, TV and hot water. The lodge also has a small swimming pool. The open air restaurant offers good food and overlooks great gardens with porterweed bushes attracting a good number of hummingbird species. Regular birds around the grounds are Scrub Euphonia, Turquoise-browed Motmot, Rose-throated Becard, Gartered Trogon, Black-headed Trogon, Scarlet Macaw, White-fronted Parrot, Stripe-headed Sparrow, the diurnal Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, Cinnamon Hummingbird, Blue-throated Goldentail, Steely-vented Hummingbird, Hoffmann’s Woodpecker, Lineated Woodpecker and Crane Hawk. The dirt road into and past Cerro Lodge offers good birding too. Frequent species are Yellow-headed Caracara, Crested Caracara, Laughing Falcon, Orange-fronted Parakeet, Yellow-naped Parrot, Striped Cuckoo, Blue Grosbeak, Painted Bunting, Olive Sparrow, Yellow-green Vireo, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Nutting’s Flycatcher, Rufous-and-white Wren, Long-tailed Manakin, Double-striped Thick-Knee, Southern Lapwing, Bat Falcon and more good chances for Crane Hawk. Even opportunities to find the endemic to Costa Rica, Yellow-billed Cotinga. Scarlet Macaws flying to their roosts in the late afternoon is one of the shows you can enjoy by staying in Cerro Lodge. The night produces in many occasions looks of Pacific Screech-Owl and Black-and-white Owl.
Villa Lapas (36 m / 118 ft)
Villa Lapas is a larger hotel, located near Tárcoles Village, next to the road that heads into the small town of Bijagual. The hotel is set along a rippling stream, surrounded by secondary rain forest, with open grounds with large trees. It offers air conditioning, TV, hot water, a small swimming pool, two large restaurants (typically opening one of the two) and a souvenir shop. Birding can be very good with the hotel’s ever present Bare-throated Tiger-Heron, Green Kingfisher, White Ibis, White-winged Becard, Rose-throated Becard, Cinammon Hummingbird, Steely-vented Hummingbird, Gartered Trogon, Yellow-crowned Euphonia and at night some chances to observe a resident pair of Spectacled Owls. The road uphill past the hotel can be productive in the early morning, producing Painted Bunting, White-whiskered Puffbird, Yellow-green Vireo, Long-billed Starthroat, Lesser Greenlet, Slate-headed Tody-Flycatcher, Plain Xenops, Rufous-and-white Wren and more.