At the confluence of two important Costa Rican ecosystems—the wet and wild Pacific Rainforest that characterizes the southern coast, and the dry tropical forest for which Guanacaste is known—this small, popular national park packs a lot of wildlife into a 5240-hectare (12,950-acre) package.
Most notably, Carara is home to one of Costa Rica’s last remaining populations of scarlet macaws, who you’ll likely see gossiping and preening in small groups throughout the park. The Rio Tarcoles, which forms the park’s northern border, is well known for its enormous population of huge crocodiles.
There are two short, 1km (.6mi) interpretive trails through the wilderness and waterfalls, perfect for families and less active travelers. A longer, 4.5km (2.7mi) trail follows the Rio Tarcoles and mangrove marshes, where both the crocodiles and scarlet macaws settle in for the evening.
There are scores of other animals in residence, hailing from both forest ecosystems straddled by Carara: sloths, peccaries, deer, monkeys, armadillos, and even big cats. Birders will appreciate the bounty most, with some 400 species easily spotted in this relatively small area.
Carara is convenient to both San Jose and Jaco, which is great for travelers who often park on the famous Tarcoles Bridge for a view over the crocodile-packed river. Unfortunately, this is also great for folks who rob rental cars. Keep an eye on your vehicle (even if you’re just on the bridge for a few moments), leave no valuables visible, and use guarded parking whenever possible.