A mere 2-hour drive mostly west from San José, the Río Tárcoles creates the boundary between the North and South Pacific regions. Also known as the Río Grande de Tárcoles, its watershed covers nearly 50% of Costa Rica’s population. Ironically, it is considered the most polluted river in the country, draining much of the country’s organic and industrial waste as well as contaminated by a diesel spill in 2000. And yet, the mouth of the river, emptying into the Gulf of Nicoya, attracts a vast array of shorebirds and waterbirds. Of course, water treatment facilities and trash dumps often host interesting varieties of birds too. Go figure.
Sitting on the southern bank of the Río Tárcoles, Carara National Park protects 11,600 acres of a transition zone between tropical dry forest and tropical wet forest. As the northernmost site of the South Pacific slope, Carara hosts a diversity of tree species ranked among the highest in the world. The name “carara” comes from the indigenous Central Valley Huetar word for “crocodile”—which are plentiful in the area.
Here’s a more detailed map of the areas mentioned in this section (from Henderson, 2010. Birds of Costa Rica: A field guide. Austin: University of Texas Press). Click on the map for a (slightly) larger version.
Click here to read about our experiences in this area—first, La Villa Lapas lodge and Río Tárcoles.