One of the last remnants of an ecological transition zone between Costa Rica's drier northwest and the more humid southeast holds a tremendous collection of plants and animals. Much of the 47-square-km (18-square-mile) park is covered with primary forest on steep slopes, where the massive trees are laden with vines and epiphytes. The sparse undergrowth makes wildlife easier to see here than in many other parks, but nothing is guaranteed. If you're lucky, you may glimpse
armadillos, basilisk lizards, coatis, and any of several monkey species, as well as birds such as blue-crowned motmots, chestnut-mandibled toucans, and trogons.
The first trail on the left shortly after the bridge that spans the Río Tárcoles (a good place to spot crocodiles) leads to a horseshoe-shape laguna meandrica (oxbow lake). The small lagoon covered with water hyacinths is home to turtles, crocodiles, and waterfowl such as the northern jacana, roseate spoonbill, and boat-billed heron. It is a two- to four-hour hike from the trailhead to the lagoon and back, depending on how much bird-watching you do. Cars parked at the trailhead have been broken into. If you don't see a ranger on duty at the Sendero Laguna Meandrica trailhead, avoid leaving anything of value in your vehicle. You may be able to leave your belongings at the main ranger station (several miles south of the trailhead), where you can also buy drinks and souvenirs and use the restroom. Otherwise, visit the park as a day trip from a nearby hotel.
Two trails lead into the forest from the parking lot. The shortest one can be done in 15 minutes, whereas the longer one that connects with the Quebrada Bonita loop takes one to three hours to hike. The latter can be quite muddy during the rainy months, when you may want rubber boots. Carara's proximity to San José and Jacó means that tour buses arrive regularly in high season, scaring some animals deeper into the forest. Come very early or late in the day to avoid crowds. Bird-watchers can call the day before to arrange admission before the park opens. Camping is not permitted. Jacó is the nearest town and the most logical base for trips into the park. Local travel agencies and tour operators arrange transport to and guides through the park. The park itself has guides, but you must arrange in advance.
East of Costanera, just south of bridge over Rio Tárcoles, Orotina, 20501, Costa Rica