In a country where deforestation is still rife, hiking through dense, primary tropical cloud forest is an experience to be treasured. The park owes its foundation to the public outcry provoked by the construction of the highway of the same name through this region in the late 1970s—the government bowed to pressure from environmentalists, and somewhat ironically, Braulio Carrillo is the national park that is most accessible from the capital, thanks to the highway. Covering
443 square km (171 square miles), the extremely diverse terrain ranges from 55 meters (108 feet) to about 2,896 meters (9,500 feet) above sea level and extends from the central volcanic range down the Caribbean slope to La Selva research station near Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí. The park protects a series of ecosystems ranging from the cloud forests on the upper slopes to the tropical wet forest of the Magsasay sector; it is home to 6,000 tree species, 500 bird species, and 135 mammal species.
Despite the park's immense size and proximity to the capital, visitor facilities are extremely limited. Penetrating the park's depths is a project only for the truly intrepid.
The Zurquí ranger station is to the right of the highway, ½ km (¼ mile) before the Zurquí Tunnel. Here a short trail loops through the cloud forest. Hikes are steep; wear hiking boots to protect yourself from mud, slippage, and snakes. The main trail through primary forest, 1½ km (1 mile) long, culminates in a mirador (lookout point), but alas, the highway mars the view. Monkeys, tapirs, jaguars, kinkajous, sloths, raccoons, margays, and porcupines all live in this forest, and resident birds include the resplendent quetzal and the eagle. Orchids, bromeliads, heliconias, fungi, and mushrooms live closer to the floor. Another trail leads into the forest to the right, beginning about 17 km (11 miles) after the tunnel, where it follows the Quebrada González, a stream with a cascade and swimming hole. There are no campsites in this part of the park. The Carrillo ranger station, 22 km (14 miles) northeast along the highway from Zurquí, marks the beginning of trails that are less steep. Farther north on this highway, near the park entrance/exit toward Guápiles, is the Quebrada González ranger station. To the east of Heredia, a road climbs Barva Volcano from San Rafael.
Braulio Carrillo National Park, Costa Rica
/2290–8202-Sistemas de Areas de Conservación; /192-national parks hotline in Costa Rica