Costa Rica’s Rio Tarcoles is best known for what resides in its waters. Attracting eager viewers year-round, many are hoping to catch a thrilling glimpse and perhaps even photograph one of its famous residents, the crocodiles – Lots and lots of American Crocodiles!
Maybe you’ve even come across these magnificent creatures on your Route 34 trips to explore Manual Antonio or on your way to a beach day in Jaco without even realizing it.
You’ll easily know you’re approaching Rio Tarcoles as restaurants and souvenir stalls begin to appear as you get closer to the famous Crocodile Bridge. It has become a popular stopover and attraction for Ticos and tourists. The views on and around the bridge are just as breathtaking and photo-worthy as the huge crocodiles themselves.
About 30 minutes outside of Jaco you will find this exciting lookout. A stop along the way for a free observation of crocodiles in a natural habitat outside captivity. They most often bask in the sun’s rays below the middle deck area and, depending on the rains, on patches of land off the shore as well.
Over the years, the bridge continues to maintain its popularity as a tourist spot as crocodiles now remain in the area. You are almost guaranteed to see several crocodiles along the banks no matter what time of year due to human influence over the decades. They know where a readily available food source is, even if it is given to them illegally in the form of raw, frozen chicken or another tasty carnivorous treat.
Crocodiles are a source of income for the area with boat tours, vendors at bridge entrances, shops and places to eat and relax after surviving your crocodile sighting. Many crocodiles no longer need to go out and get food because they know it will come to them or it will stay and just fight for it when it arrives.
The locals grew up establishing their familiarity with the animals and their behaviors, feeding them along the river, creating their bravado with them. Together with the crocodile feeding tours, they attracted thrill-seeking tourists on the river and the tours generated the necessary revenue.
However, like any relationship with an animal, crocodiles adapt to associating their food source with humans in an unhealthy relationship.
Feed the crocodiles
Some might think it’s a fun or daring adventure to have a little fun on deck, but remember that it’s actually illegal in Costa Rica and you can be fined if you choose to. feed them. There are always those who like to test their fate and attempt to illegally feed them along the lower banks or see how close they can get. No matter how habituated one thinks they have become to humans, they are quickly reminded that they are in fact still wild predators.
After law enforcement had been on the back burner for many years, they stepped in and addressed the illegal activities on the river, recalling the laws of the land regarding their diet. However, many leaning on the industry disagreed, believing that it was not their actions that were responsible for the growing and potential problems, but those above on deck and their behaviors.
No matter who is responsible for the crocodile business, illegal feeding alters the behavior of animals in their natural environment and remains a dangerous and potentially deadly encounter when approached.
Rio Tarcoles is approximately 111 kilometers long and reaches the northern border of Carara National Park on its way to the Pacific Ocean. Also known as Rio Grande de Tarcoles, its creation was formed by the convergence of two rivers, Virilla and Grande de San Ramon. Before the famous Crocodile Bridge was built, the only way to cross the Rio Tarcoles was by a wooden ferry and a very small one at that.
Loaded with only enough room for a few vehicles, you’ll have to wait patiently to cross to the other side to continue on your way.
With several species of mangrove trees and many exotic birds to observe, river excursions are offered to admire the natural sites of the flora and fauna of Rio Tarcoles. Coastal birds line the paths with native and migratory birds of herons, hawks, kingfishers and scarlet macaws, however, it is the crocodiles that have the most appeal.
With their large size reaching over 6.1 meters and with weights of nearly 2,000 pounds, it is truly an incredible and powerful sight. You may not necessarily see the largest of all crocodiles, but you will still see plenty of them in the waters of the river and all its eco sites.
A day on one of Costa Rica’s rivers sounds like a relaxing and perfect day, however, you might want to skip the splashing and swimming in this one. It is considered one of the most polluted and dirtiest rivers in Costa Rica. Although the crocodiles and wildlife continue to survive and adapt to their habitat, it is best that you enjoy it from above.
It is said that there are nearly 2,000 crocodiles in the Rio Tarcoles, giving it the reputation of having one of the largest populations in the country and in the world. Raw sewage and industrial waste contaminate the waters that flow from surrounding urban areas. The combination of that and crude oil, a diesel leak in 2000, and the large number of crocodiles make for an unhealthy, poisonous, and dangerous afternoon down by the river.
The Rio Tarcoles highway stop is a great destination to add to your trip to Costa Rica to see something new and exciting. Gently leaning over the rails as you spot the clusters of prehistoric-looking reptiles is a bit of adrenaline and fun combined in one. Safely above, surrounded by the verdant forest, the view in the distance over the highway as you watch the huge crocodile feast in the rays is surreal.
There can be controversy and debate over the methods and behaviors of those of the Rio Tarcoles and its famous crocodiles that inhabit its waters. However, the crocodiles are still there, spread out in large numbers, and continue to be a popular and memorable attraction. Also, don’t forget, it’s free!