Driving on Route 34 from San Jose to the central Pacific coast offers one of the best tourist activities in Central America – up close and wild crocodile sightseeing at the crocodile bridge Costa Rica.
About 46 miles from San Jose, you will find Tarcoles bridge. This bridge spans the Tarcoles river, and over time, it has become a famous stopover, especially for tourists as they try to catch on a break to stretch their legs.
The Tarcoles bridge is primarily famous because of the numerous Tarcoles river crocodiles. Therefore, this bridge is at times referred to as “the crocodile bridge”.
At the crocodile bridge, you’ll get free and exciting sightseeing. Is there anything more satisfying for a tourist? Read on and learn everything you need to know about visiting this amazing bridge!
How To Get to Tarcoles Crocodile Bridge Costa Rica
The nearest airport from Tarcoles bridge is Juan Santamaria International Airport, about an hour away by car. Tarcoles bridge is about a two-hour drive from San Jose, Costa Rica.
The road to Tarcoles bridge leads to Puntarenas, which is a port city on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. Apart from Tarcoles River Crocodile Bridge, Puntarenas offers other tourist attractions, including:
- Puntarenas Municipal Market
- Puntarenas Beach Boardwalk
Tarcoles River flows from the central valley of Costa Rica to the Pacific Ocean. It crosses under the highway that links San Jose and Puntarenas along its journey.
The river is home to many crocodiles, which can often be seen sunning themselves on the banks or swimming in the water.
Best Time to Be at the Bridge
The best time to visit the Tarcoles bridge to see the crocodiles is early morning or late afternoon. The day’s heat causes the crocodiles to retire to the cooler waters of the Tarcoles River, and they can be seen sunning themselves on the banks.
Tarcoles is home to one of the largest populations of crocodiles in Costa Rica, and it’s not uncommon to see over 20 crocodiles basking in the sun at any given time. If you’re lucky, you may even spot a caiman or two.
While there are no guarantees, your chances of seeing these massive reptiles are highest during the cooler hours of the day. So, if you’re looking to get up close and personal with some crocodiles, plan your visit for dawn or dusk.
Arriving at Tarcoles Bridge
Since the only way to get to the bridge is by road, most tourists will undoubtedly be driving or driven on tour vans. Arriving at the bridge, one will first notice several souvenir shops and restaurants on the north side of the river.
The souvenir shops sell items such as t-shirts, hats, and keychains. The restaurants offer a variety of local dishes, such as Ceviche and Empanadas.
Several attendants on the bridge are happy to take photos of visitors with the crocodiles. The attendants are also quite helpful when parking.
Security of your belongings is not assured here even though there are several attendants. This is because of the high traffic coming and going.
It would be best if you didn’t leave any valuables outside your car. If you cannot lock everything in the vehicle, you should take turns walking to the bridge.
Also, car break-ins were rampant in the past; hence you shouldn’t leave your belongings visible in the car. This, however, has improved but better be safe than regret.
What to Do on the Crocodile Bridge
Walking to the bridge, some crocodiles will be sunning themselves or swimming in the water below.
The best way to get close to the crocodiles is to stand on the railings and lean over. Keep your hands and feet inside the railings as these creatures can be pretty aggressive.
It is hazardous for you and the crocodiles to pet or try to feed the crocodiles. This is because feeding the crocodiles might interfere with their diet.
As you walk across the bridge, you’ll also have the opportunity to see a variety of birds, including herons, kingfishers, and ospreys.
Both sides of the road have sidewalks, and hence you do not have to worry about interfering with the flow of traffic. In addition, safety rails are on the extreme ends of the sidewalks to prevent people from falling over.
However, the spaces between railings are big enough for children to fall into the river. So, if you have children, keep a close eye on them.
When crossing from one side of the river to the other side, don’t jump over the concrete railings as this is very dangerous. Cars can appear abruptly, and one might be knocked down. Instead, always walk back to the parking and cross the road.
The bridge can get crowded during peak season, so it’s best to visit during the week or early in the morning. The crowding, however, is nothing to worry about since tourists take short periods of about 10 to 20 minutes at the bridge.
Crocodiles to Expect On Your Visit
The Tarcoles River is home to a large population of American crocodiles, estimated to be around 2,000 individuals. The crocodiles range from 2-4 meters (6.5-13 feet), with males typically being larger than females.
These crocodiles are opportunistic predators and eat nearly anything they can catch, including fish, reptiles, mammals, and birds. It’s important to note that they will also devour humans if they get the chance, and there have been a few cases of people meeting their death by wandering too close to these crocs.
While they are not considered endangered, their numbers have declined in recent years due to habitat loss and degradation. However, the population at the Tarcoles River appears to be stable and even flourishing.
This is likely due to the abundance of food available and the lack of human disturbance. As a result, the Tarcoles Bridge has become a popular spot for both locals and tourists to view these impressive animals in their natural habitat.
The visible population depends on the year and how full the river is. For example, during the dry season (Dec-April), the water level is lower and fewer crocodiles are visible.
However, during the rainy season (May-Nov), the river level rises, and more crocodiles can be seen sunning themselves on the banks or swimming in the water.
Several tour operators offer boat tours up and down the Tarcoles River if you want a closer look at the crocodiles.
These tours typically last about 1-2 hours and provide an up-close look at these prehistoric creatures.
The tour guides will often bait the crocodiles with food so you can get a good look at them.
While this is an exciting experience, it is essential to remember that these are wild animals and can be dangerous.
It is best to view them from a distance and not to try to feed or pet them.
Things NOT To Do At The Bridge
Feeding crocodiles is strictly prohibited as this can interfere with their diet and behavior. Costa Rican law also prohibits the feeding of these crocodiles.
Lastly, do not jump over the concrete railings, which is extremely dangerous. Cars can appear abruptly, and one might be knocked down.
Spending More Time at Tarcoles River
Apart from the crocodiles, the Tarcoles River is home to various other wildlife, including birds, fish, and reptiles.
The nearby Carara Biological Reserve is also worth a visit and is one of the best places in Costa Rica to see wildlife.
Carara Reserve covers about 5,200 hectares of primary and secondary rainforest and is home to a variety of other wildlife, including monkeys, snakes, sloths, and toucans.
Several tours are available that will take you to see the crocodiles and other wildlife in the area. Hiking and birdwatching are also popular activities in Carara.
These tours typically last around 2-3 hours and include pick-up and drop-off from your hotel.
If you’re interested in doing a tour, we recommend contacting one of the many tour operators in the Jaco area.
Carara operates only during the day, from 7 am to 5 pm. Time your visits to coincide with this period to avoid being turned away at the gate.
If you are planning a hike, wear an insect repellant as there can be a lot of mosquitoes in the forest.
Lastly, remember to bring your camera as Carara has plenty of photo opportunities.
Jaco is a short drive from Tarcoles crocodile bridge. Jaco is Costa Rica’s most developed and most populated beach town. Here you’ll find accommodation, restaurants, bars, and nightlife.
Jaco is also an excellent base for exploring the nearby beaches, rainforests, and national parks.
Final Thoughts – Crocodile Bridge Costa Rica
The Tarcoles bridge is one of the best places in Costa Rica to see Tarcoles river crocodiles in their natural habitat. The river is also home to various other wildlife, including birds, fish, and reptiles.
This can be a stopover site to stretch your legs or a complete tourist destination where you can enjoy the crocodile tours, Carara reserve, and Jaco. Besides, the town of Jaco offers luxurious accommodations.
We hope you stop by the crocodile bridge in Costa Rica and enjoy this fantastic and unique experience! And, when visiting the Tarcoles bridge, remember that feeding the crocodiles is prohibited, as safety is paramount.