Rio Tarcoles: Visit Costa Rica’s Crocodile Bridge

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Rio Tarcoles (or Tárcoles River in English) in Costa Rica is a habitat for American crocodiles, several species of birds from egrets to herons, and wildlife such as monkeys and sloths.

The bridge (known as Costa Rica’s Crocodile Bridge) which goes over Rio Tarcoles is a popular place to stop when driving from the San Jose area to the Central or South Pacific coast. It is located directly on the main road and offers great views of large crocodiles sunning themselves below. 

The Crocodiles

tarcoles

The crocodiles you will see on the Tarcoles River are American crocodiles. The males can grow up to 20 ft long (6.1 meters) and weigh up to 2,000 lbs (907 kilos).  Females are smaller and rarely get larger than 12 ft 6 in in length. 

They are one of the only crocodiles to not mind salt water systems and usually prefer lakes and mangrove swamps. 

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They live on average between 50 and 70 years old. 

This area has the largest population of crocodiles in Central America.

How to Visit the Crocodile Bridge

Rio Tarcoles: Visit Costa Rica’s Crocodile Bridge

Directions

The crocodile bridge is located in the Central Pacific region of the country not far from Jaco

If you are driving with a rental car from the San Jose area to any of the Central or South Pacific beach towns you will cross over the crocodile bridge. So, why not stop?

From San Jose, you will take Route 27 towards the coast. You will then exit onto Route 34 towards Jaco/ Manuel Antonio.

In total, the drive from San Jose International Airport to Rio Tarcoles will take a little over an hour (on a good day without traffic).

Here is a map to show you exactly where the bridge is located on Route 34. When you enter it on your GPS unit you can search for “Crocodile Bridge” and it should come up. 

On the map, I also marked “Pops” which is an ice cream shop that is a good place to stop. 

A couple of things to note: 

– We suggest renting a car as your transportation option in Costa Rica. We have a 10% discount plus other great perks for you with our favorite rental local car company, Adobe. 

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Rio Tarcoles: Visit Costa Rica’s Crocodile Bridge

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– If you prefer to take a private shuttle to your destination and book with Adobe Transfers, they will be happy to stop at Rio Tarcoles for you to check it out. 

– The road from San Jose to the Pacific coast is a toll road. The toll booths accept USD or Costa Rican colones. The drive will cost a little under $10. 

– Be careful on Route 27. There are several spots in which the road goes from two lanes on one side down to one lane and these changes can be somewhat sudden.

– On Friday afternoon the traffic can be bad from San Jose toward the coast. And on the other side of that, the traffic from the coast back to San Jose is usually bad on Sunday afternoons. 

Parking

There are a few tourist shops on the side of the road before you cross over the bridge. You are able to park in their parking lots for a small fee. 

We usually park at the Pops ice cream shop and get an ice cream before going to the bridge. It is a good spot for a snack and they have never charged us for parking since we are also purchasing something from them. 

Safety

We suggest hiding anything of extreme value or taking it with you from your car while on the bridge.

Also, be careful when on the bridge. There is a pedestrian barrier on the bridge, but definitely look out when crossing the street here. Drivers don’t usually slow down. 

This should be a given, but do not swim in Rio Tarcoles or get too close to the crocodiles. I’m sure they would love to eat you as a tasty snack. 

Taking a Rio Tarcoles Tour

rio tarcoles boat

If you would like a more up close visit with the crocodiles, we suggest taking a Rio Tarcoles boat tour. These tours are conducted by experienced guides who can point out tons of wildlife besides just crocodiles. 

The guides carry binoculars so you can get a closer view of the animals. 

There are a few tours we like. They are:

From San Jose: Hike in Carara Park & Tarcoles River Adventure

⭐️ RATING: 5/5 Stars on Viator | ⏳ TOUR LENGTH:  8 to 12 hours | ✅ Book it!

This tour includes pick up from your San Jose area hotel. It is a full fun day adventure that consists of going to Carara National Park where you will hike the trails with an experienced guide. Carara National Park is a great place for bird watching.

Next, you will go to the mouth of Rio Tarcoles where you will board a relaxing boat trip down the river to see crocodiles.

Finally, your tour group will finish your day at the beach before returning to San Jose. It’s the perfect way to get out of the city for the day and embrace the wildlife.

From Jaco: Safari One Day Tour with Butterflies Monkeys Crocodiles Birds

⭐️ RATING: 5/5 Stars | ⏳ TOUR LENGTH:  7 hours | ✅ Book it!

This tour is actually one of the coolest things we think you can do in Jaco.

It’s a full-day experience that includes a visit to a butterfly garden, seeing monkeys up close, lunch, and seeing the crocodiles on Rio Tarcoles.

↪ Arrange Your Crocodile Adventure 🐊

From Puntarenas Cruise Terminal: Puntarenas Highlights 6 in 1 Shore Excursion

⭐️ RATING: 4.5/5 Stars on Viator | ⏳ TOUR LENGTH:  6 hours | ✅ Book it!

This fun filled day tour from the cruise terminal includes:

  • Scenic Countryside Drive: Journey through the authentic Costa Rican landscape, passing quaint farming villages and sprawling sugar plantations.
  • Rainforest Canopy Exploration: Traverse the rainforest on hanging bridges within a nature reserve, immersing yourself in the verdant wonders of the Gulf of Nicoya.
  • Crocodile River Cruise: Embark on an exhilarating Tarcoles River cruise, and catch sight of majestic wild crocodiles in their natural habitat!
  • Cultural Shopping Stops: Dive into local culture at a replica Spanish Village, and grab unique souvenirs to remember your trip.
  • Puntarenas City Sightseeing: Conclude with a tour of the vibrant city of Puntarenas, soaking in its charm and vitality.

What to Do After

We usually visit this bridge on our way to or from the Pacific coast coming from the San Jose area. So, usually, we don’t do anything after except head to our destination because we don’t like leaving all of our luggage in the car. 

However, if you are in the area as a day trip there are two great things to do nearby.

Carara National Park

carara

Carara National Park is located about 10-minute drive from the Costa Rica crocodile bridge. This national park is a great place for bird watching and just enjoying some nature on well-maintained hiking trails.

The Tarcoles River forms the northern boundary of the park, so you can see Central American crocodiles throughout most of the year here.

Check out the Carara National Park guide for all the info on planning your visit.

Playa Blanca

playa blanca

Playa Blanca is one of our favorite beaches in Costa Rica. It is technically located in a private resort, but there is a way to access it without being a resort guest.

We love this spot for the usually calm turquoise waters, white sands, and free charcoal grill spots which you are welcome to use.

Check out our Playa Blanca guide for all the details on visiting.

Do you have any questions about visiting Rio Tarcoles and the Costa Rica crocodile bridge? Leave them in the comment section below and we will be happy to help you out!

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Costa Rica Travel Details: What You Need to Know

🚗 Should I rent a car in Costa Rica?

Having a rental car will give you the most flexibility when traveling in Costa Rica. This will also allow you to take fun day trips on your own.

🏄🏽 How can I book things to do?

We find that Viator tends to have the most comprehensive selection of activities with secure booking and good cancellation policies.

🍍 I’m overwhelmed with planning. Can you help?

Of course! I suggest joining our Facebook group for specific questions and head to our Start Here Page to get started planning.

✈️ What is the best way to book a flight?

Usually, we have the best luck finding great prices with Skyscanner. Check for flights to both San Jose Airport (SJO) and Liberia Airport (LIR).

🛏️ What is the best way to book my Costa Rica hotels?

We highly suggest Booking.com for hotel bookings and typically use VRBO for Costa Rica vacation rentals.

🗣️What is the main language in Costa Rica?

The main language in Costa Rica is Spanish. Most people working in tourism speak at least some English.

💰 What is the currency in Costa Rica?

The currency used in Costa Rica is the Costa Rican colón (CRC). However, the US dollar is widely accepted in most tourist areas

📞 What is the best way to stay connected?

An eSIM from Airalo is the easiest way to get 4G data while traveling in Costa Rica.

🌴 Is Costa Rica safe?

Generally, Costa Rica is considered safe for tourists. However, like any travel destination, it’s best to use caution and be aware of your surroundings.

🛂 Do you need a passport to go to Costa Rica?

Yes, Costa Rica is its own country. You will need a passport to visit.

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