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Friday, May 27, 2022

Costa Rica’s Famous Crocodiles and the Rio Tarcoles Bridge

Costa Rica’s Rio Tarcoles is most well known for what resides within its waters.  Attracting eager onlookers year-round, many hope to catch an exciting glimpse and maybe even photograph one of its famous residents, the crocodiles – Lots and lots of American crocodiles!

Perhaps you have even crossed over these magnificent creatures on your Route 34 travels to explore Manual Antonio or on your way to a day at the beach in Jaco and didn’t even realize it.

You will easily know you are approaching the Rio Tarcoles as restaurants and souvenir stands begin to appear the closer you get to the famous crocodile bridge. It has evolved into a popular stop and attraction for both Ticos and tourists. The views on and around the bridge are just as stunning and picture-worthy as the massive crocodiles themselves.

The Bridge

About 30 minutes outside of Jaco is where you will find this exciting lookout. A place to stop along the way for a free viewing of crocodiles in a natural habitat outside of captivity. They most commonly bask in the sun’s ray under the middle area of the bridge, and depending on the rains, on patches of land off the shore as well.

Through the years the bridge continues to maintain its popularity as a tourist spot since the crocodiles now remain in the area. You are almost guaranteed to see several crocodiles along the riverbanks regardless of what time of year it is as a result of the influence of humans over the decades. They know where a readily available food source is, even if it is illegally given to them in the form of raw and frozen chicken or some other tasty carnivorous treat.

The crocodiles are a source of income for the area with boat tours, the vendors at the entrances to the bridge, the shops, and places to eat and relax after surviving your crocodile viewing. Many crocodiles no longer have to go out and source their food as they know it will come to them or remain and just fight for it when it arrives.

Locals grew up establishing their familiarity with the animals and their behaviors, feeding them along the river building up their bravado with them. With crocodile feeding tours they were attracting tourists wanting a bit of thrill down the river and tours were generating the income to go along with it.

However, like any relationship with an animal, the crocodiles adapt to associating their food source to humans in an unhealthy relationship.

Feeding the Crocodiles

Some might think it is a funny or daring venture to have a little fun up on the bridge but just remember it is actually illegal in Costa Rica and you can be fined if you choose to feed them. There are always those that like to test their fate and, attempt to illegally feed them along the lower banks or see how close they can approach. It does not matter how accustomed one may think they have become to humans, they are quickly reminded that they are in fact still wild predators.

After enforcement being on the back burner for many years, they stepped in and addressed the illegal activities on the river, with reminders of the country’s laws in regards to feeding them. However, many relying on the industry were in disagreement believing it was not their actions that were responsible for any growing and potential issues but those above on the bridge and their behaviors.  

Regardless of who is responsible to blame in the crocodile matter, illegal feeding alters the behavior of the animals in their natural environment and remains a dangerous and life-threatening encounter when approaching them.

Rio Tarcoles

Rio Tarcoles is around 111 kilometers long, reaching over to Carara National Park’s northern border making its way to the Pacific Ocean.  Also known as Rio Grande de Tarcoles its creation was formed from two rivers, Virilla and Grande de San Ramon converging. Prior to the construction of the well-known crocodile bridge, 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 would have to patiently wait to cross onto the other side to continue on your way.

With several species of mangrove trees and plenty of exotic birds for watching, river tours are offered to take in the natural sights of Rio Tarcoles’ flora and fauna. Coastal birds line the ways along with native and migratory birds of herons, hawks, kingfishers, and scarlet macaws, however, it is the crocodiles that have the most allure.

With their grand size reaching upwards of 6.1 meters and with weights of close to 2,000 lbs it truly is an amazing and powerful sight.  You may not necessarily see the largest of all the crocodiles but you are bound to still see plenty within the river’s waters and all its ecological sights.

A day at one of Costa Rica’s flowing rivers sounds like a relaxing and perfect day out, however, you might want to skip splashing and swimming in this one. It is considered to be one of the most polluted and dirty rivers in Costa Rica. Although the crocodiles and wildlife continue to survive and adapt to their habitat it is best for you to enjoy it from above.

It is said that there are close to 2,000 crocodiles in the Rio Tarcoles creating its reputation of having one of the largest populations in the country and worldwide. Raw sewage and industrial waste contaminate the waters draining from the surrounding urban areas. The combination of this and crude oil, a diesel leakage in 2000, and the sheer number of crocodiles make for an unhealthy, toxic, and dangerous afternoon at the river.

Final Thoughts

Rio Tarcoles highway stop is a great destination to add along your Costa Rica journey to see something new and exciting. Gently leaning over the rails as you glimpse upon the clusters of prehistoric-looking reptiles is a bit of adrenaline and fun all combined in one. Safely above surrounded by the green forest views out in the distance of the highway as you watch the enormous crocodile’s feast in the rays is surreal.

There may be controversy and debate about the methods and behaviors of those at the Rio Tarcoles and its famous crocodiles populating its waters. However, the crocodiles still remain, sprawled out in their vast numbers, and continue to be a popular and memorable attraction. Also, don’t forget, it’s free!

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