A Crocodile Safari Boat Tour on the Tarcoles

The Tarcoles River on Costa Rica’s central Pacific coast is probably the most popular place in the country to view crocodiles. Every day hundreds of visitors stop along Route 34 at the “Crocodile Bridge” to see the giant reptiles below. For an even closer look, we recently took a boat tour up the river. In this post, we’ll share our experience on the crocodile safari boat tour, what we saw, and how you can do it too.

Crocodile Safari Tour Jaco

Location and Logistics

Our tour started in the small fishing village of Tarcoles. Tarcoles is one of the closest beach towns from San Jose (1.25 hours). Most tourists pass through it on their way to Jaco, Manuel Antonio, Dominical, and Uvita.

A lot of travelers just stop at the so-called Crocodile Bridge to see the many crocodiles that hang out below. To plan that stop, you can read our article.

But if you have a couple of extra hours, it’s fun to see these crocs up close and learn a bit more about them on a boat tour. You also can see a lot of tropical birds.

Note: Most tour companies have secure parking to keep your luggage safe.

Wading bird Tarcoles River

Starting Our Tour

At the large Jungle Crocodile Safari building in Tarcoles, we met our guide, Gustavo. He invited us to enjoy some coffee and fruit juice while we waited for more people to arrive. Soon our group of about 12 were whisked down a jungle trail to the river’s edge.

Boarding the Boat

Several river boats were docked at the edge of the swift and murky Tarcoles River. We stepped into one and were greeted by the captain.

As we sat, we were all given a pamphlet with birds and animal pictures. Each one had a number. As the tour progressed, Gustavo would call off the name and number of each bird or animal so that we could follow along. This was a nice touch that kept our young kids (ages 5 and 8) really engaged.

Boat Tour Tarcoles
Boats used on the tour


Just a few minutes off the dock, we met our first crocodile.

Gustavo pointed out a snout that looked much like a weathered rock at the water’s edge. He told us that it was an alpha-male crocodile know as Captain Hook. They estimate that this croc is around 70 years old and measures up to about 16 feet long (4.5 meters)!

Giant crocodile Tarcoles
Captain Hook

Next to Captain Hook was a smaller female crocodile only about 8 feet long (2.4 meters). It was much more shy and swam away as we approached.

Gustavo explained that each male crocodile has its own territory on the river. Several females can share a territory with a male but if another male comes too close, they will fight.

Throughout our 1.5 hours on the river, we spotted around a dozen different crocodiles of all different sizes.

Crocodile Costa Rica

At one spot up the river, we saw a mother crocodile protecting her five small babies. Gustavo explained that the mother guards the nest and hatchlings for about three months. She can even carry the babies around in her mouth to move them to safety.  

Mother Crocodile
A mother and baby croc

Caring for the Crocs

During our tour, Gustavo pointed out that it is important not to feed the crocodiles. Some companies do this, he said, but it can change their natural habits. It is also illegal.

He also showed us some trash that had washed up along the river’s edge. Gustavo explained that because the Tarcoles River originates near the city of San Jose, it collects a lot of trash on its journey to the ocean.

Fortunately, there are a lot of groups helping to clean up the river, including local companies like them and a conservation group called Mareblu.

Tropical Birds

Besides crocodiles, the other highlight on the safari boat cruise was all the cool birds that we spotted. During our short tour, Gustavo pointed out at least 20 different species.

Birds Tarcoles Boat Tour
A Cattle Egret, Great Egret, and Juvenile Great Egret

Some highlights for us were the Common Black Hawk, Osprey, Green Heron, Boat-billed Heron, Tri-colored Heron, Northern Jacana, Wood Stork, Scarlet Macaw Parrot, and Magnificent Frigatebird.

Boat-billed heron Tarcoles River
A Boat-billed heron

One crazy thing we witnessed was seeing a Bare-throated Tiger-Heron eat a small crocodile. Gustavo told us that these birds are one of the main predators for crocs, but they are also important to keep the crocodile population balanced.

Rivermouth & Mangroves

After motoring upstream for a while, we traveled downstream to where the river finally reaches the sea. Here were large sandbars with even more crocodiles basking in the sun.

We also encountered the area’s largest alpha male, measuring almost 17 feet long (5 meters). This one had recently been kicked out of his territory farther upstream.

Gustavo told us he was healing his wounds with the salt water. The battle he had with the other large male had left him pretty beat up and scarred.

We also took a quick trip into the nearby mangrove forest. Through a side inlet, we motored through the lush trees. At one point the captain turned off the boat motor so that we could enjoy all the bird calls around us.

Boat Wildlife Safari Tour Jaco
Checking out the mangroves

Near the mangroves we were lucky to catch a glimpse of some howler monkeys as well. These lazy monkeys were high in the trees, watching us.

Howler Monkey Jaco Area
Howler monkeys relaxing in the trees


After a quick motor back up the river, we waved goodbye to Gustavo and the captain. The crocodile and bird safari boat tour was a fun and memorable experience for our family. Our kids are still holding onto their pamphlets, and we’re all still thinking about those giant crocs we saw!

Booking a Crocodile and Bird Safari Boat Tour

If you would like to experience the crocodile and bird safari for yourself, we would be happy to help set it up for you. Just click on the product below. Booking through us costs the same and supports our website.


$31 per person adults, $27 per person children ages 4-12. Rates plus 13% tax. Children under 4 are free.

*Transportation from Jaco or Herradura is available for an additional $25 per person plus 13% tax.


About 1.5 hours

What’s Included

Bilingual naturalist guide, paper wildlife pamphlet, fruit juice, and coffee.

Have a question about taking a crocodile river boat adventure on the Tarcoles River? Ask us below.

Looking for more fun things to do near Jaco? Check out these posts:

Tortuga Island Catamaran: Beach & Snorkel Tour from Jaco – This is a fun day trip to a beautiful white sand beach where you can snorkel and do other activities.

Birding in Carara National Park – Close to the Tarcoles River is an excellent national park for bird enthusiasts.

Jaco Street Art Tour – Many international and local artists have left their mark on the streets of Jaco. On this walking or bike tour, you’ll see giant murals, graffiti, and historic paintings.