Last Updated: August 21, 2019
The Tárcoles River winds from the mountains of the Central Valley down the Pacific slope and eventually drains into the Gulf of Nicoya. Though spanning a long 111 kilometers (69 miles), this river is best known for one particular stretch that crosses the Pacific coastal highway. Every day hundreds of tourists en route to destinations like Jacó and Manuel Antonio stop along Route 34 at the Tárcoles River Bridge to see the giant crocodiles below. We wanted to get a closer look so we recently took a boat tour up the Tárcoles River.
What to Expect
Our adventure began in the late afternoon. We met José Eduardo and his first mate, Jimmy, at the docks in Tárcoles, a small fishing village along the Central Pacific Coast. As everyone on the tour got on the boat and took their seats, José introduced himself and told us that we would be seeing a lot of crocodiles today. Within minutes, he had held true to his promise. The gray-green snout of a gigantic croc suddenly rose out of the water. As the 16-foot creature awkwardly crawled up the riverbank, José told us that its name was “Shakira.” Apparently, crocodiles are very territorial so José and Jimmy have gotten to know many of them and even name them based on their characteristics. This particular female croc was said to move her hips back and forth when coming on and off the riverbank, hence the name Shakira.
José spotted several more crocodiles as we ventured farther up the river. We saw a short, stocky one named Danny Devito, another female called Nicole Richie, and a small three-foot long baby basking in the sun. Everyone on the tour gasped as Jimmy jumped off the boat onto the riverbank to get closer to one of these intimidating creatures. Keeping his eye on a huge croc named Miley Cyrus, Jimmy slowly approached, stepping carefully through the mud and facing the croc the whole time. José told us that if Jimmy turned his back and tried to run, the seemingly lazy croc could spring into action and Jimmy would be in serious trouble. Luckily that didn’t happen and soon Jimmy was safely back in the boat. For us onlookers, it was amazing to be able to see these scaly beasts so close up in the wild, with our boat pulled right up next to them.
The crocs were definitely a highlight of the tour, but as bird lovers, we also really enjoyed the birding. In the shrubs and trees along the riverbanks, José would point out different kinds of birds, many of which can be difficult to find in Costa Rica. He even called some of them in by whistling loudly. Crested Caracara, Black Hawks, Magnificent Frigatebirds, Anhinga, Snowy Egret, Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Black-necked Stilts, Ringed Kingfisher, Northern Jaçana, and four types of Heron (Green, Little Blue, Great Blue, and Bare-throated Tiger) were just a few of the many we spotted. We were also fortunate to see some bright red, yellow, and blue Scarlet Macaw parrots flying overhead in pairs. These beautiful birds have an extremely limited range and it is always special to see them. José was very knowledgeable about the different species. Later in the tour, he even managed to turn up a Roseate Spoonbill, which had been on our must-see list for a long time. We learned that this rare avian is the only pink bird in Costa Rica and gets it color from eating shrimp.
As the sun began to sink into the Pacific, we made our way up a narrow finger of the river. Thick mangroves surrounded us and the water turned to a shade of jade green. At one point, Jimmy slowed the boat to a crawl and steered into a passage with only a few feet to spare on each side. They wanted to show us the red mangrove crab, which can be seen on Costa Rica’s colorful five mil bill alongside a white-faced monkey and mangrove flower.
The scenery during the entire tour was amazing. Mountains covered in green formed the backdrop, locals fished from the riverbanks, and cows eyed us curiously from under an umbrella ficus tree. Birds like White Ibis gathered in the tall mangroves, getting ready for nightfall.
As we headed back to the dock, we stopped in the middle of the river outlet for sunset. As a bonus, the 4:00 p.m. tour includes sunset and we were fortunate to have a spectacular one. The sky turned from clear azure to bright orange with a few wispy clouds. As the boat bobbed in the gentle waves, everyone made sure to get some photos to remember the day.
Information on Booking Your Crocodile Tour
If you would like to book this tour, send us an email at bookings(at)twoweeksincostarica(dot)com with your preferred date, time, and number of people. We’ll make all the arrangements for you. Booking through us costs the same and helps support our website!
Without Transportation: $40 Adults (13+) | $30 Children ages 5-12 | Children under 5 are free
With Transportation from Jaco Area or Los Suenos: $60 Adults (13+) | $40 Children ages 5-12 | Children under 5 are free. *If you have 3 or more adults, the price goes down if you need transportation.
8:00 a.m., 10:00 a.m., 12:00 p.m., 2:00 p.m., and 4:00 p.m. *4 pm offered during dry season only (December through end of April)
1 hour 45 minutes
Have you ever taken a crocodile tour? What did you think?
If you’re visiting the Jaco Area, be sure to check out our Jaco Destination Guide for up-to-date restaurant and hotel recommendations, as well as ideas for other fun things to do in the area.