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.
The crocodile river tour looks and sounds amazing. It’s funny that the crocodiles are named after celebrities – Shakira, Miley and Nicole Richie!
Yeah Valerie, the guides keep it entertaining for sure. Definitely worth checking out if you guys get down this way.
Jenn and Matt I love the entertainment-themed names. Hope Cyrus doesn’t get too nasty with twerking 😉 As for the spot too bad we missed it. We visited Quepos for a month but mainly bused from our apartment to the beach around Manual Antonio each day. We also walked into town daily to get food and some exercise. 16 feet?? Yikes! Amazing creatures and that Jose dude has some stones to approach these guys like that. Awesome shots.
Jenn and Matt, thanks for the share and keep on inspiring!
Thanks Ryan. Hope you make it back to CR soon!
This sounds like a wonderful adventure love your photos!
Thanks Sher, it was a lot of fun. We had Matt’s parents who were visiting along with us, and they loved it too. Thanks for reading!
Great article and nice photos! Thank you for coming on my tour…come back anytime! Pura Vida!
Are crocodiles at all a problem in costa rica?
Hi Mariah, Not sure exactly what you mean but there isn’t a population problem with crocodiles here or issues with people getting attacked.
Hi! Love your website! My 19 year old daughter and I are coming to Costa Rica March 20-25 and we are heading to Manuel Antonio 20th-22nd (staying at Parador) then La Fortuna 22nd-24th (staying at The Springs)… and then I’m trying to figure out what to do the last two days on the 24th and 25th.
I really want to do the croc tour! Do you have a recommendation on where we could stay that last night that would be near the tour? Our flight leaves at 4:00pm from SJO on the 25th.
I’d be happy to book the tour through you guys too!
Hi Autumn, Those are awesome places to stay! For the 24th-25th, it’s a little out of the way to go back down towards the coast for the crocodile tour, but doable if you really want to see the crocs. Hotel Pumilio is a nice option in Jaco, which is just a short drive from Tarcoles (where the tour is), and then 1.5 hours or less to the airport for when you fly out. If you go with this plan, we’d love to help you with the booking for the tour. Just email us at bookings(at)twoweeksincostarica(dot)com with what time you want (8:00 a.m., 10:00 a.m., 12:00 p.m., 2:00 p.m., or 4:00 p.m.) and we can contact the company. We need a few days’ notice so let us know ASAP after you book the hotel. Thanks!
If you like the roseate spoonbill, I’d suggest a trip to the Florida Everglades. Easy, accessible, and there are flocks of them there.
Costa Rica is fantastic for birds of course–lots you won’t find anywhere in the US.
Just saying for the roseate spoonbill you don’t have to go to Costa Rica 🙂
Good to know, Nifflr. We have been to the Everglades before, but it was years ago, before we had an appreciation for birds. Thanks for the tip.
Do you know if children under 5 are free or allowed to be on tour (lest they become food for the hosts?).
Hi Guoneng, Yes, children under 5 are allowed on the tour and they are free. We will update the post so that that’s clearer. The boat is very sturdy and covered so fine for young kids…just keep them inside the boat and you will be fine 🙂
I took this tour today, and although I really enjoyed it, I was horrified at the amount of plastic and garbage in the river and on the river banks. One crocodile even tried to eat a chunk of plastic which was floating in the water. Maybe it’s unrealistic, but seeing as these tour operators are making a living from the river and its natural inhabitants, I wish they could give something back by perhaps doing a clean up once in a while.
Hi Megan, That is unfortunate about the trash. We have had some big storms recently so maybe some of it washed up with that. We agree that the tour operators should help keep the river clean since they benefit from it. The river wasn’t like that when we visited so hopefully you just caught it at a bad time.
Can you help us book a tour in mid January? The site says to email you, but I can’t find the email!
Hi Lynn, Of course we can help! Our email is bookings(at)twoweeksincostarica(dot)com, but I will send you a message now to get it set up. Keep an eye out for it soon!
Hello we like to booking the jose’s crocodile river tour for 3 adults on 4 january 2019 at 2 Pm. (Withouten transport because we have a rentalcar) But the official site don’t works. IT always gives an error on the invalid e-mail. So we try this way, so we can be sure that we can participate this tour on our prefered date. Sent me please an answer back, greetings from belgium
Hi Ronald, We just sent you an email with some information.
I’m wondering if this is still an available tour, and what time is best? I liked the sunset you mentioned, but most fun for our group- staying in esterillos oeste, so, timeline? 8 adults, 2 in the 5-12 4 in the free toddler category
Have our own transportation.
Hi Barbara, Unfortunately, this crocodile tour is not operating right now. The government has suspended its operations. Hopefully they will be back up and running soon!
Do guides feed the crocodiles?
Hi Monette, Yes, most tour companies do. It has been going on for many years.