If you are visiting Costa Rica’s central Pacific coast, a fun stop between destinations is the famous Tarcoles River crocodile bridge. This bridge has giant crocodiles sunbathing and swimming below. You can park right off the main highway and walk onto the bridge to see them for yourself. This is a perfect, free activity to help break up a long drive. In this post, we’ll give you all the details to plan a stop.
The Tarcoles River crocodile bridge is located on Route 34, a mostly two-lane highway that runs from north to south along Costa Rica’s central and southern Pacific coast.
From the San Jose Airport (SJO), the drive to the bridge is about 1-1.25 hours, depending on traffic. Jaco is about 30 minutes south and Manuel Antonio is about 1.5 hours from the bridge.
As the name implies, the Tarcoles River crocodile bridge crosses the Tarcoles River. This wide river flows all the way from the mountains in Costa Rica’s Central Valley before emptying into the Gulf of Nicoya/Pacific Ocean.
The Tarcoles River is most famous for its crocodiles but sadly is also known as one of the country’s most polluted rivers. This is largely because its headwaters start in Costa Rica’s most populated areas. Regardless, the river is beautiful and teeming with birds and of course many crocodiles.
Arriving and Parking at the Tarcoles River Crocodile Bridge
When arriving at the Tarcoles River crocodile bridge (from the north going south), you’ll see a cluster of souvenir shops and small restaurants just before the bridge. This is where you will park.
Often a parking attendant will help you pull in and find a spot. These attendants work for tips. It is customary to give them some change or a small bill when leaving (around 500 colones or about $1).
Tip: Even though the parking attendants are around and can watch your car to some extent, there is a lot of coming and going in the area. If you are traveling with your luggage, we recommend taking turns walking onto the bridge so that someone stays with the car, just to be safe. In the past, car break-ins were very common here. The situation has improved but it could still happen.
Walking Onto the Crocodile Bridge
Both sides of the Tarcoles River crocodile bridge have sidewalks and railings now so you can walk out safely without interfering with traffic. Cars and trucks usually slow down over the bridge but use caution as you will still be very close to the busy highway.
It is also important to note that the railings have a lot of space between them where young kids could slip through. Be careful with small children or just skip it altogether.
Each side of the bridge offers a different view of the river. Both are worth checking out. Just be sure to walk back towards the parking area to cross over and don’t try to jump over the concrete barriers. Cars can appear quickly!
During busy tourist months, holidays, and weekends, the bridge can get busy but is usually not too crowded. Since the bridge is long and most people only spend 10-15 minutes looking at the crocodiles, there is usually plenty of space.
The crocodiles found in the Tarcoles River are American crocodiles (Crocodylus acutus). These can reach up to 20 feet (6.1 meters) long and weigh up to 2,000 pounds (907 kg)! Though some giant ones frequent the bridge, many are about 10-15 feet (3-4.5 meters) long.
In our experience, most of the crocodiles can be seen from the middle part of the bridge on either side. They are down below in the river, about 30-40 feet (9-12 meters) away.
Which side of the bridge has more crocodiles depends on the time of year and rainfall. During our last visit, the water was higher so most of the crocodiles were perched in the water. On other visits when the water was lower, we have seen more crocs sunbathing in clusters on the riverbanks.
Feeding the Crocs
Though it may sound fun, it is important not to toss any food down to the crocodiles. The wrong diet can be bad for them. Equally important, it is forbidden by Costa Rican law to feed them.
The crocodiles have plenty to eat and naturally prey on birds, small-to-medium sized mammals, turtles, crabs, snails, frogs, and anything else they might find in or around the river.
Amenities at the Crocodile Bridge
In addition to the main attraction (the crocodiles), this area has developed into a tourism rest stop in recent years, with some useful amenities. There are a couple of small sodas (local restaurants), a Pops ice-cream shop, coffee shop, a few souvenir stands, a fruit stand, and two small convenience stores.
For those needing a restroom break, the restaurants will allow customers to use the bathrooms. Or if you aren’t eating, there is a separate bathroom behind the plaza on the far left. They charge a small fee (about 500 colones/$1).
Getting a Closer Look
If gazing at the crocodiles from up on the bridge isn’t enough and you want a closer view, there is a way. Crocodile tours are available in the nearby town of Tarcoles (10 minutes away).
Crocodile tours bring you along the Tarcoles River on a covered boat. You’ll get very up close and personal with many crocodiles and be able to see the river’s exotic bird species as well. Tours last about 1 hour and 45 minutes.
To learn more about a crocodile tour we recommend out of Tarcoles, read our post, A Riverboat Adventure on the Tarcoles River.
A stop at the Tarcoles River Crocodile Bridge is a great way to stretch your legs and break up a long drive. This was one of the first stops we ever made when we began to explore Costa Rica many years ago. We hope you’ll add it to your adventure too.
Have a question about visiting the Tarcoles River crocodile bridge? Ask us below.
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