(T2261-0257, daily 0800-1530. If arriving before the rangers’ station opens pay on your way out (US$8). Take any bus heading east of San José from the Gran Terminal de Caribe north of downtown San José and ask the driver to drop you off at the entrance.)
Just 20 km from San José, Braulio Carrillo National Park protects some of the country’s most rugged landscapes. If you’re not inclined to get out and explore you’re in luck, as you get a good impression of the topography from the San José–Guápiles–Limón Highway that travels through the park. Steep-sided gorges eroded by rivers hidden at the bottom of heavily forested valleys border both sides of the road. Clouds drift up the valleys, rising to the volcanic peaks of Barva (2906 m) and Cacho Negro (2150 m) where they deposit rainfall that totals around 4.5 m annually. The result is some dramatic waterfalls, most hardly ever seen by human eyes.
The 47,583-ha park was created in 1978 to protect against damage caused by the construction of a new highway to the Caribbean. Named after the republic’s third president, who proclaimed himself dictator for life in 1842, the park at least commemorates his attempts to improve communications between the Central Valley and the lowlands. Today, Highway 32 is one of the country’s busiest roads making the national park the most popular in the country. The vast majority passing through see the road and driving conditions as precarious, dangerous and best avoided. Some tours incorporate this journey as part of a visit to the national park. It goes without saying that you will not see any wildlife from a bus, but you can pass over the continental divide just to the south of the Zurquí tunnel.
The biological stock-take is staggering. Estimates suggest that over 90% of the park is primary forest and contains some 6000 species of plants – over 50% of the total found in Costa Rica. While the higher altitudes struggle to support life in the chilled and windy atmosphere, profuse humid rainforest dominates here, reaching its greatest diversity at the lower altitudes. Animal and bird life is equally profuse. Over 500 species of migratory and resident birds have been logged including quetzals in the higher altitudes, toucans, king vultures, the umbrella bird and the national bird: the sooty robin. Mammals include three species of monkey as well as tapirs, pacas, jaguars, pumas and ocelots. To complete the list, reptiles include two of the most deadly snakes in the world, the fer-de-lance and bushmaster.
For management purposes the parks is divided between the Quebrada González Sector and the Barva Volcano Sector. The entrance at Quebrada González is 23 km beyond the Zurquí tunnel (easy to drive past, if you get to the flag-poles of the Rainforest Aerial Tram you’ve gone too far). Three short trails lead from the rangers’ station: Las Palmas is a 1.6-km trail taking about 1½ hours, good for birdwatching. El Ceibo is 1 km and takes just an hour and leads to some fine examples of the ceibo tree. The Botarrama trail is an extension of El Ceibo that leads to the Río Sucio and gets deeper into the rainforest covering 3 km taking about two hours. An animal list stating regular sightings of spider, white-faced and howler monkeys, toucans, peccaries, tarantulas and snakes makes for an interesting read before and after your trek....
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