“You can swim, right?” “Sure”, I answered. “Fast?”, he asked, grinning. Thankfully I didn’t need to prove my swimming skills on the Tárcoles Crocodile Tour, but I guess it’s always nice to know that the folks at Adventure Tours Costa Rica have a good sense of humor!
That said, a mangrove boat tour which takes you along a section of the Tárcoles River and within mere inches of 4.5 meters long crocodiles probably isn’t for the fainthearted. The most striking thing about this 2 hour long trip is just how it makes you feel. When you’re sailing down the river, the wind is blowing across your face and the sun is high, it really is a very relaxing way of seeing some of the spectacular scenery that Costa Rica has to offer.
And then you’ve got the wildlife. The boats come through this stretch of river often enough that most of the animals you’ll see aren’t worried by them, and will probably even hang around long enough for you to get your camera out. Keen birdwatchers will enjoy the huge range of species that take to the skies (or come in to land!), and even amateur enthusiasts can make the most of the trip, thanks to a handy spotting guide upon boarding the boat.
So far so good; the scenery is beautiful, our feathered friends are around, and you might have even spotted an iguana or two by now. But the real excitement starts when the guides point to what looks like an empty expanse of water. Look a bit more closely and you’ll notice a pair of eyes and maybe a leathery snout poking out. You can be sure that won’t be the last crocodile you spot on this trip.
If the boat is making good time, the driver might take passengers all the way down to the famous Tárcoles bridge. Every year, thousands of visitors to Costa Rica stop along the bridge and lean over to catch a glimpse of these incredible reptiles. According to the guides, the crocodiles that frequent this area of the river are often a bit more boisterous, thanks to endless fights over raw chicken thrown down from the bridge. If there was ever a time not to stick your hand in the water, this is it. Even then, that’s not going to stop the guides from hopping onto the bank with a couple of fish fillets to tempt the crocodiles into snapping.
They really do recommend that for this trip, you take some sort of camera (even just a phone will do), because you’ll want to show off just how close you got to these fiercely powerful beasts. The boats are totally safe, but visitors with young children should take particular care as the boats are windowless and the water itself is within quite easy reach.
Who would love this trip? The Tárcoles River Tour is great if you’re the sort of person who really wants to experience the nature and wildlife of Costa Rica, but isn’t so keen on the idea of trekking through the rainforests to find it.
For $45 per person, you’ll get access to an incredibly knowledgeable, experienced guide (ours had been giving tours for 14 years) who will happily offer the tour in English or Spanish; you’ll get closer than you’d ever dreamed to a Costa Rican crocodile and you’ll get the thrill of looking around into the water, only to see another crocodile sneaking up beside the boat.
The village of Tárcoles is about 25 minutes from Jacó, where Adventure Tours Costa Rica is based, and it’s only around an hour from San José, so be sure to try and fit a visit into your trip. It’s well worth it!
*Most passengers wear shorts and t-shirt and sports shoes or sandals for this trip. Basically, just make sure you’ll be comfortable sitting on bench-style seating for 2 hours. Bug-spray isn’t essential, but it’s good to top it up before going on the boat if you’re prone to getting insect bites.
More information available at: http://www.adventuretourscostarica.com/tours/crocodile_tour/
Aritcle and Photos by Leah Hendre