Located on the volcanic Cordillero Central Mountain range between San José and Puerto Limón, Braulio Carillo National Park is one of the least visited yet most pristine national parks in Costa Rica. It is named after the third president of Costa Rica, Braulio Carillo, the national benefactor who promoted the cultivation of coffee. Carillo originally proposed the construction of the highway known as Guápiles which leads to the Caribbean.
Environmentalists were concerned that the construction of the “pista” would result in deforestation. The park was formed as a compromise. Located in one of the most rugged regions of the country, Braulio Carillo National Park may be the least exposed and most beautiful park of Costa Rica. You will find varied geography such as humid, lowland jungles and a chilly cloud forest. While many people just pass through, you may decide to make a detour from the highway to enjoy breathtaking views of the park. Transport yourself back in time to a more ancient Costa Rica through experiencing the magic of Braulio Carillo National Park.
Just 20 km (12.4 m) northeast of San Jose, the park covers an area of 108,970 acres and has an altitude of 3000 meters (10,000 ft). It is home to 600 identified tree species, more than 500 species of birds and 135 species of mammals. The colorful and exquisite quetzal, considered to be possibly the world’s most beautiful bird, can be spotted at higher elevations. Some of the mammals located in the park include the howler and white-faced capuchin monkey, tapirs, white-nosed coati, jaguars, ocelots and white-tailed deer. Most of the area is covered with primary forest, trees, ferns, heliconias and palm trees.
The Barva Volcano and several other dormant volcanoes are among the park’s features. The Barva sector includes three crater lakes. One of the main activities within the park is climbing the Barva volcano; it is the central and least known of three massive volcanoes towering over the capital city of San Jose, the other two being Arenal and Turrialba.
Trails are a big attraction to visitors of Braulio Carillo Park. There are short paths leading to lookouts, waterfalls and a trail that winds 32 miles (60 km) while dropping 10,000 feet (3000 m) in elevation from Barva to La Selva. Observe the flora and fauna that thrive at each different elevation. Walk a while in the high elevation rainforest surrounding the Zurqui station, drive down to the Puesto Carillo station 1000 meters lower, then go lower still to the beach in Cahuita for sunset.
There is an Aerial tram that takes you on a two level tour of the rainforest canopy. You will start the tour on the lower canopy and return up to 50 meters (170 feet) off the ground. Each gondola carries up to four people and a guide with a walkie talkie. Any of the guides spotting something of interest can quickly inform the other guides so that all visitors may benefit.
It tends to get a bit chilly at this national park due to the varying geography and altitudes. For a warmer route, you will want to stick to the lowland on the east side of the park. Higher elevation on trails near the Zurqui Ranger Station has temperatures which dip below 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure to dress accordingly. Because this region receives rainfall year round, you should be prepared for some rain and even a downpour regardless of the month. Typically, March and April tend to be a little drier.
For about $60 per person, transportation can be arranged from most central valley (San Jose) hotels for a day trip.
Driving Directions: From San José, Calle (Street) 3 will lead you out of town which becomes Guápiles Highway (32) heading northeast. Just north of the tunnel, the main ranger station for Zurquí is on the right. A little further north is the Puesto Carillo station.
You can take the bus to Guápiles, Siquirres, or Limón and be dropped off at either of the ranger stations. It can be difficult to return on bus, however, as there is not a scheduled stop and you have to basically flag one down.
We recommend booking a day tour through a hotel from San Jose or driving. If you drive, make sure to be cautious with parking. Do not leave any valuables in the car. Remember that you are a few minutes away from a major metropolitan area and theft is not completely uncommon. Nonetheless, don’t let that deter you from taking advantage of the unique beauty and experiences that Braulio Carillo National Park offers. You’ll be glad you did.
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