Ecologically vital PARQUE NACIONAL CARARA (daily 7am–4pm, May–Nov from 8am; $10; t 2637-1080), 90km west of San José, occupies a transition area between the hot tropical lowlands of the north and the humid, more verdant climate of the southern Pacific coast. Consequently, the park teems with wildlife, from monkeys to margays and motmots to manakins.
Carara’s well-maintained trails are split between the heavily canopied area near the park’s ranger station and the more open terrain around Laguna Meándrica, an oxbow lake that is home to crocodiles: it’s accessed from a trailhead 2km north along the highway, towards the Río Tárcoles Bridge. At the ranger station, the loop trails of Sendero Las Aráceas (1.2km; 1hr) and Sendero Quebrada Bonita (1.5km; 1hr 30min) take in primary and transitionary forest and are reliable places to spot agouti and other small rodents; you can also often see great tinamou on the paths here, and sometimes even catch the spectacular leks of orange-collared manikins. Both routes are reached via the Sendero Encuentro de Ecosistemas, a 1.2km loop near the ranger station that is accessible to wheelchair users. Birdwatching is perhaps even better along the rivers and in the clearings on the Sendero Laguna Meándrica (4.3km; 2–4hr), where the wide range of avifauna includes boat-billed herons. Whichever trail you take, it’s worth hiring a guide ($20 per person for 2hr) from the ranger station, as they can also take you into areas that tourists aren’t allowed on their own.