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Crocodile Bridge in Costa Rica

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Costa Rica’s lush landscape is renowned for its rich biodiversity, home to nearly half a million species, including the American Crocodile. If you are like me and prefer to appreciate the magnificent beasts from a safe distance, I recommend a stop at Crocodile Bridge over the Rio Tarcoles (Tarcoles River). It’s a great place to view the creatures in their natural habitat and the best part? It is FREE!

Large crocodile in shallow water.

In March of 2024 during our first trip to Costa Rica, we stopped at the famous Crocodile Bridge to see what the hype is all about. That and to stretch our legs and see some crocs. What follows is information about the bridge and some facts about crocodiles that I think you might find interesting.

The Bridge and River

Situated on the Carretera Pacífica Fernández Oreamuno Highway, approximately 45 miles from the San José airport (roughly a 1.5-hour drive), the Crocodile Bridge stands as an iconic landmark in the small town of Tárcoles. Whether you’re journeying to Jaco, Manuel Antonio, or Uvita, if you take the main highway you’ll traverse the Puente de Cocodrilo (Crocodile Bridge), which spans approximately the length of a football field (100 yards).

Screenshot of an aerial view of the Crocodile Bridge in Costa Rica.

The Tárcoles River originates from the southern slopes of the Cordillera Central volcanic range, flowing for 69 miles before reaching the Pacific Ocean. Some sites report that the river generates electricity, but I have not been able to verify that information. (If you research Capulín – San Pablo hydroelectric power plant and Hidrotárcoles you’ll find information stating that the contract had been terminated.)

Despite its reputation as a contaminated river, crocodiles seem to thrive along the banks of the river. Could it be possible they owe their life spans of 50-70 years to exposure to industrial waste? 

Visiting the Bridge

If you choose to stop to see the crocs, park at one of the souvenir stands. Parking is prohibited on the side of the road.

Fabrics on display in front of a store.

The best time to visit the Crocodile Bridge to see crocodiles is during the dry season, from December to April, when water levels are low, and the creatures are more visible. 

It’s a good idea to keep a few colones on hand if you need to pay someone to watch your vehicle. There is often a charge to use the restroom, too.

If you are trying to budget how much time it will take, estimate 10-30 minutes, depending on how much interest you have in reptiles.

Man standing in front of shops near a bridge.

There is a pedestrian barrier on the side of the bridge to separate people from traffic, but don’t be surprised to see a lizard or other wild animals on the bridge as well (just not crocodiles). After my husband and I crossed the bridge, I looked back and there was some sort of lizard about 30 feet away from us – we had just walked the path were it stood.

Woman about to cross a pedestrian bridge next to a regular bridge.

If you choose to take photos, hold your phone or camera tightly because once it falls, there’s no getting it back. Using a drone to capture footage of the crocodiles in the river would be really awesome. However, be aware that there are rules and regulations for operating a drone [“dron” or “vehículo aéreo no tripulado (VANT)] in Costa Rica.

I tried to find information on the official website of the Civil Aviation Authority of Costa Rica: https://www.dgac.go.cr/ but was unable to locate the information. If anyone reading this knows, please comment below and point us in the right direction.

Crocodile Facts

American Crocodiles (Crocodylus acutus) are a fascinating species native to Costa Rica, inhabiting various aquatic habitats such as rivers, estuaries, and mangrove swamps along the Pacific coast. Here are some key facts about American Crocodiles in Costa Rica:

  • Habitat: American Crocodiles can be found along the banks of rivers like the Tarcoles River, as well as in coastal areas and protected national parks.
  • Size: These crocodiles are among the largest reptiles in the Americas, with adults typically reaching lengths of up to 14 feet (4 meters) or more.
  • Lifespan: Crocodiles have a lifespan of 50 to 70 years in the wild.
  • Behavior: While primarily carnivorous, American Crocodiles are opportunistic feeders, preying on fish, birds, small mammals, and occasionally larger animals like deer or livestock. They are most active between dusk and dawn.
  • Conservation Status: Despite facing habitat loss and human-wildlife conflicts, American Crocodiles in Costa Rica were classified as a vulnerable species in 1996 by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
  • Ecological Role: As apex predators, American Crocodiles play a crucial role in regulating the populations of prey species and maintaining the balance of their ecosystems.
View from a bridge of seven crocodiles.

Tours

Crocodile tours, led by knowledgeable guides, provide an opportunity to observe these apex predators from a safe distance, offering insights into their behavior and habitat. For the adventurous at heart, boat tours along the Tarcoles River offer an up-close and personal encounter with these formidable creatures, providing a unique perspective of their natural environment. Expect to pay about $35 USD per person.

While we did not take a tour, we did purchase a couple of fresh coconuts from the local vendors before heading on to Manuel Antonio.

Have you been to Crocodile Bridge? Please leave a comment below telling us about your experience.

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