The Braulio Carillo National Park is an excellent place to visit a tropical rain forest just as we imagine it should be, like the ones we see in adventure movies, or in documentaries. It is important to remember that only some 20 years ago, this is how most of the country looked! The flora and fauna, thick and emerald green is brilliant and full of life, the symphony of birds and insects together with the songs of the frogs and the crystalline sound of the waterfalls add to its splendor and majesty. Deep canyons, abundant rivers, volcanoes and endless clouds, a climate going from permanent humidity to torrential rains, with an annual rain fall that ranges between 400 and 800 centimeters, this is a chance to experience the real thing.
The park was established in 1978 following the construction of the highway that had caused much deforestation and devastation in the area. Many species of trees are protected in the park, like the Palmito for example. It is also a sanctuary for the animals that are threatened by extinction. The park measures over 44,099 hectares with at least 84% of primary forest, going up 2,906 meters high if you are on top of Barva down to 36 meters above sea level in La Selva Biological Reserve in Sarapiqui. These differences of altitude make this park unique in Costa Rica.
With such climatic variations, a lot of micro climates are found here, with an impressive array of flora and fauna. Five life zones can be recognized in the park, ranging from tropical humid to cloud forest, and it is home to over 600 species of trees, at least 500 species of birds and some 135 species of mammals, including howler monkeys, capuchin monkeys, pumas, jaguars, ocelots, deer, pacas, raccoons and peccaries. Snakes are also plentiful as well as many other types of reptiles. Watch out for the Matabuey (”cattle killer”) snake and definitely keep an eye for the feared Fer de Lance or Terciopelo, which is very venomous. Birdwatchers will not be disappointed with plenty of quetzals in the park, as well as many other shy and often hard to spot species.
The variety of trees and plants here is awesome as well. The famous umbrella leaves, or elephant ear-size leaves are everywhere; they are called “sombrilla del pobre”, or poor man’s umbrella. Some friends of mine decided to get married in this inspiring and mystical setting, near a canyon. Before they had time to exchanges vows, it started to rain, so we all grabbed those giant leaves and the ceremony just carried on normally!
Braulio Carillo is only a few minutes away from San Jose. You simply take the road to Limon and before long, you pass a tunnel and there you are! There are two main entrances to the park; the first one you will see is 500 meters past the Zurqui tunnel, where you will spot the dwellings of the Puesto Carrillo ranger station. They sell maps that are quite helpful so you can keep track of where you are and what to look for. Just across the road is the Capulin trail, taking you on a one and a half hour hike, up and down the mountain, and into the jungle.
The other trails are located some 15 kms further down the road from the Puesto Carrillo, including the Sendero Natural Botarrama, which is much shorter than the first trail with only 1.6 km and La Botella, with waterfalls and awesome views down the canyon. If you are up to it, take a left down La Botella where a sign says Sendero, and you have another 30 minutes of thick deep jungle right down to the Rio Sanguijuela. There is even a place to camp although it is really on a shoe string as there are absolutely no facilities there. It is located south of Puesto Carrillo, you will find the camp by following the trails to Rio Patria, bear in mind that this is for the adventurous only!
There are two other stations to look out for, Puesto El Ceibo and Puesto Magaly, on the western side of the park. These are very remote and are difficult to reach; they can be found south of La Virgen on the main road to Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui.
Because it is a rain forest, remember that the trails are always muddy and sometimes very slippery, so it is advisable to wear appropriate shoes. It is also very important to remember to stick to the trails. Braulio Carrillo is huge, and some people, feeling that the trails were limited and wanting to see more, set off by themselves on a discovery adventure, and got lost. They never found the way back to the trails or to the entrance of the park.
No visit to Braulio Carillo would be complete without having a ride in the Aerial Tram, right at the end of the protected area, going towards Guapiles. This is the best way to appreciate what a canopy is really like, and to understand what it feels like to be up there, seemingly on top of the world, in this different world where some species spend their whole lives and never ever go down to the ground. There is a restaurant at the entrance of the Aerial Tram, which is wonderful as by this time people usually find it, they have build an appetite.
Braulio Carillo is the easiest park to reach from San Jose; if you come by bus, there is an excellent service provided to and from the park and by car it takes no more than 15 to 20 minutes to reach the first entrance.
Filed under: National Parks on June 11th, 2008