I have had many exciting adventures during my lifetime in Costa Rica, but my adventures with the local crocodiles are second to none. While there is something for every nature lover in my home country – mountains, forests, more unique species that I can count, and some of the most amazing flora and fauna in the world – nothing compares to seeing these impressive creatures close up. And by “close up” I mean that I can say that I’ve gotten waaaay up close and personal to the local crocodiles, and you can see that adventure here!

My crocodile excursion took place along the Tárcoles River with some very courageous tour guides. Taking a tour like this is a great and safe way to explore these fascinating creatures. Don’t worry about whether or not you’ll actually see one – there are about 25 crocodiles per square kilometer along the Tárcoles River. Basically, you’ll be wondering if there is anywhere along the river where there AREN’T crocodiles. And the answer is no! Here’s what you need to know before your tour…

Crocodile smiling for the camera
Crocodile smiling for the camera

All About That Croc

No doubt about it, the crocodile is one of nature’s most deadly predators. These giant reptiles have been around for many millions of years, and each can live up to 80 years. To a tree frog like me, they are a scary site. Not only can they grow up to 17 feet, but they have about 24 teeth that are specifically designed for crushing. These aren’t your normal chewing teeth! Don’t be fooled by their size either; though they be beefy, they be quick. Their size and speed make them a formidable hunter, and if they close their larger-than-life jaws on you, you’re looking at a bite 10 times as strong as one from the jaws of a great white shark. I was feeling like Dr. Dangerous on my trip, and I let the tour guides take me close to the jaws of a crocodile, but don’t worry – you won’t be doing that on your trip!

American Crocodile with its mouth wide open
American Crocodile with its mouth wide open

The Tárcoles River

The river in Tárcoles, located in the North Puntarenas region, weaves through the Nicoya Península, with its flow ending in the Pacific Ocean. Besides being the premiere river for croc spotting, the Tárcoles River is also important to the country. This river flows along Carara National Park, and acts as its northern border. It also serves as an irrigation connection and helps generate electricity in the country. The Tárcoles River is a place where you can truly see some of the best of nature, and technology.

The Tárcoles area isn’t just a great place to see crocodiles, it is a great place to see many species of birds and fish, such as heron, egrets, roseate spoonbills, crested caracaras and scarlet macaws. Don’t worry though, the normally fearsome crocs and the local birds have formed an unlikely alliance, and the birds are not in danger from the large reptiles. If you are lucky, you may even catch a bird flossing a crocodile’s teeth with its beak!

Javi the Frog in Tarcoles River
Javi the Frog in Tarcoles River

Crocodile Excursions 101

Book a tour to see Costa Rica’s crocodiles slithering through the river or cooling off on the shore. As you saw in my video, the tour that I took included a boat ride, and some very close views of this amazing creatures. A crocodile tour is definitely one of the top ten things that you should have on your Costa Rica bucket list. There are many companies that offer professional tours and local, expert guides. These guys know that they are doing, and they will show you a good time while keeping you safe. This tour isn’t like whale watching – you are 100% guaranteed to see crocodiles. That is plural – crocodiles – because you will likely see more than you can count.

A crocodile tour is family-friendly, and something that the kids will never forget. If you aren’t keen on the idea of being close to the crocodiles, you can still watch these amazing creatures from land on the Tárcoles River Bridge. Either way, you will get some “see-it-to-believe-it” glimpses of their powerful bodies.

Terrifying view over Tarcoles River
Terrifying view over Tarcoles River

Crocodile Watching Safety Tips for Costa Rica Explorers

As someone that has been croc watching, I can share my expertise with you. Here are just a few of the tips that I have picked up from my many experiences on a crocodile tour: Don’t smell like meat. You maybe want to avoid meat the day of your excursion. If you’re like me, you’re a messy eater, and you don’t want the crocs to be tempted by that food you dropped on your shirt. Don’t look like raw meat. SPF should be applied to any and all exposed skin. That will keep you from getting red, like raw meat. In fact, consider wearing a long sleeved shirt. It will protect you from the sun and that’s great, but it will also hide your meaty skin. Don’t bring raw meat. Ok, ok, so it is unlikely that you would actually bring raw meat in your travel pack, but as you saw in the video, the crocs love them some raw meat. But don´t worry, guides don´t feed the crocs anymore.

Bring binoculars. I have bad eyesight, so I had to get realllllly close to the crocs, but you’re good at a distance. You don’t really want to get that close anyway….they kind of smell. And their breath…just bad.

American Crocodile coming out of the water
American Crocodile coming out of the water
Javi over resting Croc, Tarcoles
Javi over resting Croc, Tarcoles
Javi the Frog over huge croc in Tarcoles
Javi the Frog over huge croc in Tarcoles