|Braulio Carrillo National Park||| Print ||
Rugged mountains, dormant volcanoes, deep canyons, swollen rivers, and seemingly interminable clouds, torrential rains, and persistent drizzle characterize Parque Nacional Braulio Carrillo, 20 km northeast of San José.
The park was established in 1978 as a compromise with environmentalists concerned that the construction of the Guápiles Highway to the Caribbean would lead to deforestation of the important watershed region. It was named in honor of the president who promoted the cultivation of coffee.
The 44,099-hectare park (84 percent of which is primary forest) extends from 2,906 meters above sea level atop Volcán Barva down to 36 meters at La Selva, in Sarapiquí in the Caribbean lowlands. This represents the greatest altitudinal range of any Costa Rican park. Temperature and rainfall vary greatly and are extremely unpredictable. At higher elevations, temperatures range from 15° to 22° C. At the Carrillo, Magsasay, and El Ceibo biological stations, in the Atlantic lowlands, the average temperature is much warmer, ranging from 22° to 30° C. Annual rainfall is between 400 and 800 centimeters. Rains tend to diminish in March and April. With luck, you might even see the sun.
Encompassing five life zones ranging from tropical wet to cloud forest, Braulio Carrillo provides a home for 600 identified species of trees, more than 500 species of birds, and 135 species of mammals, including howler and capuchin monkeys, tapirs, jaguars, pumas, ocelots, deer, pacas, raccoons, and peccaries. Highlights include hundreds of butterfly species and excellent bird-watching. Quetzals are common at higher elevations. The rare solitary eagle and umbrella bird live here. And toucans, parrots, and hummingbirds are ubiquitous.
The park protects several tree species fast disappearing elsewhere from overharvesting: among them, the palmito, valued for its "heart," and the tepezcuintle, which has been chosen as the park's official mascot. Those elephant-ear-size leaves common in Braulio Carrillo are sombrilla del pobre (poor man's umbrella).
The main entrance is approximately 19 km northeast of San José, where there is a tollbooth (200 colones--$1.30) on the Guápiles Highway. Zurquí, the main ranger station, tel. 233-4533 or 257-0922, is on the right two km north of the tunnel. Drive slowly; you come upon it suddenly on a bend. The station has basic maps, sold in the information center. The Puesto Carrillo ranger station, 22.5 km farther down the road, has a tollbooth in the center of the road for those entering the park from Limón.
Two other stations--Puesto El Ceibo and Puesto Magsasay--lie on the remote western fringes of the park, reached by rough trails from just south of La Virgen, on the main road to Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí. You can also enter the Volcán Barva sector of the park via the Puesto Barva ranger station, tel. 261-2619, three km northeast of Sacramento (see the Slopes of Barva section, above), and via Alto Palma and Bajo Hondura, accessible from San José via San Vicente de Moravia or from the Guápiles Highway at a turnoff about three km south of the main park entrance. Entrance costs $6.
Trails and Facilities
Two short trails lead from Puesto Carrillo: Los Botarramas is approximately 1.6 km; La Botella, with waterfalls and views down the Patria Canyon, is 2.8 kilometers. For additional exercise as you head down La Botella, turn left at a sign labeled Sendero. This path takes you 30 minutes deeper into the forest to the Río Sanguijuela. South of Puesto Carrillo is a parking area on the left (when heading north) with a lookout point and a trail to the Río Patria, where you can camp (no facilities). Another parking area beside the bridge over the Río Sucio ("Dirty River") has picnic tables and a short loop trail.
A one-km trail leads from south of the Zurquí Tunnel to a vista point. The entrance is steep, the rest easy. Another trail--the Sendero Histórico--is shown on the national park map as following the Río Hondura all the way from Bajo Hondura to the Guápiles Highway at a point near the Río Sucio. Check with a ranger.
A trail from Puesto Barva leads to the summit of Volcán Barva and loops around to Porrosatí (no ranger station). From the summit, you can continue all the way downhill to La Selva in the northern lowlands. It's a lengthy and arduous hike that may take several days, and is recommended only for experienced hikers with suitable equipment. There are no facilities. You can join this trail from Puesto El Ceibo and Puesto Magsasay; you can also drive in a short distance along a 4WD trail from Puesto Magsasay.
Bring sturdy raingear, and preferably hiking boots. The trails will most likely be muddy. Several hikers have been lost for days in the fog and torrential rains. Remember: It can freeze at night. If you intend to do serious hiking, let rangers know in advance, and check in with them when you return.