Costa Rica’s Crocodile Bridge

A group of crocodiles bask under the tropical sun on the banks of the Tárcoles River

photography by: Roel van Deursen/Flickr

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Over half a million species of animals make Costa Rica one of the most bio-diverse countries on Earth. With such an abundant flora and fauna, it is no wonder that close encounters with nature occur in unexpected places. At first glance the uninspiring highway-bridge across the Tárcoles River might seem like a mundane piece of infrastructure. Nonetheless, this gritty bridge serves as an unusual lookout from where dozens of ferocious crocodiles can be seen at any given moment.

The Commercial Complex and the Bridge

Straddles the Tárcoles River about 75 kilometers from San José, the Crocodile Bridge, as it is unofficially known, is about 1.5 hours from the Costa-Rican capital and 25 minutes from the coastal town of Jaco, depending on traffic conditions. The 120-meter-long bridge is part of the Pacífica Fernández Oreamuno Highway (National Route 34), one of Costa Rica’s busiest and most congested roads.


This off-road oddity is usually frequented by tourists who stop-by on their way to Jaco Beach, Manuel Antonio National Park or even Uvita. The incessant influx of curious visitors resulted in an entire economy that has developed to cater their needs. In fact, alongside the site’s parking area at the northern side of the river is a makeshift hodgepodge of restaurants, cafés and most notably, a series of souvenir shops that offer cheap crocodile-shaped knickknacks.


Without official signs to greet travelers, the place is deemed an off-beat attraction in spite of its central location along a busy road. As for the bridge itself, it has two 1.5-meter-wide walkways at each of its sides, safely out of reach from cars and crocodiles alike. Take note that since vehicles pass at relatively high speed, crossing the bridge to reach the other walkway entails a great deal of caution.

The Crocodiles and the River

What would otherwise be an insignificant road section is now a bizarre tourist attraction thanks to a crocodile infested segment of the Tárcoles River. Emanating in the Costa Rica’s volcanic mountain range of Cordillera Central, the 111-kilometer-long river meanders southwestwards until it reaches the Gulf of Nicoya and the Pacific Ocean. Unfortunately, as for decades more than two thirds of the country’s industrial waste was dumped into the river, its waters are exceedingly polluted.


Nevertheless, the Tárcoles still serves as a habitat for a plethora of species, including American pygmy kingfishers, herons, mangrove warblers and as the article’s title implies, our protagonists, the formidable American crocodiles. Swimming across the Tárcoles’ murky waters or simply basking on small mid-river isles, those fearsome reptiles have an average body length of between 3 to 4 meters and a weight of roughly 400 kilograms. In some extreme cases, adult males can even grow to as much as 6 meter long and weigh a whopping 900 kilograms.


While this bridge provides a spontaneous and rare glimpse of these fierce predators from a safe distance, local tour operators offer a closer encounter with the crocodiled as part of a river-boat ride, albeit most of those organized cruises tend to be far less authentic, or put simply – a tourist trap.