Hiking The Braulio Carrillo National Park

The 6th most popular hiking trail in Costa Rica.

  San Jose, Costa Rica


  August 10, 2016

Northeast of San Jose and southwest of Santa Clara, the 48,000 hectacre Parque Nacional Braulio Carrillo is a large block of untouched, rugged wilderness.

The Quebrada Gonzalez Ranger Station is the trailhead for the most popular trails in the national park. The parking area is guarded which is a major plus, and the trails are well maintained.

From this ranger station, there are three lush trails through dense forest: Sendero Las Palmas (a 1.6km loop), Sendero El Ceibo (a 1km loop), and Sendero Botarrama (a 2.5km add-on loop to the Sendero El Ceibo).

To reach the Quebrada Gonzalez Ranger Station from San Jose, head northeast on RUTA 32 (aka Braulio Carrillo Highway or Siquirres Highway) for 42.9 km (or 22.9 km past the Zurqui Tunnel). The ranger station and parking area are on the right.

Note: this national park is known for theft at the trailheads. Definitely do not park on the roadside and go hiking. Park only near the ranger stations and walk the extra distance.

Here are some basic notes on driving in Costa Rica for the tourist. There is a myth about the quality of the roads and of VW bus sized pot-holes. This may have been true years ago, but on the main routes, this is no longer true. With that said, there are still numerous challenges for first time drivers in Costa Rica. First, do not expect much out of so-call “highways”, like the InterAmerican Highway. The fancy name makes the uninitiated think this is a major 4 lane divided, restricted access road. Well, yes, about 1% is. The rest is two lane (marginally), undivided, rural roads with tons of traffic constantly stopping, turning, passing or driving slowly. Like every other road in the country, you can expect to see on the road numerous unexpected cows, cyclists, pedestrians, bus stops, school crossing zones, dogs, mud slides, police check points, unannounced one-lane bridges, missing manhole covers, and, of course, a never ending stream of semi-trucks driving erratically fast. What you do not find on any roads is much signage. There are infrequent signs indicating the distance to the next town, and even more infrequent are road names or numbers (if at all), including even within major towns. To make matters worse, signs that used to exist are disappearing due to deterioration or theft. Also, do not expect drivers to use their head lights, even in a heavy rain shower, unless it is really dark. This makes passing in rain a game of roulette since you can't see the oncoming traffic. Speaking of dark, do not drive at night since the roads in some areas can be ruled by those under the influence of alcohol.

If you have to drive through San Jose, make sure to do it at dawn to avoid the horrendous traffic all day long, including weekends. Keep in mind several maps show highways passing through San Jose. This is not true. They end abruptly on the outskirts of town and you have to slug it out in a crazy stop-and-go traffic and many unmarked turns to get to the other side all day long. There are unsigned so-called by-pass routes around San Jose, but finding them can be a challenging game of trial-and-error, and they are only marginally better.

If you have to drive on the Nicoya Peninsula, you can expect to find generally better roads with better signage. However, there are numerous unmarked eroded road sides, especially over stream culverts. do not drive at night. Watch out for the iguanas sprinting across the road.

A GPS unit can be helpful when navigating roads, however, the maps in Costa Rica were created using a special map datum. This datum is not usually available on GPS units but the road base maps were created with it. Therefore if you use the default WGS84 datum with a base road map on the GPS unit, you will always show a position being about 0.5 miles to the north of the road base map.

When picking up a rental car, make sure to check all the tires for wear, check the spare tire pressure, check the tire jack, and make sure to test the lock on the spare tire. It would be wise to quickly purchase a can of Fix-A-Flat.

Overall, Braulio Carrillo National Park is the 6th most popular hiking trail of all 20 hikes in Costa Rica.

Local Contacts:  Braulio Carrillo National Park (506) 233-4533; Costa Rican Tourism (866) 267-8274.

Best Season:  Any

Average Difficulty:  Moderate

Base Camp:  Trapp Family Country Inn, Alajuela (506) 431-0776

Luxury Loding:  Gran Hotel Costa Rica; Hotel Grano de Oro

GPS:  10.16173, -83.93791

Date Published:  1/5/2016

Date Updated:  8/10/2016

ID:  6725

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