tapanti national park

Location: 31 miles (50 km) SE of San Jose 17 miles (28 km) SE of Cartago.
Size: 15,024 acres (6,080 ha).
Hours: Daily 7 a. m. to 5 p. m.
Information: Telephone hotline 192 (506) 771-3297, telephonelfax (506) 771-3155.

"Dripping forest" is not a scientific term, but for me, it describes this park in the Talamanca Mountain Range. Inside the forest, raining or not, the air is moist, plants seem wet, the earth smells fresh. Sounds of water are pervasive: 150 rivers and rivulets run here, important sources for hydroelectric projects. Average rainfall is 256 inches (6,500 mm), though it has on occasion reached 315 inches (8,000 mm). Even in the drier months of January through April, wise travelers bring rain gear. Average temperature is 68'F (20'C), and elevation is from 4,000 to 8,400 feet (1,220 to 2,560 in).

Tree crowns form a leaky umbrella under which grow delicate ferns (including 18 species of tree ferns), orchids, bromeliads, lianas that tempt one to take a swing, mosses, and multicolored lichens. Along the road and on forest slopes grows a plant with immense leaves and a tall reddish flower that Costa Ricans call "poor man's umbrella." its leaves are used in the countryside by people caught in the rain.

Tapanti is a favorite with bird-watchers. Among more than 260 species identified here are ones everybody wants to see: quetzals, hummingbirds, toucans, parakeets, parrots, great tinamous, and squirrel cuckoos. Endangered mammals among the 45 resident mammal species are jaguar, ocelot, and tapir; you're more likely to see squirrels, monkeys, raccoons, opossums, coyotes, agoutis, and red brocket deer. There are porcupines, silky anteaters, otters, and, among the 28 amphibian species, lots of toads. Reptile species also number 28, so be on the lookout for lizards and snakes, including the venomous eyelash viper, also commonly known as palm viper, which you might spot on leaves or branches along the road or trails. Butterflies are everywhere: watch for the blue morpho.

The new visitor center is a good starting place to orient yourself via exhibits and conversation with a friendly ranger; buy a park brochure that includes a trail map, and visit the gift shop. Backpackers can leave packs at the center for day visits. Four trails lead through the extravagance of rainforest vegetation. Oropendola Trail, an easy loop, begins about a half-mile (I km) from the visitor center. For a longer hike, continue on Sendero Pantanoso, which dips down near the Rio Grande de Orosi, whose swift, cold waters rush over and around impressive boulders. Bring a picnic and enjoy the covered shelters while you soak up the scenery. The map indicates the best swimming area in the river: brace yourself for cold water. Sendero Natural Arboles Caidos (Fallen Trees Trail) is more rugged; Sendero La Pava (Guan Trail) also leads to the river. At the parking and picnic area near the end of the public road, climb a short trail to the covered shelter at the mirador to look across at a gorgeous waterfall and down the river valley-glorious interplays of light and clouds along the forested mountains.

The main road is good because of a Costa Rican Electric Institute (ICE) dam about 9 miles (15 km) from the park entrance. Waters from the Rio Grande de Orosi produce hydroelectric energy and help quench San Jose's thirst. A wildlife refuge by 1982, Tapanti became a national park in 1992 and is within the Amistad Pacific Conservation Area.

Getting There

By bus: From Cartago, catch the Orosi bus-leaves every hour from the
south side of the church ruins. From Orosi, take a taxi for the last 71/2miles
(12 km). Park personnel can radio for a taxi for return trip. Or take a taxi
from Cartago or Paraiso. I

By car: From Cartago, continue through Paraiso, Orosi, Rio Macho, and
Purisil. Watch for "Tapanti" signs. Road passable year-round.
Other: Tours from San Jos& may combine Tapanti with other area attractions; local lodges offer tours and/or transfers.

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