To say Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge is remote is an understatement. Located in Northern Costa Rica less than 10 miles (16 km) from the border with Nicaragua, travelers usually get here as part of group tours. Because we’re on a road trip (and we hate group tours) we drove ourselves to Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge from Rincon de la Vieja National Park, but that doesn’t mean it was easy.
Though the area is reached via a numbered highway (#4 to be exact) it was well into the process of crumbling apart leaving gaping potholes in the beleaguered pavement which required radical swerving and slow speeds to avoid the most cavernous among them. Welcome to Costa Rica where even the numbered highways will kill your car.
After such a jarring overland journey it was a relief to get into a boat. There are no trails in the Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge because it’s made up of 12 lagoons connected by waterways and Lake Caño Negro which is fed by the Rio Frio. Volcanoes loom in the distance (including Tenorio, Maravillas and Arenal). Animals surround you. And there’s not a pothole in sight.
The animals of Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge
Volcanoes are cool and all, but the real highlight of any tour of Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge (US$35 per person including a guide/boatman, roughly 1.5 hours) is the wildlife. We saw caimans, a whole host of birds, huge fish, frogs, trees full of monkeys, cool lizards,and more (though the area’s pumas and jaguars took the day off). Here are some Caño Negro wildlife highlights.
Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge travel tips
We stayed at Caño Negro Natural Lodge (US$120 double including continental breakfast) which is located just a short stroll from where the tour boats depart from. The lodge has its own wildlife-filled grounds and a pool along with 42 motel-style rooms. Some have been recently renovated so be sure you get one of those.
During the dry season (November to March) the wetlands of the Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge dry up considerably, shrinking the navigable area. For maximum access, visit in the wet season. Skies are clearest in October, affording the best views of Arenal Volcano, Tenorio Volcano, Maravillas Volcano, and Rincon de la Vieja Volcano in the distance.
Here’s more about travel in Costa Rica