Costa Rica is a country bursting with amazing natural habitats, colorful wildlife, and unusual sounds. The Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge offers visitors the opportunity to enjoy a unique ecologically-friendly river cruise to immerse oneself in this beautiful country while enjoying the leisurely flow of the Rio Frio.
The Refuge offers amazing opportunities for viewing wildlife in their natural habitat.
Guided river cruises on the River Frio provide guests a close-up view of this delicate habitat. The river runs wild near the Costa Rican and Nicaraguan border through marshes and jungle areas. Numerous species of birds, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals make this habitat their home while others share in the area during their annual migration journeys.
The Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge
The Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge is a small area of protected land in northern Costa Rica, near the Nicaragua border. The refuge, part of the North Arenal Conservation Area, is south of Los Chiles in Alajuela Province. The refuge is a wetlands, home to many migratory waterfowl, and centered near Lake Caño Negro. The Rio Frío (translated the Cold River) feeds this lake during the Costa Rican rainy season (between July and November).
There are no public facilities at the refuge. Access to the area is controlled by the state conservation regulations and can only be explored only by boat.
The forests, grasslands and marshes provide shelter for various endangered species such as cougars and jaguars, tapirs, several species of monkey, as well as numerous waterfowl.
In the dry season, the river is a series of little lagoons, channels and beaches, which provides a home to thousands of migratory birds. Common species found in the area include storks, spoonbills, ibis, anhingas, ducks and cormorants. Heavy rainfall submerges much of the area during the rainy season.
Birds, mammals, and reptiles call this refuge home
During the dry season, the water levels steadily fall, leaving only the main channel of the Rio Frio with flowing water. The shallow waters become a wintering home for American migratory birds. Birds commonly found during the drier time of year include the Glossy Ibis, Anhinga, American Wood Stork, Northern Shoveler, White Ibis, and the Green-backed Heron.
Birds, like the Olivaceous Cormorant, make the reserve their year round home. The marsh is also one of the best viewing areas for the Nicaraguan Grackle or Jabirus, the largest bird in Central America and is extremely endangered. It is the lucky guest who gets to witness these two birds in their habitat.
Mantled howler monkeys can be heard throughout the refuge as they make their distinctive calls to each other. Geoffroy’s spider monkeys and white-headed capuchin monkeys often entertain visitors as they carelessly fly through trees with their young clinging to the mother’s neck. Sometimes visitors even get the chance to see young monkeys trying their first race through the tangle of branches or chasing each other up and down the foliage. Three-toed sloth are common throughout the jungle areas.
The waters of the river and marsh are home to several caimans, turtles, Jesus Christ lizards, and even freshwater sharks. These animals are extremely adept at blending in with their surroundings. Keeping a close eye on submerged logs and small hidden coves is the secret to witnessing these species in their natural state.
Several species of bats also live in dense areas of brush growth; these tiny creatures require a talented eye to spot. No bigger than an average size egg, these creatures blend into tree trunks and branches to remain concealed.
Rio Frio Tours
Tourists have to make this a destination, not just an incidental stop. To visit the area, you must join a day tour as only authorized boat operators are permitted on the waters of the refuge. The river cruise itself doesn’t enter the wildlife refuge but skirts the edges with plenty of spectacular viewing opportunities so you really don’t miss out on anything by not entering the actual refuge land.
The boat gently floats along the Rio Frio as the slow moving river winds its way to the Caño Negro Lake. Boat operators are experienced and extremely knowledgeable about the ecological history of the area, the environmental impact of weather changes, the natural habitats of various species, and the risks of extinction to some species. Many operators are bilingual in Spanish and English. Their keen eyes are adept at spotting various species and getting guests as close as safely possible to view the them in their natural habitat.
Tours can be arranged online or through many local hotels. Hotel pick-up is available to a select number of local Arenal hotels. From Arenal, it is about a 1.5 hour drive to Los Chiles, the launching point for most tours. Because of its proximity to the Nicaraguan border, guests may be required to present their passport before boarding the boats and beginning their tour.
Tours depart mid-morning regardless of the weather. The tour itself lasts about 4 hours. After spending several hours on the water, guests are invited to a traditional Costa Rican lunch with regional fruits and beverages at a local café. The back area of the café features multiple trees, which attract several birds feeding on fruit and seed left for them by the café owners. The birds provide plenty of entertain while guests partake of their meal and relax with friends/family.
Guests return to their local hotels in the late afternoon.
Tours start at 75 USD/per person with local pick-up.
A must-do activity
If you are interested in the natural ecology of Costa Rica, this river tour is not to be missed. The information gained from the expert guides and the opportunity to see such a wide variety of wildlife in their natural settings is unmatched.
Don’t forget to take your binoculars and camera!
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