Caño Negro National Wildlife Refuge

Caño Negro National Wildlife Refuge and Rio Frio Region (40 m / 131 ft) 


Caño Negro is the most important sizable wetland in the country.  This magnificent refuge is about 9,960 hectares (24,612 acres) and it incorporates large lagoons, rivers, rainforests, open and semi-open environments, and the tiny village by the same name. Its climate has intense influence from the dryer northern Pacific region of Costa Rica and on a normal basis, the dry season extends from December to April, sometimes even facing the effects of severe droughts. Two very well defined seasons are responsible for drastic changes in the water levels, Cold fronts and tropical depressions can produce drenching rains on the foothills and lowlands, raising the level of the Río Frío (Cold River) up to 6 meters, subsequently flooding this vast extension of land and triggering fish and plant reproduction.

The best time of the year to explore Caño Negro is the dry season as more birds conglomerate around the remaining water mirrors. However the rainy season or unexpected flash floods maximize the opportunities for exploration of the area and give access to incredible landscapes. 


Caño Negro is a Ramsar Site, a wetland ecosystem designated of international importance under the Ramsar Convention. The Convention on Wetlands, known as the Ramsar Convention, is an intergovernmental environmental treaty established in 1971 by UNESCO. Today incorporating 169 nations, over 2,000 designated sites and encompassing over 200,000,000 hectares (490,000,000 acres) of protected land. The treaty supports for national action and involves international cooperation in regards of wetland conservation efforts, encouraging at the same time thoughtful sustainable use of the site’s natural resources. Costa Rica, as part of the Convention on Wetlands, protects a total of 569,742 hectares (1,407,860 acres).


What is a wetland?

The fundamental features that characterizes a wetland from other land form or water body is the particular plant composition dominated by specific aquatic plants, all adapted to the particular hydric soil. These permanent or seasonal aquatic ecosystems play important roles in water purification, flood control, shoreline stability, and carbon sequestration. Wetlands are within the most biologically diverse ecosystems in the planet, serving as sanctuaries of a wide variety of animals and particular plant life.   


A lot of day tours are offered to explore the Caño Negro Wetlands, particularly from the Arenal Volcano area, however this operations will only take you into Los Chiles or a nearby location and navigate and watch some wildlife along the Río Frío, and not into the actual refuge. When we visit this area we take you into the actual refuge and stay in Caño Negro Natural Lodge right in the village of Caño Negro. Our boat trips are private and flexible, so we truly explore the area. 


Exploration Of The Wetland And Special Birds

Several lagoons and the Río Frío Canal can be explored by boat, with certain differences in where we can access depending on water levels. Almost any level of water in Caño Negro will give you a great experience. Low levels favor conglomeration of birds because of the abundance of food. Higher levels allow access to wonderful lagoons where birds are sparse throughout a vast extension, but you get to experience more of the landscapes. Boat trips can take place early in the morning, a couple of hours before breakfast, mid morning, or mid to late afternoon. We program the boat adventures based of species requirements, weather conditions and water levels. Your guide will help you coordinate and plan properly.

Bird species in Caño Negro include all the kingfishers of the continent: Green-and-Rufous Kingfisher, American Pygmy-Kingfisher, Amazon, Ringed Kingfisher and Belted Kingfisher, which is a northern migrant so only in the area during winter months. Additionally regular inhabitants include Neotropic Cormorant (the largest colony in Costa Rica), the good looking Anhinga, Southern Lapwing, Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Black-necked Stilt, Purple Gallinule, Russet-naped Wood-Rail, Yellow-breasted Crake, Black-collared Hawk, Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, Snail Kite, Bat Falcon, Agami Heron, Little Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Tricolored Heron, Boat-billed Heron, Bare-throated Tiger-Heron, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron and Black-crowned Night-Heron, Sungrebe, Nicaraguan Seed-Finch, Nicaraguan Grackle, White-collared Manakin, Slaty Spinetail, Olivaceous Piculet, Lineated Woodpecker, Pied Puffbird, Snowy Cotinga, Striped Cuckoo, Bare-crowned Antbird, Great Potoo, Common Potoo, Barred Antshrike, Pacific Screech-Owl, Black-and-white Owl, Striped Owl and Mottled Owl are all possible during a night drive. 

Other fantastic wildlife includes the Emerald Basilisk, Green Iguana, Spectacled Caiman, American Crocodile, Nicaraguan Slider-Turtle, Long-nosed Bats, Greater Fishing-Bats, Neotropical River-Otter, Mantled Howler Monkey, White-faced Capuchin, Central American Spider Monkey, Hoffman’s Two-toed Sloth and Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth.


Caño Negro Natural Lodge

This is a good sized hotel that offers a total of 42 rooms. Each room equipped with air conditioning, two double beds and offers good hot water. Wi-Fi is available in the bar/restaurant area where refreshing fruit drinks can be enjoyed after a tour. The meals are served buffet style or a la cart. The hotel grounds offer a swimming pool and good birding, a combination of fruit trees, bushes, and tall trees, and a bordering patch of second growth forest attract a good number of species: Spot-breasted Wren, Greenish Elaenia, Cinnamon Woodpecker, Gray-headed Dove, Yellow-throated Euphonia, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Black-cheeked Woodpecker and Red-lored Parrot are just a few of the visitors.


Medio Queso

The fantastic spot known as Medio Queso is located close to the community of Los Chiles, not far from the main road into Caño Negro Wetlands. Exploration here is by boat and it offers some of the best opportunities to find the difficult to see Least Bittern and Pinnated Bittern. Other incredible sightings include White-tailed Hawk, Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, Nicaraguan Seed-Finch, Nicaraguan Grackle, Northern Jacana, Ringed Kingfisher, Black Rail, Russet-naped Wood-Rail and White Ibis.

Cano Negro
Nicaraguan Seed-Finch (Sporophila nuttingi)
Spot-breasted Wren (Pheugopedius maculipectus)
American Pygmy Kingfisher (Chloroceryle aenea)
Yellow-breasted Crake (Hapalocrex flaviventer)