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Costa Rica Travel >>natural areas>>Caño Negro

Caño Negro National Wildlife Refuge
Cano Negro National Wildlife Refuge, Costa Rica
Attractions | The Region | When to Visit | Getting There | Books | Web

Caño Negro is quite off the beaten path, but worth the effort. Most visits start out at Los Chiles where you board a boat and glide up the Río Frío through canyons of green towards the everglade like Lago Caño Negro. Migration plays a big role in the population of the waterways; you may see a bull shark's fin slice the surface; this area is the end of their annual trip up the Río Nicaragua from the sea, but most people come to spot migratory birds.

spider monkey flying (photo © R. Krueger-Koplin)
Squirrel monkey literally flying between the trees
on the banks of the Río Frío. (photo © R. Krueger-Koplin)

Attractions
Birdwatching
During the green (rainy) season from May to October, water from the mountains is plentiful and the Río Frío overflows its banks to form Lago Caño Negro positioned smack in the middle of the flyway for migrant North and South American birds. Millions of birds arrive here to winter over during the dry season beginning in December. The water level falls continuously for the next three to four months until all that is left is the main channel of the Río Frío and the migrants depart.


American Anhinga (photo © S. Krueger-Koplin)

Among the many birds found in Caño Negro are: glossy Ibis, black-necked stilt, neotropical cormorants, American anhinga, northern jacana, American widgeon, wood stork, white Ibis, black-bellied tree duck, northern shoveler, snail kite, green backed heron, roseate spoonbill, and blue-winged teal. This is one of the best places to see the Nicaraguan grackle, whose only Costa Rican habitat is Caño Negro and other marshy areas just south of Lake Nicaragua.

Spectacled Caiman (Caiman crocodylus) along banks of the Río Frío. (photo © R. Krueger-Koplin)
Spectacled Caiman (Caiman crocodylus) along banks of the Río Frío.
(photo © R. Krueger-Koplin)

Fishing
The Río Frío has good fishing for snook, guapote, alligator gar, drum, and huge tarpon (fish stories claim up to 100 kg or 220 lbs). Fishing is allowed in the reserve from July 1 to March 31, license $US 30 from the ranger station in Caño Negro village. There are no established high profile fishing guide outfits currently operating, but if you are willing to round up a boat and provide most of your own tackle, Caño Negro is a well kept fishing secret.


In the region
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In the region:
East of Los Chiles, the Río Medio Queso spreads into a shallow wetlands when rainfall is plentiful. The region near the border is officially protected by the Corredor Fronterízo National Wildlife Refuge, but the whole area is excellent for wildlife viewing.


Sue, our bikes and panniers pulling away from the
dock at Los Chiles (photo © R. Krueger-Koplin)

Caño Negro isn't particularly near anything. When we visited, we embarked on a small boat at Los Chiles with our bicycles stacked to one side spent the cay on the river and lake then disembarked at Caño Negro village, where we continued west and south. If you are traveling by bus, your only option is back towards La Fortuna Arenal and San José. If you are driving, there is no bridge over the Río Frío at Los Chiles, you have to turn west off the main road about 6 miles (10 km) south to reach the nearest bridge at San Emilio to drive to Caño Negro village and on to Upala (4WD recommended year round and required in the rainy season).


When to visit Cano Negro Wildlife refuge, Costa Rica
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When to visit:
This area has some of the lowest rainfall totals for Costa Rica. Even during the rainy season when the rivers are overflowing their banks, most to the rain is falling farther south then running into this region.
There are advantages to visiting any time of year.

Books and other resources
Attractions | The Region | When to Visit
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Resources
Books

Toucan Ratings Explained | Lowest Available Price
Why Buy from Us?

Field Guide to the Wildlife of Costa RicaField Guide to the Wildlife of Costa Rica
by Carrol L. Henderson (Author), Steve Adams (Illustrator), Paperback, 559 pages, Publisher: Univ. of Texas Press; 1st edition, (2002), ISBN: 029273459X

Color photos, species accounts, and distribution maps, for almost three hundred species of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, butterflies, moths, and other invertebrates are complimented by general introductions to each group, the ecology of Costa Rica, and how to travel to see wildlife.
rated five out of five toucans by Costa-Rica-Guide.com
$US 27.97 from Amazon -or-
Barnes&Noble member price $US 30.36

A Guide to the Birds of Panama: With Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and HondurasA Guide to the Birds of Panama: With Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Honduras
by Robert S. Ridgely, John A. Gwynne (Contributor), $US 33.25, Paperback, 412 pages, Publisher: Princeton Univ. Pr; 2nd edition, (1992), ISBN: 0691025126

Some tout this volume as superior to A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica by Stiles, Skutch & Gardener. Over 1,000 species, more than 800 illustrated on 48 color plates. While the neotropical birds you are likely to spot in Costa Rica will be in this book, the site specific information is weighted towards Panama. Follows the sequence and taxonomy of the 1983 check-list of the American Ornithologists Union.
rated four and a half out of five toucans by Costa-Rica-Guide.com
$US 33.25 from Amazon -or-
Barnes&Noble member price $US 45.13

 

Travel & Site Guide to Birds of Costa Rica With Side Trips to PanamaTravel & Site Guide to Birds of Costa Rica With Side Trips to Panama
by Aaron D. Sekerak, Aaron D. Sekerak, Eussa Ginger, Elissa Conger (Illustrator), Paperback, 256 pages, Publisher: Lone Pine Publishing, (1996), ISBN: 1551050846

This book is exactly what it says, a guide to birding sites. It is not a field guide with color illustrations etc. That said, it's a useful tool for planning a trip or getting more information about regions you are seeing on an organized tour. Includes some interesting back doors, and info on who to talk to in specific areas about seeing birds. If someone said "I would give $1000 to see a Calliphlox bryantae" you would have to look the common name up in a bird book first, then use the Travel and Site guide to locate a likely locale.
rated four out of five toucans by Costa-Rica-Guide.com
$US 11.87 from Amazon -or-
Barnes&Noble member price $US 16.10

Information on the web
Attractions | The Region | When to Visit
Getting There | Books | Web

 

 

Information on the Web

Bird list for Costa Rica

Hundreds of excellent Costa Rican Bird Photographs

 

Map showing the location of Cano Negro National Wildlife refuge in Costa Rica
Location: 71 miles (119 km) in a straight line northwest of San José. 120 miles (220 km) by road. 10° 55' N, 84° 47' W

Visiting
Getting There:

Driving
From San José there are several routes to the northern lowlands. The main route follows the Pan American Highway west out of San José towards Naranjo (and San Ramón, but don't go all the way there), after ~32 km turn right (north) on 141 to Naranjo followed by a 22 km climb to Zarcero that pays off when you get out and stretch your legs in the amazing topiary garden surrounding the whitewashed church (on your right in the center of town, you can't miss it). Continue on 141 another 20 km to Quesada (known as San Carlos to all but map makers), then 8 km to Florencia where you turn right (north) on 35 which takes you the final 84 km to Los Chiles. (No 4WD required)
To get to the ranger station at Caño Negro village you have to turn west off of 35 onto a dirt road about 10 km before (south of) Los Chiles (there is no bridge at Los Chiles) to cross the Río Frío at San Emilio. You can continue from Caño Negro village to Colonia Puntarenas (4WD recommended year round and required in the rainy season) where you can catch the paved road to Upala.
Detailed roadmaps are available in acrobat pdf format or printed on waterproof tear proof plastic.

Bus
1229 Los Chiles y Caño Negro
Express departures daily from San José, Terminal Atlántico Norte, 5:30, 15:30, 217 km, 5 hours. Atlántico Norte company. Telephone (506) 256-8963

Air

There are no regularly scheduled flights, but there is an airstrip and charters are available.


Entrance fees:

There is no cost to enter the reserve, however if you are planning on fishing, you need a license, $US 30 from the ranger station in Caño Negro village.

Hours:
The reserve is open to visitors around the clock. The Ramsar ranger station in Caño Negro village is open 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Monday to Friday.

Amenities:
Hiking trails
There are no established hiking trails in Caño Negro. Travel is almost exclusively by boat.

Camping

Camping is allowed, but there are no facilities or official campsites.

Lodging:
Los Chiles joins San José as the exceptions to the rule that even the cheapest simplest accommodations in Costa Rica will be spotlessly clean and incredibly friendly.

In general accommodations are dismal here.

However, a hotel that was under construction 50 meters from the dock when we last visited is now open under the name Rancho Tulipan Dutch/Tico management and reported to be clean safe and friendly.

Quick Facts
Weather:

Drier season January through April, driest towards the end of this period. Average of 98 inches (2,500 mm) rainfall per year, and 5 hours of sunshine per day.

Size:
24,620 acres (9,969 hectares, 38 square miles, 29 times the size of central park NYC, 1/10th the size of Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado)

Elevations:
from 100 to 330 feet (30-100 meters)

Habitats:
Tropical lowland wet forest (rain forest), pasture, fresh water marsh, river, lake (some compare it to the Florida Everglades)

Inhabitants:
Birds Glossy Ibis, black-necked stilt, neotropical cormorants, American anhinga, northern jacana, American widgeon, wood stork, white Ibis, black-bellied tree duck, cattle egret, northern shoveler, snail kite, green backed heron, Nicaraguan grackle, roseate spoonbill, and blue-winged teal
Animals Spider, capuchin and howler monkeys, spectacled caiman, crocodile, jaguar, cougar, tayra, ocelot, tapir, white-tailed deer, jesus-christ lizard, black river turtle, iguana,
Fish Snook, guapote, alligator gar, drum fish, tarpon, and bull sharks

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