In Costa Rica there are some habitats that can only be explored by boat – the mangrove estuaries, the water trails and canals of Tortuguero National Park and the flooded wetlands of Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge.
Most birds and animals are less concerned with or intimidated by people when they don’t look like people. It’s much easier to approach closely without startling or disturbing them when you’re in a boat. The same applies to a car or SUV so if you spot something alongside the road you may want to try to get a photo out the window before getting out to take a better look.
Fresh Water Wetlands, Lagoons, and Canals
The lagoon and waterways around Tortuguero are calm and the wildlife is accustomed to the boats cruising slowly under the jollio palms and rain forest trees that overhang the canals. Birds and animals typically do not regard the boats as threats so you’re likely to get much closer and shoot better photos than if you try to approach the same species on foot (which would be impossible here as there’s no solid ground anyway).
Motor boat tours of Caño Negro almost all start from La Fortuna or one of the lodges near Arenal volcano. Mini-buses transport visitors to the dock at Los Chiles and from there canopied boats head upstream on the Río Frío to the marshy wetlands of the Wildlife Refuge. The banks of the river are particularly good for spotting monkeys, and other arboreal species and you can’t miss the caiman, turtles and other river dwellers.
There are many birds on the shores but the best views of the wading species are in the marshy grasslands of the Caño Negro wildlife refuge farther upstream to the south.
If you’d rather try quiet solo gliding both locations also offer sit on top kayak or canoe paddling tours with or without a personal naturalist guide to point out way more wildlife than you could ever hope to spot on your own.
There are three popular motorized tours of the mangroves in Costa Rica at the Damas Estuary, Terraba Sierpe and the Río Tempisque.
The unique environment where fresh and salt water mingle is populated mainly by three types of mangrove trees a which have a number of unique adaptations (read more about mangroves).
Hundreds of species of perching and wading birds as well as tree dwellers like pizotes, sloth, raccoon, and even a couple of species of mangrove crabs that spend their lives in the canopy coming down to the water only to mate. The mosquitoes can be worse in the mangroves than anywhere else we’ve been in Costa Rica, but there have been a couple of times when they were oddly absent. Come prepared.
There are mangroves near most of Coast Rica’s beaches but only Damas, Tempisque and Terraba Sierpe offer motorized tours. Kayaking tours are common on the smaller mangrove waterways.