In the lowlands along the coast south of Manuel Antonio and north of Dominical the Ríos Naranjo, Savegre and Portalón empty into the Estero Negro and Estero Garita respectively, Between the two estuaries the water spreads into a shallow lake at Laguna Negraforral which is locally known as Estero Rey.
Most of the coast is protected by a patchwork of National Park (Manuel Antonio) and Wildlife Refuge (Portalón) designations. Wildlife feels much less threatened by kayaks gliding silently through the magnificent mangrove forests than humans on foot so it’s easy to approach surprisingly closely to sloths, capuchin monkeys, and dozens of bird species.
The secret back door to Manuel Antonio National Park where you can kayak through the mangroves to a deserted beach
The Río Savegre is a Costa Rican national treasure soon to be designated a new National Park. Starting high in the Talamanca mountains on the famed Cerro de la Muerte (peak of Death) it tumbles over dozens of waterfalls and through amazing rapids before flattening, slowing and emptying into the mangroves.
By far our favorite method of transportation to the Portalón refuge is sea kayaks. There’s a put in just above the bridge over the Río Savegre on the Costanera Sur (route 34) highway 19 km south of Quepos (Manuel Antonio) and 24 km north of Dominical. The first thirty minutes in the river are fun little riffles and mini-rapids but there’s no experience necessary.
Many area outfitters and guides offer trips but we recommend making your arrangements through Rafiki Lodge so you can spend a couple of nights in their mountain luxury safari tents and white water raft the upper Savegre before paddling through the mangroves to their beach camp on Playa Matapalo.
Day trips and night tours are available from most lodges and tour desks in Manuel Antonio about 20 minutes away.
If you haven’t had enough human powered nature adventure by the time you shoot the rapids on the upper and paddle the lagoon on the lower Savegre you could actually trek the length of Playa Matapalo about 15 km crossing the smaller river mouths at Portalón and Hatillo Viejo to reach Hacienda Barú National Wildlife Refuge.