Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge in Costa Rica is one of the most important wetlands in the world as it is a convenient resting place for migratory birds. Set close to the Nicaraguan border, this jungle-like area is quite difficult to reach as it is often submerged in water by flooded rivers.

Since 1984 it is also a protected nature reserve. If you want to experience the refuge you can go on a boat tour along the Río Frío and see the richness of nature. During my excursion, I have seen countless animals including three types of monkeys and a sloth, all from up close.

Things to see and do in Caño Negro:

With the boat safari, you set off on the Río Frío. This river flows through the reserve and often floods during the rainy season from May to October. During this time the wetlands will be more like a large lake due to the heavy rainfall. After the rainy season, the water level drops again and countless migratory birds spend the winter here.

The boat ride is both upstream and downstream for a few hours. The captain and guide often know where wildlife can be found, so you get to see a lot of animals during this trip. The captain will stop the boat when something is spotted. You will have plenty of time and opportunity to take good photos and videos.

The wildlife of Caño Negro:

White-faced capuchin monkey.
White-faced capuchin monkey. Corno van den Berg

The list of animals that you can see here is long. Consider the spectacled caiman in various lengths, including young animals. The American crocodile also lives here, although it is spotted much less often. You will certainly see dozens of iguanas, with the males, in particular, having impressive crests with spines. Also, the bright green helmet basilica is special, it is called jesus christ lizard as it can walk on water. But also when they are not walking over water they are incredibly impressive to see in real life.

Two types of sloths:

You can also find sloths here, both the two-toed sloth and the three-toed sloth. I saw a young three-toed sloth that was soaked from the rain. He ate comfortably from the leaves while he was occasionally looking at me. I also saw sleeping bats on tree trunks, a snake in the water and much more. It truly was a wonderful excursion.

A three-toed sloth in the rain.
A three-toed sloth in the rain. Corno van den Berg

Three types of monkeys:

This area has three types of monkeys: howler monkeys, white-faced capuchin monkeys and spider monkeys. These animals live in the trees by the water in search of fruits. You usually find them in groups. You will hear them as they are keen on communicating with each other. Especially the howler monkeys are very talkative in the morning. The capuchin monkeys are also remarkably noisy towards each other.

Bird watching:

Bird spotters love this area because of the huge amount of different species you can see here. Some of the popular species are herons, kingfishers and snake birds. You can also spot the black ibis, white ibis, small grebe, red spoonbill, blue-winged teal, black neck stork, Amazon dwarf and much more.

Snake birds like to dry their wings in the sun which will make them clearly visible. Caimans also love the warmth of the sun, so you see them mainly on the side of the river. Kingfishers hunt fish in the murky water. Herons are looking for a good place to do the same.

A spectacled caiman in Cano Negro.
A spectacled caiman in Cano Negro. Corno van den Berg

How to book a tour?

Caño Negro is located in the north of Costa Rica, on the border with Nicaragua. You can book the river cruise on the spot, but that can be difficult. I would recommend you to book a full-day tour from the town of La Fortuna at the Arenal Volcano.

You will be picked up at your hotel and travel by bus to Caño Negro. Together with a guide you will board the boat and begin the tour. Afterwards, you are treated to an extensive lunch before returning to La Fortuna.

Having a guide onboard brings added value, as the person has knowledge of the wetlands and knows where to look for wildlife. And when the guide sees more, you will see more! You will also be provided with fun trivia and interesting facts about the animals and the refuge, so your trip will be an amazing and unforgettable experience.

Book your tour online: