What can I do in the National Refuge of Caño Negro?

National Wildlife Refuge Caño Negro

Are you going to visit
National Wildlife Refuge Caño Negro?

In this post, we are going to answer a few of the most common questions from tourists around the world, that finally decide to visit the National Wildlife Refuge of Caño Negro.

Let's know some insight of the National Wildlife Refuge Caño Negro

The National Wildlife Refuge Caño Negro is the most significant wetland in Costa Rica, located in the northern plane. This magnificent refuge is about 10,000 hectares. It naturally incorporates several unique ecosystems, such as a lagoon system, navigable rivers, creeks, rainforests, extensive marsh, and open and semi-open environments. Since 1991 Caño Negro Refuge is part of the Ramsar Convention. To visit Caño Negro Refuge, you have to drive to Caño Negro village. A small town surrounded by the refuge.
Because Caño Negro Refuge is a wetland with such different ecosystems and contrasting seasons, this protected area evolved into one of the most visited by Nature-lovers, birdwatchers, and any kind and active photographer. If one or all of these specific activities are your things, this is the right place to explore.

What can I do in the National Refuge of Caño Negro?

As I note, Caño Negro is a major birding hotspot, a fantastic place for nature photographers, and a distinguished place for that person who likes visiting a place with a lot of nature, but outside the conventional tourist destination.

It is exactly this characteristic “outside the conventional tourist destination” that makes Caño Negro a prime destination in Costa Rica.
Of course, it is a prime destination if your vacation spin around nature.

If you are traveling by yourself, you can check out Hotel de Campo Vacation Packages made for Birdwatcher and/or photographers, or other packages made for Nature-lovers.

If you would like to explore more birding hotspots in Costa Rica, and you need help organizing a longer tour in Costa Rica, birding Costa Rica Tour will be happy to help you.

National Wildlife Refuge Caño Negro

What is a wetland?

The National Wildlife Refuge Caño Negro
is the most significant wetland in Costa Rica

The fundamental feature that characterizes a sensitive wetland from other landforms or water bodies is the particular plant composition dominated by specific aquatic vegetation, all adapted to the specific hydric soil. These permanent or seasonal aquatic ecosystems play significant roles in water purification, flood control, shoreline stability, and carbon sequestration. Wetlands are within the most biologically diverse ecosystems on the planet, serving as sanctuaries of a broad variety of animals and particular plant life.

What is The RAMSAR convention?

Since 1991 Caño Negro Refuge is part of the Ramsar Convention.

The Wildlife Refuge Caño Negro is a Ramsar Site since 1991 because is 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 national action and involves international cooperation concerning 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).

How do I reach Caño Negro Refuge?

As we say many times, you can drive to Caño Negro in your car every day of the year.

Caño Negro location is at the northern plane of Costa Rica, between Los Chiles and Upala. The road that communicate Caño Negro is the 138. from Arenal (La Fortuna) is about 2:30 hrs, From Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí is about 2:45 hrs, from Tenorio Volcano about 1:45.

If you are in the area of the Arenal volcano (La Fortuna), drive north along with route number 142 to El Tanque. Turn left to the next cross and turn right on route number 4 to Muelle, then turn left and take the route 35 north in the direction to Los Chiles, and when you arrive at El Jobo (about 7 km before Los Chiles, turn left on the route 138 to Caño Negro.

caño negro costa rica map

If you are in Bijagua, follow route number 6 to the north up to the intersection to route number 730. Take right and follow the route up to the intersection with route number 4. Take left and after a few hundred meters, take left in route 138 to Caño Negro Refuge.

If you are in Guanacaste, go to Bijagua, and then follow the same instructions.

caño negro costa rica map

If you are around Tenorio National Park, drive to the Park entrance, and from there follow the street to Katira. There, turn left on route 4 to Colonia the Puntarenas, and at the next intersection turn right on the route 138 to Caño Negro Refuge.

caño negro location

If you are in the Atlantic coast, go to Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí. From then continue west on route 4 up to Muelle de San Carlos intersection. There take north in the direction of Los Chiles on route number 35. Before Los Chiles, about 7 km, at El Jobo take left on route 138 to Caño Negro Refuge.

caño negro location

How is the weather in Caño Negro?

2 seasons and always hot

Besides the general explication, National Wildlife Refuge Caño Negro has a different microclimate. We do not have the weather like the higher mountain of Tenorio or Arenal. Is not as rainy as Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí and the Atlantic coast either.
We have mixed weather between the Atlantic coast and the Guanacaste area.

In a general speech, the climate varies over the year, with 2 defined seasons. Local weather has intense influence from the dryer northern Pacific region of Costa Rica. On a normal basis, the dry season extends from the end of December to mid-April.

How is the weather in Caño Negro?

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) to 6 meters, subsequently flooding this vast extension of land and triggering fish and plant reproduction.

During the rainy season, of course, it rains, but you would not expect days full of rain day after day.

During the dry season, it doesn`t rain. And during the transitional month (January and May) anything can happen, but sunny days are the most.

What is the best time to visit Caño Negro?

Every days is a great time

The best time of the year to explore the National Wildlife Refuge Caño Negro does depend on what you are looking for. Eventually, every day is the best time to visit Caño Negro. So let me ask you… What do you expect from Caño Negro? Why would you like to explore Caño Negro Refuge?
At the time to decide on visiting Caño Negro, or at the time to ask us about a stay in Caño Negro, this information is very important.

What is the best time to visit Caño Negro?

Is Birdwatching in Caño Negro good?

ooh yes! Birding in Caño Negro is more than good

In Caño Negro we go from good to excellente. If your vacation is about birding, we have a lot of birds every day of the year. From November to April, the number of birds rises because migrant birds arrive in the National Wildlife Refuge Caño Negro, such as shorebirds, warblers, and Oriols. And also the amount of birds rises because the water level is lower. There is more and more concentration of them.

During the dry season, we are going to have a concentration of birds, but fewer places where to navigate and discover. So, during the very dry season (February to April), it is possible to walk around.

The advantage of the rainy season, May to December, is that the water level of the lagoon and river is higher and this around to navigate to several more places.

Is Birdwatching in Caño Negro good?

What are the Top birds to spot in
Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge?

Birding list in Caño Negro Refuge can be very long

I think that top birds list is very subjective, and every birdwatcher has different preferences. Based on our experience after years of guiding birders, I can certainly mention a few ones. Of course, this is not all list of birds that should be spotted in Caño Negro, but it can give you a nice reference of the quality of species you can expect.

Agami Heron: this is probably the most iconic bird Caño Negro can offer you. But is also on the list of hard to find. The beginning of the dry season, let’s say between January and March, is not so difficult to find. Let’s say is the best season. But for this bird water level is a very important point in its behavior.

It is impossible to ensure the precise moment of the year because it all depends on rain and water level.

Yellow-breasted crake: this tiny crack is a resident of Caño Negro. He likes to hide in the dense grass over the lagoons. It is a bird that takes time to spot.

Black-collared hawk: one of the most interesting and possible to spot all year round.

Nicaraguan grackle: a must-see bird in Costa Rica. If you would like to have this bird on your list, Caño Negro is the place to be. It is possible to spot all year, with much more chances between January to May.

Sungrebe: a really beautiful and nice bird to spot in Caño Negro. Is a residential species, very active during the dry season, especially from March to May. Also, the reproduction season, which will occur at the beginning of the rainy season around May to July is very active.

What are the Top birds to spot in Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge?

American Pygmy kingfisher: between the 6 kinds of kingfisher, the Pygmy Kingfisher is the smallest one. It is also residential and it is possible to observe all year.

Green and Roufus kingfisher: the most difficult kingfisher to spot, and for sure in the list of the hard-to-see birds in Caño Negro. But is there all year long. It is just a matter of time, and a bit of luck.

Great and Common Potoo: it is absolutely a gorgeous night bird with a scary sound. If you like to explore for birds during the night, these are the 2 top birds to look for.

And then the list continues, with at least: Amazon Kingfisher, Ringed Kingfisher, and Belted Kingfisher (January to April), Neotropic Cormorant (here you can find the largest colony in Costa Rica), Anhinga, Southern Lapwing (dry season), Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Black-necked Stilt (dry season), Purple and Common Gallinule (best time end of the dry season), Russet-naped Wood-Rail (always), Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, Snail Kite, Bat Falcon, 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, Nicaraguan Seed-Finch, White-collared Manakin, Slaty Spinetail, Olivaceous Piculet, Lineated Woodpecker, Pied Puffbird, Snowy Cotinga, Striped Cuckoo, Bare-crowned Antbird, Barred Antshrike, Pacific Screech-Owl, Black-and-white Owl, Striped Owl, and Mottled Owl are all possible during a night drive. 

Can I do Photography in Caño Negro?

be sure to take enough batteries with you

Definitely! if photography is your passion, and you do not have a very specific object, photography is one of the activities you can do for 365 days. Nature is always there to amaze us. Just keep in mind that during the rainy season a good camera rain cover is a must.
If photography is your passion, let us know if you have a specific target, or if wildlife photography is what you are looking for.

Can I do Photography in Caño Negro?

Is Caño Negro Refuge a good place for
Watching Wildlife?

It is great, but be sure to have binoculars with you to best enjoy

Of course! Caño Negro Refuge is not only about birding, but we offer a large option of wildlife animals: 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.

The easiest animals to spot in Caño Negro are for sure monkeys and sloths, caimans, iguanas, and basilisks.

Is Caño Negro Refuge a good place for Watching Wildlife?

In this case, the season may affect the amount of this animals you can see. For example, as lower as the water level, much more caimans you can spot. But basilisks are more active on the river during the rainy season when there are fewer congregations of shorebirds along the river.
Monkeys and Sloths are always around. But when the water level is higher, we have much more places to take a boat tour in Caño Negro, raising our chances of a great spot.

Caño Negro boat tour?

This is the best way to know the Refuge of Caño Negro

Yes! Remember that Caño Negro is the largest wetland in the northern plane of Costa Rica. A boat tour in Caño Negro will be our primary way to discover this marshland, even during the dry season. Because we are going to be on the boat all the time, visiting Caño Negro Refuge, birding, and/or photography is very easy. You will enjoy all the nature without any effort. On a boat tour in Caño Negro you have all the time to spot birds, take the picture of your vacation, relax, and enjoy nature.

Caño Negro boat tour?

Many companies can offer you a one-day tours to explore the Caño Negro Wetlands, particularly from the Arenal Volcano area. However, these 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 of Caño Negro. When you visit this area we take you into the actual refuge and stay at Hotel de Campo Caño Negro. This is the only hotel just in front of the lagoon. Our boat trips are private and flexible, so we truly explore the area.

As we already cite, Caño Negro Refuge is today one of the most visited birding hotspots in Costa Rica. we do not say so, this is what Ebird.org reports. This is probably because of the diversity of ecosystem that Caño Negro Refuge offers. And also because these ecosystems change between dry and rainy seasons.

Another point in favor of Caño Negro Wetland is that birding trips are made by boat. That means we can explore a much wider area than you can normally explore walking around.

Nature-lovers vacation packages

From 1 to 3 nights customizable options

The 3 days - 2 nights Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge Boat Tour is one of the most sold vacation packages. With this offer, you will be sure to receive a full experience Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge. And also, and this is a major point, with Hotel de Campo we guarantee you will be visiting the Original Caño Negro.

With Hotel de Campo you have the real option to make a Caño Negro day tour. This is because you will be in Caño Negro all day, and 1 night. You can check-in at the hotel at 1 pm, and the check-out the next day is around 11 am. Hotel de Campo is immersed in a large tropical garden in front of the Refuge of Caño Negro. This is already an excellent place to spot birds, and very often see spider monkeys even if you are cooling yourself in the pool of the hotel. The next day, soon in the morning without traveling for hours from La Fortuna, you will enjoy the real caño negro boat tour.

Birdwatcher/photography vacation packages

From 2 to 4 nights customizable options

This is our extended 1 Best Pinnated Bittern Birding Costa Rica Vacation Package. With this birding package, you can explore 2 hotpots: Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge and Medio Queso. For the month of February to the end of April (approximately. It will depend on the water level) we can take a morning to visit Medio Queso, and look for the Pinnated Bittern, Least Bittern, Yellow-breasted crake, forktail flycatcher, sore. These are some birds that are more difficult to spot in Caño Negro, and easier in Medio Queso

This prime vacation package for your vacation in Costa Rica is directly offered by Hotel de Campo. After many years of experience, we design this package. Eventually, it becomes the first choice for those tourists that love birding and photography but also like some free time for themself. The more time you spend on a boat tour at Caño Negro Refuge, the more chances you have to spot the bird that you are looking for, or to take the best shot of your vacation.

#1 Best Agami Heron Birding Costa Rica Vacation Package is our #1 sold package. It is fit for any birdwatcher and/or photographer that has a short time during their vacation in Costa Rica. This affordable vacation package at Hotel de Campo, located just in front of the lagoon of the National Wildlife Refuge of Caño Negro, you will have up to 8 hours of tours for birding in Costa Rica, or taking the best shot of your vacations.

Contact us

Original Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge

If you have any other questions about your vacation in Costa Rica and would you like to visit Caño Negro please write to us

Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge Facts

The National Wildlife Refuge of Caño Negro is always open. You can visit Caño Negro every day.

No. Caño Negro is outside the most touristic places in Costa Rica. So, you can come when you want without a reservation for the National Refuge.

But, for the high season, a reservation is mandatory to book Hotel de Campo

Costa Rica is a safe country and is a great place for solo travelers, especially when you are very into nature. This is because you will explore no crowded places.
In any case, as everywhere around the world, be organized, choose your destination carefully, and be safe.
About Caño Negro, we can ensure you it is an excellent destination for solo females.

TIP in Costa Rica is only included in the bar and restaurant bill. Any other products and services, it is not included.
I consider that TIP is a personal choice, based on the kind of service you receive.

USD is accepted in Costa Rica when it comes to tourism. The current exchange rate is around 650 colones to $1 but it changes daily. Google's change is quite accurate.

A good pair of binoculars. And if you are a photographer a lens is at least 400mm.
Why? Because only caimans you can see close. Everything else is far away

Preferably YES. 

It will depend on where you are going. For most tourist destinations and cities, there are paved roads. But these roads can be in ugly conditions. A 4×4 can be more comfortable. Even so, a regular car is ok. 

Driving to Caño Negro from the north (Los Chiles) the road is paved. But between Caño Negro and Upala, you will find 25 km of dirt road. 

But other remote and rural parts of the country do and these are Osa Peninsula, Nicoya Peninsula, and the Costa Ballena.

We do have mosquitos, everywhere. How many? It depends on where you go and the season. It is a tropical country.
My best recommendation: an electric burner for mosquitos. As you arrive in Costa Rica, go to a supermarket and purchase an electric burner for mosquitos. It is the best solution to clean your room and sleep well everywhere. And you will find spare all-round in Costa Rica.
You can find that use plaquette, or with liquid. I do prefer to travel around with a plaquette.
Repellent, always.

One of the best places to visit in Costa Rica for a nature lover, or a more specialized birder and photographer is Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge. Here you can enjoy special Vacations in Costa Rica birdwatching ecotourism.
This is an amazing refuge with a different scenario. We have a lagoons area, a river, and a mostly forest section.
This almost unique wetland, allows you to enjoy the different panorama and also switch between animal species: birds, sloths, monkeys, caimans, iguana, and so on.

YES. Rain is part of the ecosystem, and finally, birds and mammals are not very worried about that.
In any case, we do offer private tours and specially organized based on your interest. So, when you arrive at Hotel de Campo, we will organize the best moment to go explore the refuge

Yes! Caño Negro and Costa Rica in general are great destinations for family vacations. Caño Negro is a very quiet place, very safe. It is a safe place to discover nature. Also, for families, our tours are always private. So, you will enjoy it for sure.
For a family vacation, we offer rooms with up to 3 beds (2 doubles and 1 single bed) and joined rooms. So, you will never be apart, but with privacy.

The currency of Costa Rica is the colon, colones plural.

For an eco-tour vacation, I do recommend bringing clothes that dry fast and wick away moisture, good walking shoes, lots of sunscreen and mosquito repellent, sunglasses, a hat, a microfiber towel, and an insulated water bottle.
If you’re visiting in the rainy season, then we recommend bringing a waterproof rain jacket and a waterproof backpack or rain cover.

For the rainy season, a waterproof hiking shoe. Also, and especially for wetland places and rainforests, a good pair of rubber boots. This is what the locals use. They protect you very well from rain and mud. And also, they dry up very fast.
During the dry season, very comfortable hiking shoes, always waterproof.

Not really. Costa Rica has only a few main roads, and normally to arrive at some destination, you will not have more than 1 or 2 options.
Instead of a GPS, I will use Waze, or Google Maps (not so accurate as Waze).
I am sure, that everybody can share with you their location with Whatsapp and Waze.

Looking for a full package?

With Hotel de Campo you can enjoy a Wonderfull vacation in Costa Rica at the National Refuge of Caño Negro, choosing between 6+ packages. Or customize your own.

Made for birdwatcher & photographer

We prepare 3 packages from 2 to 4 nights, with up to 15 hrs of private birding and photography tour. You can customize this vacation packages.

Made for nature lover

We prepare 3 vacations packages from 1 to 3 nights, that include up to 5 hrs of boat tours in Caño Negro. This packages doesn’t include private trip, but you can upgrade it

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