Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge
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Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Caño Negro is a remote tropical everglade teeming with wildlife. The 9,969-hectare reserve protects a lush lowland basin of knee-deep watery sloughs and marshes centered on Lago Caño Negro, a seasonal lake fed by the fresh waters of the Río Frío.
The region floods in wet season. In February–April, the area is reduced to shrunken lagoons; wildlife congregate along the watercourses, where caimans gnash and slosh out pools in the muck.
Caño Negro is a bird-watcher’s paradise. The reserve protects the largest colony of neotropic cormorants in Costa Rica and the only permanent colony of Nicaraguan grackle. Cattle egrets, wood storks, anhingas, roseate spoonbills, and other waterfowl gather in the thousands.
The reserve is remarkable, too, for its large population of caiman. Looking down into waters as black as Costa Rican coffee, you may see the dim forms of big snook, silver-gold tarpon, and garish garfish.
Bring plenty of insect repellent.
The hamlet of Caño Negro, 23 kilometers southwest of Los Chiles, nestles on the northwest shore of Lago Caño Negro. Locals make their living from fishing and guiding. The ranger station (tel. 506/2471-1309, 8 a.m.–5 p.m. daily) is 400 meters inland from the dock and 200 meters west of the soccer field.
The village also has a butterfly garden: Mariposario La Reinita (tel. 506/2471-1301, 8 a.m.–4 p.m. daily, $4), with 16 species flitting about within nets.
Caño Negro’s waters boil with tarpon, snook, drum, guapote, machaca, and mojarra. Fishing season is July–March (no fishing is allowed Apr.–June); licenses ($30) are required, obtainable from the ranger station in the village or through the various fishing lodges.
Hotel de Campo and Natural Lodge Caño Negro both have fishing packages and lagoon tours, and you can rent canoes and kayaks.
You can hire guides and boats at the dock. Try Joel Sandoval (tel. 506/8823-4026), or Manuel Castro of Pantanal Tours (tel. 506/8825-0193, $50 up to four people for four hours).
Hotels and Restaurants
You can stay overnight in the Caño Negro ranger station if space is available ($6 pp). You’ll need a sleeping bag and, ideally, a mosquito net. It has cold showers. Meals cost $5.
The Hotel de Campo (tel. 506/2471-1012, www.hoteldecampo.com, $79 s, $95 d), in Caño Negro village, stands lakeside amid landscaped grounds with a citrus orchard. Sixteen handsome, cross-ventilated, air-conditioned cabins have a choice of king- or queen-size bed and have terra-cotta floors, lofty wooden ceilings with fans, and large modern bathrooms with hot water. There’s a bar and restaurant, gift store, and tackle shop, plus a swimming pool.
About 500 meters south, Natural Lodge Caño Negro (tel. 506/2471-1000, www.canonegrolodge.com, $75 s or $85 d low season, $95 s or $105 d high season) has 22 spacious and comfortable air-conditioned bungalows with rich ochre color schemes, polished hardwoods, ceiling fan, security box, and handsome modern bathrooms with hot water. The restaurant, open to all sides, has a rustic elegance. There’s a swimming pool with whirlpool and swim-up bar. It has 16-foot skiffs for fishing, plus mini-golf, volleyball, and indoor games.
The Bar y Restaurante El Caimán (tel. 506/2469-8200, 6:30 a.m.–7 p.m. daily), beside the bridge at San Emilio, is a most unlikely find. Fishing writer Jerry Ruhlow says it’s “sort of a drive-in for boats, where you can get a cold beer or soda pop and plate of gallo pinto.” It serves typical Tico fare. Canoe and boat trips are offered ($70 for two hours).
Getting to Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge
A road from El Parque, 10 kilometers south of Los Chiles, runs 10 kilometers west to a bridge at San Emilio, from where you can reach Caño Negro village via a dirt road that continues south to Colonia Puntarenas, on the main La Fortuna–Upala road (Hwy. 4). A 4WD car is recommended. Several companies in La Fortuna offer trips. Canoa Aventura (tel. 506/2479-8200, www.canoa-aventura.com) specializes in trips to Caño Negro.
Buses depart daily from Upala to Caño Negro village via Colonia Puntarenas at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. daily. You can rent a boat in Los Chiles ($70 for two people, $15 pp for six people or more).
© Christopher P. Baker from Moon Costa Rica, 8th Edition