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Barra del Colorado Wildlife Refuge

Barra del Colorado Wildlife Refuge

Quick Facts

  • Location : Barra del Colorado
  • Altitude : Sea level
  • Area : 227,240 acres
  • Telephone : 2710-2929

Located on the north Caribbean coast, Barra del Colorado is the largest wildlife refuge in Costa Rica. It includes over 30 miles of canals, rivers, lagoons and marshlands that connect with Nicaragua to the north and Tortuguero to the south. Its protected wetlands are rich in biodiversity but extremely isolated and navigable only by boat. The landscape is comprised of hot and humid tropical forest, fluvial islands, channels and swamp lands. Barra has the most extensive wetlands on Costa Rica's Caribbean coast.

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Annual average temperature: 79 F
Annual average rainfall: 234 inches


Most visitors travel to Barra del Colorado to catch record tarpon and snook. Sport fishing is the area’s major draw as 100-plus pound tarpon can be taken year-round in the mouth of the Rio Colorado. There are several fishing lodges that offer packages including everything from transportation to lodging and meals. Anglers can use both fly and reel rods to catch mojarra, guapote, jack crevalle, barracuda and snapper, not to mention giant tarpon and Caribbean snook.

Non-anglers can rent kayaks and canoes from the lodges to tour the tranquil river system and canals along the Rio Colorado. Visitors will likely see iguanas, keel-billed toucans, caimans, crocodiles, and spider and white-faced monkeys. Less commonly seen are the endangered West Indian manatee, jaguarundi, ocelot and jaguar.

Barra del Colorado National Wildlife Refuge is also home to bull sharks which migrate from the Caribbean Sea upriver to Lake Nicaragua, a phenomenon peculiar to the San Juan River.


There is an information station located in the refuge, near Barra del Colorado Sur. Park rangers are usually on hand to assist visitors.

Where to Stay:

There are a handful of excellent fishing lodges along the river in Barra del Colorado. Most cater to anglers and offer multi-day fishing packages including transport from San Jose, meals, tackle, lodging and open bar. A couple of lodges offer reasonable rates for the non-angler as well.

Getting There:

Bus / Boat: From the Caribe Terminal in San Jose, take a bus to Cariari de Guapiles (an easy two-hour trip). From Cariari, purchase bus tickets to Puerto Lindo. This leg of the journey is on a very ancient school bus on poor roads and can take anywhere from two to three hours. The bus will deposit you in front of the public boat taxis to Barra del Colorado. These flat-bottomed boats travel roughly one hour through narrow canals to the village of Barra del Colorado and points in between. In total, the bus/boat route will take the better part of 7 hours, including waiting times.

If arriving from Tortuguero, visitors can charter a boat (one hour and 45 min. trip) to Barra with a local lodge or tour company. The trip costs between $50 and $100, depending on the number of people. Boats can also be hired from Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui (three hours down, six hours upriver).

Plane: Daily flights can be booked through Nature Air or Sansa from San Jose to Barra del Colorado.

Barra del Colorado Wildlife Refuge in Pictures

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