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Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge

Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge

Quick Facts

  • Location : 16 miles west of Los Chiles
  • Area : 24,552 acres
  • Hours : 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily
  • Telephone : 2471-1309
  • Entrance Fee : $10.00

Caimans bathe with wide-open mouths on the banks of the Frío River in the Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge. Above them in the trees, the second loudest animal in the world, the howler monkey bellows its wild, vicious roar. If you're lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of a rare albino monkey that lives with a troupe of howlers in the trees along the river.

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The Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge spans nearly 25,000 acres of grasslands, rainforest, marshes, rivers and lakes near Costa Rica's Northern border. It's one of Costa Rica's most important wetlands and recognized as an international conservation site by the Ramsar Convention on wetlands. Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge has no trails. Instead, visitors navigate the park along its network of canals, lakes and lagoons.

The Monica, Cano Negro and Frío Rivers flow through the refuge and flood over their banks during the wet season (May-Nov.) filling the 2,000-acre Cano Negro Lake. During the dry season (Dec.-April), the lake gradually drains making way for a huge influx of migratory bird species, from the endangered roseate spoonbill and jacana to more common annual species including anhingas, wood storks, black-bellied whistling ducks, blue-winged teals, glossy ibis, and the Nicaraguan grackle.

The only way to access the refuge is on one of Cano Negro's river tours, which takes visitors along the Frío River looking for howler monkeys, capuchin monkeys, king fishers, green basilisk lizards, caimans, turtles, and many other species. Most tours depart from Arenal, a two-hour scenic drive past pineapple and sugar farms with a stop at a local restaurant –famous for the iguanas that live in the nearby trees.

Dedicated anglers are also faithful fans of Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge where half-day sport fishing tours take visitors though shallow lakes and tributary rivers that promise hard-fighting tarpon as well as champion snook. Other species common to the area are drum, machaca, gar and rainbow bass.


Jan. through March are the driest months and also the most active for migratory birds.

Annual rainfall: 117 inches; average temperature: 79 degrees.


Wildlife watching and fishing are the two most popular activities. Canoeing, kayaking, and safari boat tours are the most common ways to see Cano Negro. Guided nature and fishing tours depart from Arenal, but it is also possible to hire a local guide in Los Chiles.

Flora & Fauna:

Cano Negro is home to an incredible diversity of wildlife including more than 350 bird species. Common sightings along its rivers include land and river turtles, white ibis, two-toed sloths, howler monkeys, anhingas, great egrets, white-faced monkeys, howler monkeys, green basilisk lizards, caiman and white-tailed deer. Less common sightings include jaguars and pumas.

Hundreds of tree species line the riverbanks around Cano Negro including poro trees and raphia palms, which drop a special fruit into the river's turning the waters black and giving Cano Negro its name. 

Getting There:

From San Jose, take Route 1 to Alajuela. Drive toward San Carlos and follow the signs to Los Chiles. About four miles before you reach Los Chiles, you will see the turn-off for the bridge to Cano Negro.

It's possible to drive to the park during the dry season (Dec.-April), but a 4WD is recommended in the wet season (May-Nov.). You can also catch a tour boat at the Los Chiles docks on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 a.m.

Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge in Pictures

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