Costa RicaCosta Rica

playa quesera beach with view of tortuga island
 - Costa Rica

Curu Wildlife Refuge

Curu Wildlife Refuge

Quick Facts

  • Location : Nicoya Peninsula, 4 miles from Paquera
  • Area : 3,707 acres
  • Telephone : 2641-0100 or 2641-0590
  • Hours : 7 a.m. – 4 p.m. daily
  • Entrance fee : $10 per adult; $5 per kid under 12

Rambling through the Curu National Wildlife Refuge, rambunctious tribes of capuchin monkeys tickle the branches of Guanacaste trees as you pass, shaking tiny leaves loose to fall in front of your feet. They're hinting at you to join their giddy gameplay — anxious to show you their jungle playgrounds.

read more close

Curu's unabashed wildlife welcomes you to delve into the splendor of its home; so take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime invitation to join nature in the refuge, exploring the ways of wildlife without forfeiting connection with your real world.

In their own act of friendliness, red and blue mangrove crabs crawl toward you from the coconut covered coast of Playa Curu, pausing above holes in the soil for a hide-and-seek game. You can also befriend raccoons, coatis, armadillos, white tail deer, anteaters, collared peccary, coyotes, iguanas, spider, howler and capuchin monkeys and wild horses as you wander Curu's nine hiking trails weaving through estuaries, mangroves and tropical dry forests.

Spot more than 232 species of wild and migratory birds including mot-mots, woodpeckers, herons, trogons, scarlet macaws, and kingfishers flapping their wings to wave hello to you. Breathe in the fresh air gifted by tons of ceiba, wild cashew, beach almond and coconut trees extending their shade to Playa Curu's cinnamon sands on the western fringe of the 3,696-acre refuge.

Between wildlife watching and establishing new friendships in the fruitful forest, swim in the warm ocean waves flowing onto hermit crab-covered sands at Playa Curu, or better yet, take a boat/kayak tour leaving from the refuge toward Tortuga Islands exploring magnificent marine habitats along the way.

Activities

With such immaculate biodiversity, you'll have plenty of wildlife watching during any activity at Curu, whether it's horseback riding through pastures, self-guided or guided tours on the jungle trails or even beachfront picnicking.

Horseback tours

  • 1 hour tour: Loop starting by the cabins, pass through a private horse path, return along the main road next to grazing pastures; Cost: $10
  • 3 hour tour: Trek up steeper hills, through the mountains of the refuge, trot along open pastures, and arrive at the coconut-covered sands of Playa Quesera; Cost $20
  • Snorkel, boat and kayak tours: Venture to a private beach in Islas Tortugas, diving with PADI instructors, and guided hikes in the refuge – facilitated by an independent tour operator

Hiking Trails

Nine bountiful trails, totaling more than 11 miles, loop mainly around the northern side of the refuge — varying in length from a half mile to three miles, taking anywhere from 20 minutes to four hours to complete.

  • Mirador, .5 miles; (20 minutes): hillside trail with guided railing to reach a panoramic view of Playa Curu and Tortuga Islands
  • Toledo, .75 miles (45 minutes): ecosystems of mangroves and estuaries and cross a wooden bridge over the Curu River
  • Estuario .25 miles (10 minutes): short stretch accessed within the Toledo trail, borders extraordinary estuary habitat
  • Finca de Monos, 1.25 miles (1.5 hours): includes Curu Monkey Sanctuary with spider monkeys in rehabilitation, pass a lagoon with lily pads and black bellied whistling ducks
  • Ceiba, 1.6 miles (2 hours): peaceful path with great natural lighting seeping through palm trees
  • Cangrejal, 1.15 miles; (1 hour): continuous flat loop encircling mangroves
  • Avispero, 1.3 miles (2 hours, intense): immaculately preserved tropical dry forest landscape
  • Killer, 2.1 miles (2 hours, intense): steep trail offering sights of woodpeckers, trogons and several other wild bird species
  • Quesera, 3 miles; (4 hours intense): lengthy hike passing knee-high green pastures, palm trees and wild cashews to arrive at the eggnog sands of Playa Quesera

Hiking Recommendations

  • Wear hiking boots, especially on Quesera, Avispero and Killer
  • Bring water, insect repellant, snacks
  • Finish hiking before 2 p.m.
  • Walk quietly, don't annoy or feed animals, they have plenty of food in the forest
  • Recommended route: Start at Toledo, take a right at the trail sign, follow the path for 45 minutes, take another right toward Finca de Monos. Stay on Finca de Monos for about one hour. Continue on Finca de Monos to reach Ceiba and walk about 20 minutes — ultimately popping out on the main road. Head south to enter where sign says 'Laguna' (for Cangrejal trail), following that until you to come out on main road again. Time: 3 hours. Best time to go: 6 a.m. – 9 a.m.
  • Best time to see birds: 6 a.m. – 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. – 4 p.m.

Facilities

The Curu National Wildlife Refuge gift/souvenir shop doubles as information and visitors center. Listen to the waves on Playa Curu from a picnic table inside the dining hall (open 8 a.m. – 6 p.m.) to enjoy homemade Costa Rican food — casados (choice of meat or fish with rice, beans and salad) and natural fruit juices.

Also, beachfront picnic areas with wooden tables, and showers for rinsing off after swimming in the ocean, are available north of the visitor's center.

Weather

Average temperature: 68 to 80 degrees

Wildlife spotting is fantastic year-round; driest weather conditions and best bird watching season is December through June.

Background

Curu Wildlife Refuge, located on the southeast tip of the Nicoya Peninsula, has rich history. In 1933, a Costa Rican named Frederico Schutt de la Croix purchased the land from the Pacific Lumber Company, paying 12,000 Costa Rican colones, or today’s equivalent of about $24 U.S. dollars. De la Croix halted the felling of trees and began growing food and grazing cattle in a more sustainable and environmentally friendly manner.

In 1974 squatters settled the area, and part of the refuge transformed into the small town of Valle Azul. Curu received support from the Costa Rican government to protect its wildlife seven years later, and in 1983 the area officially became the Curu Wildlife Refuge.

The 3,696 acres of the Curu National Wildlife Refuge are dedicated to:

  • 182 acres: ecotourism, scientific research, conservation projects and education — artificial and coral reef restoration using car tires; rehabilitating and reintroducing injured spider monkeys to the wild
  • 771 acres: subsistence cattle farming –crops and livestock raised are used to maintain farmer's family generate profit and employ locals
  • 2743 acres: biological conservation of forest— no visitor entrance

Getting There

Driving: Take the hour-long ferry across the Gulf of Nicoya from Puntarenas to Paquera. From Paquera, drive along the main road about 30 minutes to Curu. Roads here are well cared for, and 4WD is not necessary.  The entrance will be on your left.

Curu Wildlife Refuge in Pictures

Wildlife in Curu Wildlife Refuge

Experiences in Curu Wildlife Refuge