Close to the Nicaraguan border, Cano Negro is a marshy, jungle-like area that is rich in flora and fauna. Here you’ll be greeted by sloths, monkeys, turtles and a nearly endless variety of migratory birds.

Overview | Boats & Animals | Fishing | Details | Getting There | Weather | Packing

An Overview of Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge

Exploring Cano Negro: Spanning an impressive 9,969 hectares (24,634 acres), Cano Negro offers a diverse landscape with elevations ranging from 30 to 100 meters (98 to 328 feet) above sea level. Within its boundaries lie the enchanting realms of rainforest and river habitats, creating an ecosystem teeming with life. While hiking trails are absent, the refuge is easily explored with riverboat tours guided by knowledgeable locals.

Wildlife Sanctuary: Cano Negro is a testament to the diversity of Costa Rican wildlife. Encounter three monkey species - the elusive spider monkeys, resonant howlers, and playful capuchins. Although sightings of big cats like ocelots, jaguars, and pumas are rare, their presence adds an air of mystery to the refuge. Sloths, anteaters, tayras, deer, and pacas add to the rich tapestry of fauna. The refuge's true treasures, however, are its reptiles, from the watchful caimans to the iridescent emerald basilisks, sun-loving iguanas, and a variety of serpentine wonders.

An Avian Paradise: Cano Negro is a vital layover for migratory birds, attracting species like roseate spoonbills, green-backed herons, anhingas, white ibis, northern jacanas, blue-winged teals, jabirus, wood storks, ospreys, and snail-kites, to name just a few. Of course, to the delight of birdwatchers, many native birds including toucans can be found here. Bird enthusiasts will find themselves in awe of the feathered spectacle that graces the skies and waters.

Preservation and Access: Managed by the Costa Rican government, Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge is open daily without set hours, welcoming all who seek to embrace its natural wonders. A ranger station with public restrooms provides a brief respite amid nature's embrace. The entrance fee is a modest $5 per person, ensuring accessibility for all. While official overnight accommodations are limited, the charming town of Cano Negro offers a small selection of lodges. Most travelers opt for the comfort and convenience of hotels in the Arenal area, a gateway to a wider array of activities and lodging.

Beyond the Refuge and Access: As an isolated oasis within farmland, Cano Negro's concentrated wildlife is a testament to its importance. Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge can be accessed in two main ways; via the village of Cano Negro to the southwest of the refuge or from the much larger village of Los Chiles to the northeast. The vast majority of visitors enter the refuge from the latter. 

An Amazing Fishery: Besides its abundant wildlife, Cano Negro is renowned for freshwater sport fishing, offering thrilling encounters with giant tarpon, snook, guapote, and gar. Witnessing tarpon breaking the surface is a spectacle of nature's raw power, while gars rise to gulp air, creating moments of wonder in this aquatic sanctuary.

Embark on a journey to Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge, where the beauty of Costa Rica's natural world is yours to explore, and every moment unveils a new connection to the wonders of the wild.

Howler monkey

Overview | Boats & Animals | Fishing | Details | Getting There | Weather | Packing

Riverboat Adventure: Exploring Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge

Introduction: Embarking on a riverboat journey through the Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge is like stepping into an untouched realm of natural wonders. Nestled in the northern part of Costa Rica, this pristine wilderness offers a captivating experience for nature enthusiasts and wildlife lovers. Join us as we unveil what to expect on a riverboat trip to Cano Negro, where each bend of the river reveals a new chapter in the story of Costa Rica's biodiversity.

Setting the Scene: Your adventure begins as you board a comfortable riverboat in the village of Cano Negro or nearby Los Chiles. The knowledgeable local guides will be your companions, helping you navigate this intricate network of waterways while sharing their insights into the refuge's remarkable ecosystem.

A Symphony of Birdlife: As your boat gently glides through the winding canals and lagoons, keep your camera ready. Cano Negro is celebrated for its prolific bird population. With over 300 species identified, you're in for a birdwatcher's paradise. From the elegant anhingas and herons to the striking jabirus and snail-kites, you'll witness a kaleidoscope of avian wonders. The reflections of these feathered creatures in the tranquil waters add a surreal touch to your journey.

Monkeys in the Treetops: Look up, and you might spot troops of howler, spider, and capuchin monkeys swinging through the treetops. Their playful antics and curious gazes are a testament to the refuge's thriving primate population.

A Glimpse of Elusive Wildlife: While Cano Negro is home to elusive big cat species like jaguars, ocelots, and pumas, encountering them is a rare privilege. Nevertheless, keep your eyes peeled for signs of their presence and the thrill of knowing that these majestic creatures roam these lands.

Spectacular Reptiles: Cano Negro's waterways are the domain of prehistoric reptiles. Glide past sunbathing caimans, spot emerald basilisks skimming the surface, and watch iguanas basking in the sun-drenched branches. Keep a respectful distance and observe these remarkable reptiles in their natural habitat.

Flora and Fauna at Every Turn: The lush rainforest along the riverbanks reveals countless botanical treasures. From towering trees and vibrant flowers to lush vines and exotic ferns, the diverse flora of Cano Negro adds a vibrant backdrop to your adventure.

Interacting with Locals: Your riverboat journey will also bring you in contact with the warm and welcoming local communities. The villages of Cano Negro and Los Chiles offer glimpses into the traditional Costa Rican way of life. Engage with the friendly residents and savor the local flavors, as they share their stories and culture with you.

Photographic Opportunities: Every moment on your riverboat trip is an opportunity to capture the essence of Cano Negro. Whether it's the breathtaking landscapes, close encounters with wildlife, or the vibrant colors of tropical birds, you'll create lasting memories and stunning photographs.

A Responsible Adventure: Guided riverboat tours in Cano Negro prioritize eco-friendly and sustainable practices. Many tours promote responsible tourism and conservation efforts, ensuring that this pristine wilderness remains untouched for generations to come.

Conclusion: A riverboat trip to Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge is an immersion into the heart of Costa Rica's natural splendor. With each river bend, you'll delve deeper into this pristine wilderness, surrounded by the sights and sounds of abundant wildlife. Whether you're an avid nature photographer or simply seeking a serene escape, Cano Negro promises an unforgettable journey through one of Central America's last untouched paradises.

An angler holds a guapote

Overview | Boats & Animals | Fishing | Details | Getting There | Weather | Packing

Unleash Your Inner Angler: Sportfishing in Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge

Introduction: Nestled in the northern reaches of Costa Rica, the Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge is not just a haven for terrestrial and avian wildlife; it's also an angler's paradise waiting to be discovered. While this pristine region is renowned for its ecological diversity, its waters hold an equally enticing secret—world-class sportfishing. Whether you're an experienced angler or a novice looking for a thrilling adventure, Cano Negro's aquatic bounty promises an unforgettable fishing experience.

The Aquatic Playground: Cano Negro's intricate network of waterways includes the meandering Rio Frio and numerous lagoons, creating a rich and fertile ecosystem teeming with aquatic life. These waters provide an ideal habitat for a variety of sought-after game fish, making the refuge a hidden gem for sportfishing enthusiasts.

Tarpon: The Silver Kings: One of the most iconic species you'll encounter here is the magnificent tarpon. These silver giants, which can grow to over 150 pounds, are known for their acrobatic leaps and powerful fights. When tarpon surface to feed, it's a sight to behold—an explosive display of raw aquatic energy that leaves anglers in awe.

Snook, Guapote, and More: While tarpon are the stars of the show, Cano Negro offers opportunities to hook other prized catches. Snook, with their elusive nature and hard-fighting spirit, provide an exciting challenge. Guapote, also known as rainbow bass, dazzle with their vibrant colors and voracious appetites. In these waters, you might also encounter the fierce and formidable gar, a prehistoric fish that adds an element of intrigue to your fishing expedition.

Guided Adventures: To make the most of your sportfishing experience in Cano Negro, consider booking a guided fishing excursion. Local guides possess a deep knowledge of the region's waterways and fish behavior, increasing your chances of landing the catch of a lifetime. They'll take you to prime fishing spots and provide valuable insights, ensuring a rewarding and educational adventure.

Conservation and Catch-and-Release: Responsible fishing practices are crucial in preserving the delicate balance of Cano Negro's aquatic ecosystem. Many fishing tours in the region promote catch-and-release, allowing you to enjoy the thrill of the catch while ensuring the continued health of these waters for future generations.

Planning Your Fishing Expedition: When planning your sportfishing adventure in Cano Negro, keep in mind that the best time for fishing typically falls during the dry season, from December to April. This period offers optimal conditions for both anglers and fish alike.

How to Catch Tarpon: The tarpon of Cano Negro are best fished by fly fishing from a boat in their feeding lanes, which can be difficult to locate with a guide who knows where they hang out. You'll want a stout 8 - 10-weight fly rod and giant streamers but you can also fish for them with conventional tackle and large fish-imitating plugs. 

Conclusion: Beyond its lush rainforests and diverse wildlife, Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge holds the promise of incredible sportfishing experiences. Cast your line into these pristine waters, and you'll not only engage in a thrilling pursuit but also become part of the ongoing effort to conserve this natural treasure for generations to come. Whether you're a passionate angler or a curious traveler, Cano Negro's sportfishing adventures are waiting to be explored, offering a unique blend of adrenaline and conservation in one unforgettable journey.

A riverboat in Cano Negro

Overview | Boats & Animals | Fishing | Details | Getting There | Weather | Packing

Cano Negro At a Glance

Region: Northern Region
Closest town: Cano Negro to the west and Los Chiles to the northeast
Size in hectares: 9,969 (24,634 acres)
Year established: 1984
Elevation in meters: 30 – 100 (98 – 328 feet)
Private managed: no
Government managed: yes
Rangers station: yes
Overnight facilities: no
Public restrooms: yes
Entrance fee: $5pp
Days: daily
Hours: not set
Hiking trails: no
Boat tours: yes
Average temperature range in Fahrenheit: 70 - 90
Average yearly precipitation in millimeters: 2,500 (98 inches)
Habitat: rainforest, river

Overview | Boats & Animals | Fishing | Details | Getting There | Weather | Packing

How to Get There

Los Chiles entrance:  From San Jose, take Rt. 1 northwest to Naranjo. Turn right on Rt. 141 north and follow to Florencia. Turn right on Rt. 35 and follow all the way to Los Chiles. Once in Los Chiles, turn left on the main road and follow to the boat dock.

Cano Negro entrance: From San Jose, take Rt. 1 northwest to Naranjo. Turn right on Rt. 141 north and follow to Florencia. Turn right on Rt. 35 and follow to Muelle. Turn left on Rt. 4 northwest and follow to Colonia Puntarenas. Turn right on Rt. 138 and follow all the way to Cano Negro village. The last 20 km are unpaved on a poorly maintained road.

Overview | Boats & Animals | Fishing | Details | Getting There | Weather | Packing

Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge Weather

Weather in Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge: Discovering Nature's Rhythm

When planning your visit to Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge, understanding the local weather patterns can enhance your experience in this pristine natural haven. Situated in northern Costa Rica, near the Nicaraguan border, the refuge's climate is characterized by distinct wet and dry seasons. Here's what you can expect throughout the year:

Dry Season (December to April):

  • The dry season in Cano Negro typically spans from December to April.
  • During these months, you can anticipate warm and sunny weather with minimal rainfall.
  • Daytime temperatures can reach an average high of 32°C (90°F), creating ideal conditions for outdoor activities and wildlife observation.
  • It's essential to stay hydrated and apply sunscreen to protect yourself from the sun's intensity.

Transition Period (May and November):

  • May and November serve as transitional months between the dry and wet seasons.
  • Rainfall gradually increases during May, marking the transition from dry to wet conditions.
  • Visitors during May might still enjoy some sunny days but should be prepared for sporadic rain showers.
  • November experiences a similar transition, with rain becoming more frequent as the wet season approaches.
  • These months offer a unique blend of weather, making them a good time to explore Cano Negro before the wet season sets in.

Wet Season (June to October):

  • The wet season, from June to October, brings lush greenery and vibrant wildlife to Cano Negro.
  • This period experiences the highest rainfall, with occasional heavy downpours and thunderstorms.
  • Daytime temperatures remain warm, averaging around 30°C (86°F).
  • Humidity levels increase, contributing to the region's lush vegetation.
  • The wet season is when many migratory birds flock to the area, making it an excellent time for birdwatching.

Planning Considerations:

  • If you prefer drier weather and more predictable conditions, consider visiting Cano Negro during the dry season (December to April).
  • Photographers and wildlife enthusiasts may find the wet season (June to October) appealing due to the lush landscapes and increased bird activity.
  • Regardless of the season, it's advisable to check local weather forecasts and consult with tour operators for the most up-to-date information on weather conditions during your visit.

Embracing Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge's weather patterns adds an exciting dimension to your exploration of this biodiverse paradise. Whether you visit during the vibrant wet season or the sunny dry season, each season offers its own unique charm, allowing you to connect with the rhythms of nature in this remarkable Costa Rican refuge.

Overview | Boats & Animals | Fishing | Details | Getting There | Weather | Packing

Packing List for Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge: Be Prepared for Adventure

Visiting Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge promises a memorable adventure immersed in nature's beauty. To ensure you have a comfortable and enjoyable trip, consider packing the following essentials:

1. Lightweight and Breathable Clothing:

  • Comfortable clothing suitable for warm and humid weather.
  • Lightweight, long-sleeved shirts and pants to protect against sun and insects.
  • Swimsuit for riverboat tours and potential swimming opportunities.

2. Sturdy Footwear:

  • Comfortable, closed-toe shoes suitable for walking and hiking.
  • Water-resistant sandals or water shoes for riverboat tours.

3. Sun Protection:

  • Sunscreen with high SPF to shield against the tropical sun.
  • Wide-brimmed hat or cap for added sun protection.
  • Sunglasses with UV protection to reduce glare.

4. Insect Repellent:

  • Effective insect repellent to deter mosquitoes and other insects.

5. Rain Gear:

  • Lightweight, packable rain jacket or poncho for unexpected showers during the wet season.

6. Daypack:

  • Small daypack to carry essentials, such as water, snacks, camera, and binoculars during excursions.

7. Binoculars and Camera:

  • Binoculars for wildlife observation.
  • Camera with a zoom lens and protective case to capture memorable moments.

8. Reusable Water Bottle:

  • Refillable water bottle to stay hydrated during outdoor activities.

9. Personal Essentials:

  • Personal identification, passport, and photocopies in a waterproof pouch.
  • Prescription medications and necessary personal hygiene items.

10. Cash and Small Bills:

  • Local currency (Costa Rican colónes) for small purchases and tips.

11. Electrical Adapters and Chargers:

  • If traveling with electronic devices, bring necessary adapters and chargers.

12. Spanish Phrasebook:

  • A basic Spanish phrasebook or language app to facilitate communication with locals.

13. First Aid Kit:

  • Basic first aid supplies, including band-aids, antiseptic wipes, and any personal medications.

14. Guidebook and Maps:

  • A guidebook or map of the region to enhance your understanding of Cano Negro and its surroundings.

15. Light Snacks:

  • Energy-boosting snacks like granola bars, nuts, and dried fruit for on-the-go nourishment.

16. Eco-Friendly Choices:

  • Consider eco-friendly toiletries and reusable items to minimize your environmental impact.

17. Travel Documents:

  • Printed copies of your travel itinerary, reservations, and contact information for local guides and accommodations.

18. Sense of Adventure:

  • Most importantly, bring a spirit of adventure and an open mind to fully enjoy the natural wonders of Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge.

By packing thoughtfully and considering the unique climate and activities in Cano Negro, you'll be well-prepared for an unforgettable journey into Costa Rica's wildlife-rich wilderness. Enjoy your exploration of this biodiverse paradise! Visit our packing list page for more ideas.

Fun Fact: Cano Negro and the Rio Frio are home to a thriving population of gaspar which are a prehistoric fish that grow up to three feet and can breathe air. Visitors will often see the snout of one of these creatures coming out of the water for a gulp of air.

Nearby Destinations

La Fortuna and Arenal Volcano144 km
Sarapiqui 138 km
Monteverde201 km
Nuevo Arenal135 km
Rio Celeste70 km


Latitude: N 10° 53' 25.44"
Longitude: W 84° 47' 12.84"

Unsure of what to do? Let us make you a free custom trip plan!