The Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge is located in northern Costa Rica, near the Nicaragua border. The refuge was created in 1984 to protect the biologically intense Rio Frio and its flood plain from encroaching development. The closest towns are the village of Cano Negro on the west side and Los Chiles to the northeast on the Rio Frio. However, most visitors to the refuge come on day trips from the La Fortuna and Arenal area.
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Cano Negro protects 9,969 hectares or 24,634 acres. The elevation ranges from 30 – 100 meters or 98 – 328 above sea level. Within the refuge, there are rainforest and river habitats. There are no hiking trails at Cano Negro. There are however riverboat tours available with local guides.
The Cano Negro Refuge provides vital habitat to many species of wildlife. There are three species of monkeys, including spider, howler and capuchins. Big cat species include ocelots, jaguars, and pumas, though none of which are often seen. In addition, there are sloths, anteaters, tayras, deer, and pacas. The refuge is well-known for its reptiles which include caimans, emerald basilisks, iguanas, and various snake species.
This area is also an important layover for migratory birds. Some of the most prominent species include roseate spoonbills, green-backed herons, anhingas, white ibis, northern jacanas, blue-winged teals, jabirus, wood storks, ospreys, snail-kites, and many other species.
Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge is managed by the Costa Rican government. It is open daily without set hours. There is a ranger station with public restrooms. The cost to enter the refuge is $5 per person. There are no official overnight facilities, though there are a handful of small lodges in the town of Cano Negro. Most visitors stay at hotels in the Arenal area, which offers a wider range of activities and accommodations.
More about the Cano Negro Refuge
There is a high density of wildlife in Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge as much of the surrounding area is farmland. In essence, this creates a metaphoric island of rainforest and wildlife allowing for a centralized location to see a variety of creatures. Riverboat tours are the best way to spot wildlife as the guides can point out species that are sometimes not visible to an untrained eye.
Cano Negro is an excellent location for freshwater sport fishing. Species that inhabit the waters include giant tarpon, which can grow to over 150 pounds, snook, guapote, and gar. When the tarpon are going after a meal near the surface, it can seem like a mini explosion in the water! Gars are nearly always present, coming to the surface to slurp air.
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
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.
Weather and packing list
Cano Negro is located in an area that is usually hot and humid. Temperatures often reach the upper 80s during the day and upper 70s at night. The area receives 2,500 mm or 98 inches of precipitation annually. The driest months to visit are December through July.
The must haves for visiting Cano Negro include shorts, tee shirts, appropriate shoes, rain gear, sun block. It is also advised to bring at least one pair of pants and a long sleeve shirt. 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.