“Every ending is a beginning. We just don’t know it at the time.” -Mitch Albom
For our very last day in Costa Rica, we decided to take a full day tour to the Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge, a remote wetland known for its incredible wildlife, located about 12 miles south of Los Chiles and near the Nicaraguan border. We arranged for our guide, wildlife specialist Odir Rojas to pick us up at our hotel early in the morning to avoid the high heat and humidity of the afternoon. We also knew that the kids would rather spend the day at the pool instead of doing another long tour so this was our compromise.
Our two-hour drive to the refuge took us north through beautiful lush Costa Rican countryside, passing through tiny farming pueblos (“villages”) and along many gravel roads. Apparently most tours that leave from La Fortuna don’t go all the way into the reserve but only on the edge. Since we were staying in Rio Celeste and had our own private tour, we were able to go all the way in. It was definitely worth the effort!
The Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge is wetlands area consisting of a vast network of marshes and streams that drain into the Lago Caño Negro during the wet season. Given its unique ecosystem, the reserve is world renown for its excellent bird-watching especially the many species of migratory birds that seek sanctuary in this magical place. It is very remote and there are no public facilities at refuge, only a small family owned farm where we met our boat driver for the tour and were able to use the toilet.
I confess to being a bit surprised by the lack of development at the reserve but by this point nothing should have surprised me. It is rural, local tourism at its finest and thankfully there has been little adverse impact to this fragile ecosystem caused by tourism. The refuge remains hard to reach, off the beaten path and undeveloped. It is a true treasure.
Odir parked the Four-Wheel Drive in the shade under a tree. We were the only ones there. A young Tico walked up to greet us and we followed him a few steps to the river to board our boat. We had the entire boat to ourselves so we were able to move around and get pretty close to observe wildlife. Our driver was very good at spotting birds from a distance and would cut the engine so we could quietly glide in without disturbing them.
The Río Frío (which is the river we went tubing on the day before) is the main river that feeds the reserve and drains into the lake Caño Negro. Years ago, the river was so narrow and surrounded by jungle that the river appeared black in color which is why they named it Caño Negro. Over time, the river widened and now the color is more of a milky brown.
Out of Costa Rica’s estimated 880 species of resident and migrant birds, over 200 species have been found in Caño Negro during prime migration season. Once spring arrives and the dry season comes, the migrant birds head back to North America while some species stay year-round. Our timing could not have been more perfect.
Some of the amazing birds that reside in the Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge include boat-billed herons, roseate spoonbills, jabiru storks, kingfishers, ibises, herons, and egrets. There are also tons of caimans as well as iguanas, lizards, alligators, jaguars and monkeys. When the lake dries up in mid-April (during the dry season which is mid-April-November) many birds leave and head north. Odir told us that oftentimes the entire lake is completely filled without thousands of birds near the shore. I can only imagine how beautiful it would be to see a field of snowy white egrets!
After an hour and a half boat ride, the kids were losing steam. We had seen tons of birds – many which I can’t even name – but no monkeys or better yet a jaguar. Odir told us that he once saw a jaguar sneaking up on a caiman to attack. Apparently caimans are their favorite treat! Out of all my trips to the jungle, I have yet to see a jaguar. That must mean I have to go back!
We ended our tour with a wonderful lunch at a local restaurant about a twenty-minute drive away from the refuge. It was perhaps one of the best meals we had on the entire trip. Home-cooked grilled chicken with rice and beans. We reflected on the amazing nine-day adventure we had in Costa Rica. It ended up being one of the best family vacations we have ever taken. What made it so special is that there was a little bit of something for everyone. Zip-lining, canyoning, boogie boarding and swimming for the kids and nature, hiking, exploring and wildlife watching for everyone. After three separate trips to Costa Rica, I have fallen in love with this amazing country and I know that destiny will someday bring me back again.
I hope you have enjoyed all of my Costa Rica posts! To see all the posts in this series, click here.