Costa Rica is a popular destination for its rich culture and its diverse and abundant ecotourism. With plenty of beautiful beaches, both in the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, several volcanoes, and also a well-established system of national parks and protected areas, you’ll always have something new to see. In the north of Costa Rica, near the border of Nicaragua, you can also find the Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge. Here awaits a haven of diverse flora and fauna making it a must-see for wildlife lovers and adventure lovers alike. Keep reading to know why you need to add Caño Negro to your next Costa Rica wildlife tours.

Cano Negro Boat Tour: Full Day of Wildlife Viewing

About Caño Negro 

This remote area was named a Wetland of International Importance in 1991. It is submerged in water for half of the year caused by the rainy season and flooded rivers, and can only be visited by boat. Caño Negro protects 9,969 hectares or 24,634 acres and the elevation ranges from 30 – 100 meters or 98 – 328 feet above sea level.  Within the refuge, there are rainforest and river habitats. However, there are no hiking trails at Caño Negro, but there are always riverboat tours available with local guides. 

There are no public facilities in the area, so it is extremely important you prepare well for the tour. Even though you will be traveling by boat you will be able to see the incredible wildlife that surrounds the area. In Caño Negro you can find great biodiversity, many of them which migrate during part of the year for the rainy or dry seasons. The wetland ecosystem creates the perfect habitat for many different plants and animal life, many of which you cannot find anywhere else in the world. 

Due to the constant migration of birds from July to November, bird watching is actually one of the area’s most loved attractions as it contains more than 200 species of birds. Some of the most common are ibis, roseate spoonbill, jabiru storks, egrets, and cormorants. Other interesting wildlife you may come across on the boat ride around Caño Negro are monkeys, sloths, tarpons,  jaguars, tapirs, deer’s, turtles and even caiman, and snakes. 

Here’s a list of the animals you might encounter in Caño Negro:

Birds: Glossy Ibis, black-necked stilt, neotropical cormorants, American anhinga, northern jacana, American widgeon, wood stork, cattle egret, white Ibis, black-bellied tree duck,  northern shoveler, snail kite, green-backed heron, Nicaraguan grackle, roseate spoonbill, and blue-winged teal.

Animals: Spider, capuchin and howler monkeys, spectacled caiman, crocodile, jaguar, cougar, tayra, ocelot, tapir, white-tailed deer, jesus-christ lizard, black river turtle, iguana.

Fish: Snook, guapote, tarpon, alligator gar, drum fish, and bull sharks.

Cano Negro Boat Tour: Full Day of Wildlife Viewing

How to Get There 


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

Caño Negro entrance: From San Jose, take Rt. 1 northwest to Naranjo.  Turn right on Rt. 141 north and continue to Florencia. Then turn right on Rt. 35 and follow to Muelle. Turn left on Rt. 4 northwest and continue to Colonia Puntarenas.  There turn right on Rt. 138 and follow all the way to Caño Negro village. The last 20 km (12 miles) are unpaved on a poorly maintained road.


There are departures daily from San José, Terminal Atlántico Norte. The ride is around 5 hours, so try to get a good seat. 

There are also many excursions to Caño Negro which include transportation and professional guides like our two boat tours and you can even enjoy the tour in a canoe on this unique canoe tour. 

Caño Negro Wild Life Refuge, Los Chiles

When to Visit

The wet season runs from July to November and the dry season runs January through April and it’s driest towards the end of this period. Both seasons are great to visit since they bring different species and attractions. You’ll get to see amazing and unique wildlife no matter when you visit. 

The reserve is open to visitors around the clock. The Ramsar ranger station in Caño Negro village is open Monday to Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. 

Why Visit Caño Negro?

Caño Negro is a paradise for animal lovers who want to be immersed in nature. If you want to escape the city landscape for a peaceful retreat, this is the perfect place to visit. There you’ll spot all kinds of wonderful wildlife and enjoy a unique experience. If you’re in Costa Rica you cannot miss a visit to this stunning wetlands area for your next Costa Rica wildlife tours.