Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Caño Negro

Arenal & Northern Lowlands

This remote, 102-sq-km refuge has long lured anglers seeking that elusive 18kg snook, and birders hoping to glimpse rare waterfowl. During the dry season water levels drop, concentrating the birds (and fish) in photogenically (or tasty) close quarters. From January to March, when migratory birds land in large numbers, avian density is most definitely world class. Stop at the ranger station first to pay the admission fee.

Thanks to improved roads, tour operators are now able to offer relatively inexpensive trips to Caño Negro from all over the country. However, you don’t need them to explore the river. It’s much more intriguing and rewarding to rent some wheels (or hop on a bus), navigate the rutted road into the rural flat lands and hire a local guide right in the center of Caño Negro village. It’s also a lot cheaper, and it puts money directly into the hands of locals, thus encouraging communities in the area to protect wildlife.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Arenal & Northern Lowlands attractions

1. Reserva Esperanza Verde

5.65 MILES

Nestled on the Río Frío, roughly halfway between San Carlos and Los Chiles, is this private 50 sq km humid tropical forest reserve. Expect to see hundreds…

2. Malecón

7.92 MILES

The social heart of the town, this waterfront promenade overlooks both the lake and river and is always busy with children playing and couples taking a…

3. Mirador

7.93 MILES

A charming old Spanish observation post complete with cannons and panoramic views. To reach it, head up the staircase at the far end of the malecón.

4. Fortaleza de San Carlos

8.06 MILES

There's not much left of the town's fortress, which dates from 1724, but it enjoys some impressive Lake Nicaragua and Río San Juan views from several…

5. Islas Zapote & Zapotillo

8.49 MILES

Avid birders won’t want to miss tiny Islas Zapote and Zapotillo, which feature Nicaragua’s highest concentration of birds, most famously flocks of roseate…

6. Isla El Padre

17.77 MILES

You will hear the residents of Isla El Padre before you see them. Set between Mancarrón and San Fernando and named for yet another priest who long ago…

7. Isla Sevilla

22.33 MILES

Isla Sevilla, just west of Mancarroncito, is a haven for birdwatchers, with thousands of cormorants, tiger herons and pelicans here to enjoy some…

8. Parque Nacional Volcán Tenorio

25.01 MILES

The park's heavenly blue river, waterfalls and lagoons are among the most spectacular natural phenomena in Costa Rica; as a result, the park is known to…