Northern Plains Feature
Think a smaller version of Florida's Everglades and you'll have a good picture of the Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Caño Negro.
This lowland rain-forest reserve in the far northern reaches of Costa Rica near the Nicaraguan border covers 98 square km (38 square miles). It looks remote on the map, but is easily visited on an organized day tour, especially from La Fortuna. In 2007 Caño Negro was designated the core of a new UNESCO biosphere called Agua y Paz (Water and Peace), which encompasses more than 2 million acres of wildlife habitat in Costa Rica and Nicaragua.
Caño Negro has suffered severe deforestation over the years, but most of the length of the Río Frío, its principal river, is still lined with trees. The park's vast lake, which floods according to seasonal rains, is an excellent place to watch waterfowl. On land, pumas, tapirs, ocelots, cougars, and the always-elusive jaguar make up the mammal life found here—consider yourself fortunate if you spot that last one. Caimans snap everywhere in the knee-deep marshy waters, too.
Best Time to Go
It gets hot here, with March and April brutally so, but the January-through-March dry season is the best time to spot the reserve's migratory bird population. Opportunities abound the rest of the year, too, though. No matter what the season, bring sunscreen, water, insect repellant, and a brimmed hat.
In addition to other bird species, the reserve is the best place to spot the Nicaraguan grackle. This New World blackbird is only found in Nicaragua and northern Costa Rica. It's medium size, with a long, graduated tail and fairly long bill and legs.
Best Ways to Explore
Top Reasons to Go to Caño Negro
The reserve is one of Costa Rica's lesser-sung bird-watching and wildlife-viewing destinations. Caño Negro is growing in popularity, but, for now, a visit here still gives you that "I'm in on a secret the rest of the world doesn't know about" satisfaction.
It's not all about wildlife viewing here: Caño Negro is also one of Costa Rica's prime freshwater fishing destinations, with snook and marlin yours for the catching and the bragging rights during the July through March season. (There's barely enough water in the lake the other months of the year, so fishing is prohibited then.) The two lodges inside the reserve can hook you up.
It's easy to get here from the Arenal area, with top-notch operators and their teams of knowledgeable guides organizing day tours from La Fortuna and so-called "evening" tours that actually get you here by the very warm midafternoon and depart around dusk.
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