Tucked into a lowland swamp and a drainage basin for several northern rivers, Cano Negro National Wildlife Refuge offers visitors a chance to see a wide variety of Costa Rica wildlife enjoying a natural habitat, as well as a colorful variety of Costa Rican birds living on their own turf.
Bird watchers definitely should not miss the opportunity to take a side trip from La Fortuna to Cano Negro National Wildlife Refuge. Cano Negro is best known for its abundant and splashy bird life. Resident species include jabiru storks, roseate spoonbills, a variety of herons, and different types of egrets.
Wildlife species on view in Cano Negro National Wildlife Refuge include caimans (similar to a crocodile but smaller), and plenty of large crocs. The Refuge is marshy and wet, but never boring.
From mid-April to November, however, the main lake at Cano Negro dries up, reducing the number of wading bird species and crocodiles that can be seen. Bird watchers should especially keep these seasonal changes in mind when planning a trip, and make every effort to tour Cano Negro National Wildlife Refuge outside the dry season.
Full day tours to Cano Negro National Wildlife Refuge depart from La Fortuna or Los Chiles and cost between $40 and $60 USD per person. Most tours skirt the borders of Cano Negro and never enter its heart, although plenty of wildlife can still be seen.
For a deeper experience, check out Cano Negro Natural Lodge, a small nature lodge in the tiny village of Cano Negro itself. The lodge offers guided tours and also fishing, and the grounds are filled with tropical plants and flowers, fruit trees, and tropical palms.
Even with the advertised ‘air conditioning’, rooms at Cano Negro Natural Lodge can get a bit sticky, but the rooms themselves are clean and comfortable and the lodge affords the very best view of the bird life.
Another fun place to stay when visiting Cano Negro National Wildlife Refuge is Jungla y Sendaros Los Lagos, located on the road to Tabacon just outside of La Fortuna.
Use of Los Lagos runs just $10 per day, and includes access to a network of trails and small lakes, as well as a fountain, water slide, and play facilities for children. A room or a cabin will cost a big more, depending on the size and amenities.
A side trip to Venado Caverns while visiting Cano Negro National Wildlife Refuge is more than worth the effort. A 45-minute drive from Cano Negro, Venado Caverns showcases eerie stalactites and stalagmites, interesting limestone formations, and plenty of bats and rare cavefish. Tours of the caves run between $35 and $45 USD.
Finally, many of the touring companies that offer day trips to Cano Negro National Wildlife Refuge and Venado Caverns also offer horseback riding excursions, a nice perk for equestrians and animal lovers.