Caño Negro Costa Rica - A Family Friendly Wildlife Safari
A Real Deal Team Experience
Editors Note: This one somehow got lost in the archives, but since this tour is one of the team favorites, we decided to dig it up and post it today.
After spending a few months in the capital of San Jose, I was so excited to finally venture out and start exploring other destinations. My first pick? La Fortuna and the Arenal Volcano of course, the adventure capital of Costa Rica! That said, the most memorable part of my trip to Arenal was not white water rafting for the first time, not the waterfall rappelling for the first time, but the exploring the Caño Negro on a river pontoon boat. I hope my experience inspires you to get out there and explore too!
The Eclectic Tour Group
I was picked up from my hotel at 7:30am and we only had one more pick up after that. The van was full, but not crowded. There was a couple from the UK probably early 40’s that had literally traveled around the world, a single dad with his 2 kids (3 and 9) from NY, and a couple from Texas on their honeymoon. All ages, all types of travelers. Needless to say, a well-rounded group.
The Ride from La Fortuna to Caño Negro
The drive in total was a bit over 2 hours which we all pretty much napped through. We made a stop at a souvenir and snack shop about 40 minutes into the drive which was teaming with Iguanas. Some great photo ops, and awesome for people who are not used to seeing them in the wild.
The last 20 minutes however was a bumpy gravel road which woke us all up just in time for our guide, Pedro to give us some background of Caño Negro as well as point out and explain the passing scenery. (Did you know that most of the fences in that region are just quick growing birch trees planted close together creating a natural fence?!) He also noted that since the Caño Negro runs along the border of Nicaragua, we had to keep our passports on us at all times as they have random checks on occasion.
The Boat Launch
Once we arrived to the river, we were greeted at the restaurant with deliciously fresh cheese empanadas (my fave!), and a choice of juice, iced tea, coffee, or water. We snacked and had a quick bathroom break before embarking on the pontoon boat for our river adventure. At this time they take your lunch order with the options to choose from a chicken or vegetarian Casado, which is a typical Tico style lunch. We had a bit of time to explore the riverside gardens lush with tropical vegetation that I had never before seen outside the tropical floral department of my Lowes back in the states. Before we even got onto the boat, we already encountered 2 Caymans lurking next to the beach.
The Pontoon Safari Float
The Caño Negro boat trip lasted about 2 hours, and all I can say is WOW!!! We saw several Caymans right away, then we were occupied watching the Jesus Lizards and hoping they would walk on water. I had seen them on Nat Geo as a kid and I have always obsessed about seeing one in real life. Unfortunately since there was no danger lurking other than us in the boat, they stayed firmly planted on shore.
We floated along the Cano Negro sharing binoculars and searching the forest and waterway for a variety of amazing birds, lizards, and finally the monkeys!!! At one time, we were surrounded by Squirrel Monkeys on the right side of the river, White Faced Capuchin Monkeys on the left side, and the sound of howler monkeys in the distance. What an amazing spectacle these huge groups of monkeys all within a short distance. Everywhere you looked you could see monkeys jumping from tree to tree.
The best part happened when the White Faced Capuchin Monkeys decided it was time to come to the water to get a drink. They are actually carnivorous and really quite mean monkeys, but you would never know because they looked so cute swinging around then coming down to the water cupping their hands and using it as a ladle for a drink of water. The best part was that this scared the Jesus Lizards (which yes, these monkeys would eat) right into the water so we had a chance to watch one running across the water. Woo hoo!!
We took our time going down the Caño Negro River careful to observe all wildlife possible (courtesy of the Capitans eagle eye) and learning all sorts of things about everything we saw courtesy of the guide, Pedro. Pedro even helped us take photos of the animals close up by taking the photo through his binoculars….very cool since I am a terrible photographer with a bad camera. We sped up a bit on the way back, and they even let the kids take turns steering the boat which they enjoyed. The boat is a wide and comfortable covered Pontoon boat with an open bow. Great for everyone and room to run all around the boat checking for wildlife. I wished both my grandparents and my niece were there to share this amazing experience with me.
Upon our return to the cozy riverside restaurant where we launched the pontoon, the most amazing typical CR Tico lunch was waiting for us. So much good food I did not want stop eating, but I nearly exploded. A typical Casado includes rice, beans, beats, egg, veggies (various typical and always heart of palm which is very popular here and prepared well), grilled plantains, salad, and an agua fresca. The real treat was Pedro grabbed a few young cocos and we had a pipa (agua de coco). A cool treat for the kids….and me!!
My Take on the Caño Negro Boat Tour
Overall the day was spectacular. The ride there and back is long, but well worth it. Mind you it was my very first introduction to wildlife in their native habitats so up close, but it is still my most memorable experience in Costa Rica 5 years and a million more destinations later….so that has to say something.