Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Caño Negro (Caño Negro National Wildlife Refuge) was our first venture to the Caribbean Slope, which includes everything east of the cordilleras of the Costa Rican Continental Divide that fall below ~3600’ above sea level. Established in 1984 as a portion of the Arenal Huetar Norte Conservation Area and protecting more than 24,000 acres of land along the Río Frío, this remote tropical everglade can be accessed only by boat. Located about 80 miles north of San José, Caño Negro lies very near the Nicaraguan border. Because of the climatic influence from the dry North Pacific region (read about that here), this area has distinct rainy and dry seasons just as the North Pacific slope does. The Río Frío, which runs through this area, experiences dramatic shifts in water levels in relationship to seasonal rains. During the rainy season, the river swells and the resulting flooding creates a large seasonal lake (Lago Caño Negro) and a series of lagoons. Yet during the dry season (roughly December through April), the river shrinks to a mere shadow of its rainy season self. This period offers a good time to spot wildlife, because the dropping water levels concentrate the wildlife at the few remaining areas of water.
Caño Negro is a Ramsar site. The Convention on Wetlands (held in 1971 in Ramsar, Iran)—called the “Ramsar Convention”—is an intergovernmental treaty working to maintain the ecological character of the member countries’ Wetlands of International Importance and to plan for the sustainable use of wetlands in their territories. Starting in 1992, Costa Rica has designated 12 Ramsar sites, covering a surface area of almost 1.5 million acres. (Map below from Lawson, 2009.)
I asked Roger what “caño” means; he said “canyon,” but I think he misheard me. Nothing resembled a canyon in that table-flat swampy area! My Kindle Spanish-English dictionary translated it as “pipe or ditch,” which seemed a bit off—although perhaps it refers to the lagoons that develop during the dry season? A larger Spanish dictionary said that, in some countries, “caño” means “stream or small river.” That’s a bit closer, but… If anyone reading this has a better translation or explanation of the origin of this name, please—leave a comment!
First, a bit about the lodge where we stayed—click here.