Introducing Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Caño Negro
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.
The Río Frío defines the landscape – south of the main Caño Negro dock it's a table-flat, swampy expanse of marsh and lagoon that is similar in appearance, if not size, to other famous wetlands such as the Florida Everglades or the Mekong Delta. North of town, it's a slender river that carves looming forest. During the wet season, the river breaks its banks to form one immense 800-hectare lake, and then contracts during the dry months from January through April, when water levels drop to the point where the river is barely navigable. By April it has almost completely disappeared – until the May rains begin. This cycle has proceeded without fail for millennia, and the small fishing communities that live around the edges of the reserve have adapted to each seasonal nuance.
Thanks to improved roads, dozens of 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 to rent some wheels, navigate the rutted road into the rural flat lands and book a tour with a local guide through their cooperative right in the center of Caño Negro town. You'll save a lot of money and have a much better time. You can also bus to Caño Negro from Los Chiles rather easily. This puts money directly in the hands of locals and encourages communities in the area to protect wildlife.