Northern Lowlands

Costa Rica’s Northern Lowlands, heading north out of San Jose and leaving the Central Highlands behind, one enters an area that most consider the most spectacular region of Costa Rica. Bordered to the south by the volcanic mountain range of the Cordillera Central and descending into the lowlands northward to the Nicaragua border , the area offers a wide variety of land and vegetation diversity to be found anywhere in Costa Rica, thus making the Northern Lowlands, one of Costa Rica’s most popular travel destinations.

The Northern Lowlands is comprised of two main mountain ranges to the south, the Cordillera Central to the south and the Tilaran Mountain range to the to the Southwest, to the northwest separating the Northern Lowlands from the Guanacaste region lies the Cordillera de Guanacaste with all three mountain ranges providing the region with volcanoes and cloud forests. The base of the three mountain ranges gives way to two main plains extending northward to Nicaragua, to the west lies the Llanuras de los Guastusos plain and to the east the Llanura de San Carlos plain, taking in the Costa Rican provinces of Alajuela and Heredia.

Northern Lowlands Costa RicaToday, the Northern Lowlands are a popular tourist and adventure traveler destination, yet the area was mainly inaccessible until the late 50’s when Highway 126 was constructed connecting San Jose to the northern city of Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui .

Sample Exploration Northern Lowlands copyTwo of the main draws to the area for travelers as well as nature lovers are the Arenal Volcano, one of the world’s 10 most active volcanoes, and the Monteverde Cloud Forest, a humid, cloudy and misty region that has become a favorite of nature lovers drawn to its high biodiversity.

Cloud forests and volcanoes are not the only draws to the region; the Northern Lowlands is also home to Lake Arenal, a large reservoir built to provide the countries electric needs has become a destination in itself for windsurfing enthusiasts as well as for the scenery surrounding the lake and its spectacular backdrop of Arenal Volcano on the lakes eastern shore. Some of Costa Rica’s premier rafting is found in the region on the Sarapiqui River. Waterfalls, hot springs, nature trails and horseback riding through out many of the areas nature parks provide a variety of opportunities for all travelers.  Cano Negro Nature Reserve is a must see when visiting the region

Costa Rica  sees a mixture of varying climates, from the cloud forest the climate is more humid and misty year round with temperatures in the high 60’s to low 70’s, descending into the plains the climate is more hot and humid, with a more pronounced dry season to the west towards the Pacific and less as you head east towards the Caribbean. The regions rainy season ranges from December to March and the dry season starts in April extending into November. If travelling to the area for the sole purpose of seeing Arenal Volcano, the best time of the year for unobstructed views is towards the end of the dry season during the months of September and October.

Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge

Set in wetlands and surrounding lush forest near the Nicaraguan border, is the Cano Negro Wildlife Reserve. The reserve is often submerged in water due to the surrounding flooding rivers and is difficult to reach. You can meander around the outside of the park to view its beauty and wildlife, however, the best way to view the marvel of nature within the reserve is by a safari boat tour.

Tours will take you along the Rio Frio, which wraps around the canyons and flows gently to the Cano Negro Lake. The boat tours are approximately four hours long, and your guide will proudly educate you about the wildlife, culture and ecology of the region. As flowing trees bend over the waters, you’ll be able to see mammals, reptiles, bird and amphibians. There are spider monkeys, sloths, turtles, caimans and Jesus Christ lizards within the jungles that can often be spotted. Keep a watchful on the waters, and there’s a chance you’ll see the fin of a freshwater shark breaking the water’s surface.

Cano Negro Wildlife RefugeThe Cano Negro Wild Life Reserve is renowned for its collection of migratory birds. With over 200 species resting in its lush trees, the reserve is a birdwatcher’s paradise. The banks of the Rio Frio overflow during the wet season, which occurs from July to November. During this time period, the reserve transforms into a shallow lake. Migrating American birds fly to the reserve as their wintering site. The water level continually falls during the dry season, and only the Rio Frio’s main channel remains. Some birds make their nests and stay year round, like the Olivaceous Cormorant. However, the majority of birds appear during the dry season. These include White Ibis, Wood Stork, Merican Widgeon, Snail Kite, Green Backed Heron, Anhinga and Glossy Ibis. The reserve is the best place to view the Nicaraguan Grackle, whose only habitat is within the Cano Negro Wildlife Reserve. The Nicaraguan Grackle is the largest bird in Central America and falls within the extremely endangered species.

The Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge is a wonder of nature and many tourists flock to view the beauty of the migratory waterfowl in these lush lowlands. The reserve is located in Alajuela Province, which is 80 miles north of San Jose. From San Jose, get on the highway to Alajuela. From there, drive to San Carlos. Follow the signs to Los Chiles. Four miles before you reach Los Chiles, you will see a turn that leads to the new bridge of Cano Negro. The bridge will lead you to the reserve.