This sprawling 92,000 ha. refuge is geologically and ecologically similar to Tortuguero National Park, with which it practically abuts on the southern boundary. The northern boundary is formed by the San Juan River (the border with Nicaragua) and runs from its mouth on the Caribbean coast, upriver to just east of the mouth of the Sarapiquí River.
The protected status of this region has come only recently and, unfortunately, after the clearing of much of the eastern sector for farming. A boat ride along the San Juan River dramatically demonstrates the difference in regional land use between the two countries. Much of the Costa Rican side is deforested right to the river bank, while the Nicaraguan side is a veritable wall of impenetrable jungle (and is part of a gargantuan protected area known as Indio Maíz).
The portions of the refuge nearer the coast are more heavily forested, although there are still small farms and clearings scattered about. Much of this sector is characterized by swampy soil that is readily flooded during periods of heavy rains and not at all suitable for agricultural activities.
A labyrinth of creeks and lagoons provides abundant freshwater habitat for myriad creatures from minuscule shrimp that live among the floating mats of water hyacinth to the large bull sharks that seasonally migrate into the area (and all the way to Lake Nicaragua) from the Caribbean Sea. Tarpon and snook also make annual forays into the freshwater system and the village of Barra del Colorado is a Mecca for enthusiastic sport fishermen looking for a potential world-record catch or just a good day of solid fishing.
As in Tortuguero, wildlife viewing from a boat can produce looks at Central American Spider Monkeys, Mantled Howler Monkeys, Three-toed Sloths, Great Green Macaws, Laughing Falcons, Keel-billed Toucans, Northern Jacanas, and a plethora of other mammals, birds, reptiles, insects, and, of course, fascinating tropical plant life.
Getting there: By boat, Barra del Colorado can be reached by taking the canal system 114 km. north from Limón (the dock at Moín), or by coming down the Sarapiquí River from Puerto Viejo. Flying from San José takes just over half an hour in a chartered light plane or one of the regularly scheduled flights on either SANSA or TravelAir airlines.
Fishing: Reputedly the best tarpon and snook fishing in the world! And even if the fish aren't biting on a given day, you can't beat the placid rain forest scenery. Numerous lodges exist in the Barra del Colorado area and are fully-equipped to cater to the fishing clientele. For those looking for a change of pace from fighting the powerful "Silver Kings," as Atlantic Tarpon are sometimes called, there is the option of going after smaller species such as Guapote, Mojarra, Machaca, Drum, and Alligator Gar using light tackle in the quiet backwater areas.
Climate: Warm throughout the year, rain is possible anytime, although the driest months are March and April.
History: This recent addition to the National Park Service system came about as part of an ambitious regional project known as "The Path of the Panther," which is an attempt to preserve a biological corridor from southern Mexico to Panama along the Caribbean side of the isthmus. The declaration of this large area as a wildlife refuge is an important first step to the protection of the remaining wilderness in the country's northeastern corner.
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