Barra del Colorado National Park

Size: 92,000 hectares
Distance from San Jose: 99 kilometers by plane
Dry season: There’s no defined dry season
Camping: Permitted.
Trails: Limited.


Created in 1985, this refuge is located at the north end of the Caribbean region, on the border with Nicaragua. Its 78,977 hectares shelter canals, lagoons, rivers, marshes, forests, hills under 250 meters high and continental or fluvial islands. Receiving some 5,500 to 6,000 millimeters of precipitation per year, the region has no dry season to speak of.
The refuge is home to a wealth of biodiversity in plants and animals, some species of which are endemic to (found only in) this protected area. The region’s plant life is made up of three types of vegetation: flooded forest, yolillo palm and tall grass. With regard to wildlife, there are crocodiles, caimans, manatees, tapirs, jaguars, Congo and white-faced monkeys and three-toed sloths, as well as Gaspar fish considered living fossils.
Barra del Colorado’s abundant fish life makes it a sport-fishing paradise. A permit is required. There are several fishing camps in the area, where record-breaking catches have been taken. To get to Barra del Colorado, tourists can take a boat from Moi­n, Tortuguero, Puerto Viejo, Sarapiqui­ or other points, or a plane from San Jose.
The refuge extends over a vast alluvial plain of recent origin that is dotted with out cropping of volcanic rock. The entire region is subject to very heavy rainfall, about 6,000 mm. a year, and the refuge itself is a mosaic of swamp forests, swamp palm forest, and mixed forests. The swamp forests differ considerably depending on small variations in the contour of the land. The predominant tree species that grow here are the blood wood, crab wood, wild tamarind, provision tree, cativo, and holillo palm. The swamp palm forests are usually flooded all year round and are made up primarily of holillo and manicaria palms.
One interesting phenomenon peculiar to the Rio San Juan is the migration of bull sharks from the salt water of the Atlantic Ocean upriver to Lake Nicaragua. It’s not known why these very large relatives of the great white shark make the trip, or exactly how they deal with the change of salinity so quickly. They pose no danger to travel on the river and no attacks have been recorded on it. They may be essentially extinct anyway, from over fishing near the mouth of the San Juan river and perhaps from changing conditions in the river itself. In this park live 7 different species of tortoise.
Much of the refuge can be visited by navigating the vast network of rivers, channels and lakes that cross through it, making it easy to observe the wildlife that inhabits the banks and shores, especially waterfowl, river turtles, monkeys and sloths.
Trees found here: coconut palm, holillo palm, wild tamarind, crab wood, cativo, banak, berm, Santa Maria, bully tree, dove wood, black palm, stilt palm, suita palm, portorrico.
Some of the most common species of fish are: the gar (which is considered to be a living fossil), the tarpon, the guapote, the Caribbean snook, mackerel and snapper.
Birds found here: keel-billed toucan, great curassow, Neotropical cormorant, anhinga, great blue heron, green macaw, tricolored heron, green ibis, white hawk, sungrebe, short-billed pigeon, and red-lored amazon, white-necked Jacobin
Animals found here: West Indian manatee (endangered species), tapir, cougar (endangered species), jaguar (endangered species), jaguarundi (endangered species), and ocelot (endangered species), white-lipped peccary, paca, red brocket deer, collared peccary, southern opossum, gray four-eyed opossum three-toed sloth, howler monkey, and white-faced capuchin monkey, iguana, caiman, crocodile (endangered species).