Rivers and Lakes

Copious rainfall has endowed Costa Rica with an abundance of rivers, but surprisingly, there are very few lakes. Nearly all the country’s rivers begin in the mountains, where many are frothy white water routes perfect for rafting and kayaking.

Once those rivers flow into the lowlands, however, they become languid waterways, many of which are lined with verdant walls of vegetation. Those lowland rivers are excellent routes for small boat trips, which allow passengers to observe some of the local flora and fauna.

The seasonal lake of Cano Negro is also an excellent spot for wildlife watching, whereas larger Arenal Lake is a popular windsurfing spot.

A trip down one of Costa Rica's lowland rivers, either in a small boat or rubber raft, can be an excellent way to observe some of the country’s extraordinary wildlife. The trees lining most riverbanks may hold lounging iguanas, troops of monkeys and such birds as ospreys, anhingas, colorful kingfishers, several species of herons and tiny mangrove swallows. Boat trips are offered on lowland rivers such as the Sarapiqui, San Carlos and Frio Rivers, in the Northern Zone, and the Tempisque, Bebedero and Corobici Rivers, in the Northwest.

The most popular lowland waterway trip heads up the Caribbean Canals, which run along the Atlantic coast north from the port of Moin to the communities of Parismina, Tortuguero, and Barra del Colorado. Most travelers go to Tortuguero National Park, which protects an important sea turtle nesting beach and vast expanses of lowland rainforest and swampy Raffia palm forests.

A trip down any stretch of the canals is a true jungle adventure, offering opportunities to spot such animals as crocodiles, three-toed sloths, oropendolas and boat-billed herons. They also offer world-class tarpon, snook fishing (and other species).

Actually the reservoir for the country's most important hydroelectric project, Arenal Lake is a vast body of water surrounded by rolling hills that hold pastures and patches of forest. Towering over the lake’s eastern end is the conical shape of the Arenal Volcano, which regularly erupts spewing streams of lava and great clouds of ash.

Though the scenery impresses everyone driving around the lake, Arenal is especially popular among fishermen and windsurfers. The guapote, or rainbow bass, a feisty fish that thrives in the lake’s waters, draws the anglers there. The windsurfers gather at the western end of Arenal Lake, where there are strong and consistent winds making it one of the world’s premier windsurfing spots.

Caño Negro, a shallow, seasonal lake near the country's northern border, is a bird watchers paradise during the second half of the year, when great flocks of ducks, herons and other waterfowl gather there. Caño Negro has been designated a wetland of international importance under the RAMSAR convention. Most of Caño Negro’s current maps misrepresent what the actual are is like, since they show the lake’s extension it has at the height of the rainy season.

Once the rains die down in December, the lake rapidly shrinks, and by February it disappears completely, and most of the waterfowl has moved onto Frio River - the river that Caño Negro drains into. The Frio River trip, the most common way of reaching Caño Negro, is therefore more interesting when visiting the lake.

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