The Rio Frio safari float was by far, the most enchanting and peaceful boat rides I’ve ever done in Costa Rica. This 2 hour pure nature safari ride quickly climbed to the top of my list of things to do in La Fortuna and Arenal after I had an incredible day floating down a gorgeous river surrounded by nothing but nature.
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Rio Frio Safari Float (Cold River)
The Rio Frio is a slow moving river in the Caño Negro Wildlife Reserve, stretching from the hills of Los Chiles near the Nicaraguan border in Alajuela to Guatuso, about an hour drive from La Fortuna. The Caño Negro Wildlife Reserve is considered to be one of the most bio-diverse areas in Costa Rica. This is an unspoiled area in the country that only few people get a chance to visit!
If you’re looking for an unique wildlife watching experience out of Arenal or La Fortuna, put this one high on your list!
Pure Nature Safari Float
We arrived in Guatuso for the start of the rafting trip in the backyard of a local’s home, which sits on the bank of Rio Frio. I went with a family of four so our group was small. It was just the five of us plus our guide so we had the best attention.
The first time I did a morning tour in November, the second time we did an afternoon in May. We had wonderful weather both times (cloudy but no rain). The afternoon tour was a bit noisier (there are some houses along the river) but we saw lots of wildlife both times. I would recommend the morning over the afternoon though, we saw more animals in the morning.
Start of the Safari Tour
This nature safari isn’t like others, it’s on a raft instead of a boat with an engine and we were the only ones on the river. Our guide did the majority of the paddling, navigating the calm waters to get us as close as possible to the wildlife. With engines, animals scare easily and you can’t get into the tight corners as you would with a small raft.
So there we were, the 6 of us on a raft, floating down this small but peaceful river when no more than 2 minutes after we pushed off, our guide pointed to the trees for our first wildlife encounter.
This juvenile three toed sloth was climbing down a tree right above our heads! Our guide got us into the right position so we could see him in full view as he clambered down.
As sloths only touch ground to go potty once a week, we caught him right in the act. We watched him climb down until he disappeared out of view into the bushes.
We hadn’t even been on the river for more than 5 minutes and we already saw one of my favorite animals in Costa Rica! From that point and on, I couldn’t wait to see what other exciting wildlife encounters we’d have.
We floated down the river, quietly admiring its natural beauty and wondering what other animals called these waters home. And we found out soon enough.
Wildlife on the River
We saw adult, baby and juvenile Jesus Christ lizards scampering on the water, male green iguanas in orange breeding colorations, a huge troop of white face and howler monkeys flying from tree to tree, an otter slyly slinking into the water, a caiman sunbathing and tons of birds including kingfishers, trogons and anhingas.
No matter how boat rides I’ve done before, Costa Rica still awes and impresses me!
Great Tour for Families
The little girls on the boat were having a blast and by the end, they were even pointing out monkeys and iguanas! Although we had to be as quiet as possible on the river as not to disturb the animals, I could tell they were having trouble keeping their excitement inside.
It made me happy to see the younger generation having a wonderful time learning about nature and being outside. They kept asking what everything was and would listen intently to our guide as he explained to them about each animal and their special characteristics. By the end of the boat ride, they kept chattering about that awesome monkey next to them and the ginormous iguana in the tree and it continued on all the way back.
At the end of the safari float, they took us to a local’s house not too far away to give us fruit juice and snacks, a nice way to end the day before we headed back to La Fortuna.
La Fortuna safari float video
You can watch a video of the pure nature safari float we did in May 2018 below.
What to know about the La Fortuna safari float
- You can bring a small backpack on the raft, preferably waterproof in the rainy season
- Bring a good zoom lens for your camera!
- It is really hot in this area so bring sunglasses, a hat and sunscreen.
- I wore long hiking pants to ward off mosquitoes and KEEN sandals, but definitely bring mosquito repellent if you’re wearing shorts.
- The tour company provides water on the bus.
- They run two tours, one in the morning (8 AM) and one in the afternoon (1 PM).
- You won’t get wet in the raft so no need to bring a change of clothes.
- Snacks and drinks are provided after the rafting.
Tour Company and Discount
Our tour operator partner in La Fortuna is the only company that operates the safari float on this specific section of the river. They actually operate this tour in 3 different sections of the Rio Frio with 1 boat per section.
We have a partnership with our partner to give our readers 7% off this tour. Note that this tour is called Pure Nature Safari Float. Caño Negro boat tour is another tour on the same river but with a motor boat. This is on a raft with no motors.
If you’re in Manuel Antonio and would like to do a similar boat tour, check out the Damas Island Mangrove. You can go on a boat or kayak through the mangroves to see wildlife.
Read about other things to do in La Fortuna below!
La Fortuna waterfall: Beautiful waterfall in the rainforest. Easily accessible though requires over 400 steps to get to the bottom.
Horseback riding La Fortuna: Ride through valleys and rainforests for beautiful views.
Arenal Combo tour: 4 in 1 combination tour. Includes hanging bridges, La Fortuna waterfall, volcano hike and hot springs.
Balsa River rafting: Easy Class 2 and 3 white water rafting, only 30 minutes from Fortuna.
Penas Blancas safari float (similar to this one but closer to La Fortuna)
There are Amazon affiliate links in this post.
Saludos from Seattle! . I notice this post was created in 2018. Just wondering if all is the same with this Pure Nature Rio Frio tour in 2023? Also because we’ll be there end of July/beginning August (rainy season), is it possible to book this tour just a day or two in advance for a party of 4 – when we know the weather forecast? How far in advance does this tour fill at this time of year? Muchas gracias!
Hi Colleen, we sent you an email last week with more information
Wondering if there’s the possibility to see crocs/alligators or snakes on this tour? We’ll be going to crocodile bridge, so if not, it’s not a big deal, just wondering. Thanks!
There can be caimans or crocodiles. We don’t have alligators in Costa Rica.
Alisa harris says
Hi, will be taking the river float trip in February with Jacamar. What is customary and how much USD would be appropriate for the guide?
Hi Alisa, if you’re asking for tip, the standard is 10% and you can tip in USD or CRC
We will be traveling with three children, ages 2 years, 4 years and 5 years. Do you know of your for Rio Frio or Penas Blanca(?) that can accommodate the children’s ages? There will be 6 adults as well.
Unfortunately the 2 year old is too young for their minimum age requirement for both tours, but you can request the tour as private and they can run it with the 2 year old
Trying to decide between Rio Frio and Penas Blancas. Traveling as a family with 8yo and 10yo in mid-August, our goal is to see as much wildlife as possible. In which of the two spots are we more likely to see more wildlife or is it about the same? I assumed more wildlife in Rio Frio since it’s more secluded but based on some answers above seems the opposite to me. Could you please clarify? Thank you.
Both rivers offer similar wildlife watching opportunities, the main difference between the two is that Rio Frio is exclusive to one operator only so there will only be one boat down the river during your tour so it’s much quieter and more of an exclusive experience, it can offer more wildlife viewing opportunities since it’s quieter with less people
Many companies operate the float down Penas Blancas river, so sometimes there can be like 10 boats at a time depending on how busy it is
As it is nature and wildlife, we can’t guarantee better sightings over another since nature will do what it does, I personally saw more wildlife on Rio Frio
Hi- Such an awesome website! We booked our Adobe rental car through you. 🙂
My husband and I are going to travel to CR for the first time in the end of April and would love your recommendations on a couple of things. We have 2 weeks in country and are going to start with 3 nights in Arenal, 2 nights in Bijagua, 3 nights in Ocotal/ Guanacaste and 4 nights in Puerto Viejo (Limon).
We would love to go on a river float to see wildlife (sloths etc.). Where would you recommend we do that? We’re not adrenaline junkies and would prefer something slow with lots of wildlife to something fast and motorized.
Where would you split up the 8 hr drive between Guanacaste/ Ocotal and Puerto Viejo (Limon)? We plan to drive via Cano Negro rather than through San Jose.
I’m into natural healing, healthy foods etc. and would love to visit an indigenous village that perhaps has a curandera or where they grow their own medicinal herbs. Would a visit to the BriBri be recommendable?
Are you aware of any tours that might visit a school or other social institution?
Thanks so much!
Arenal/La Fortuna has great river safari floats (like this Pure Nature post), it’s my favorite actually.
You can check out Sarapiqui, it’s not right in the middle but you could stay there to break u pthe drive.
I’d definitely arrange a visit to BriBri when you’re in Puerto Viejo, that would be a nice experience.
Will be in Arenal next week 1/8 – 1/10! First-timers to CR w/husband+17 yo daughter. Can we drive ourselves to Rio Frio and meet the guide there? Our hotel said 2 hrs ea way for Cano Negro tour, felt too much for us. Yr post says 1 hr drive and small tour, how can we confirm that? Is Rio Frio much more interesting/wildlife/scenic vs Pena Blanca float (sounds a bit boring/less wildlife per reviews). Muchas Gracias for this amazing blog, rented our car thru yr link!
Hi Robin, if you want to do Rio Frio, it is best to meet at the tour office and take their shuttle because the start of the tour is at a local’s house and hard to find on your own. It is not quite inside the Caño Negro wildlife refuge itself and the Caño Negro boat tour starts at a different place on the river.
Both Rio Frio and Peñas Blancas are nice river safari floats but Rio Frio is an exclusive tour so way less people.
Brian Welte says
Sammi and Yeison,
I’m glad I found this comment and learn that it’s best to meet at the Jacamar office rather than trying to drive ourselves to the local’s house near the Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge. The Jacamar office is in La Fortuna, correct?
We plan to book this tour (through MyTanFeet of course!). After the tour we plan to drive to Bijagua de Upala. Is it OK to meet at the Jacamar office and then follow the bus to Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge so we can continue on to Bijagua from there rather than going all the way back to La fortuna?
Hi Brian, yes you can do that 🙂
You’re very welcome 🙂 And yes they can certainly do a 1968 and Penas Blancas in one day. You can pay with credit card at their office the day before the tour.
We are actually currently in the process of finalizing a partnership in Manuel Antonio with a tour operator there so when you send us the email, let us know what you’re interested to do there too.
Your info is amazingly helpful, thanks! We will be in Arenal area for 3 full days in August. Two Adults and our 12 year old son. Here’s our itinerary draft:
Day 1: Proyecto Asis Volunteer in the morning, Bogarin Trail in the afternoon
Day 2: Safari on the Penas Blanca River in the morning, Arenal Volcano hike in the afternoon (1968 trail)
Day 3: Mistico Hanging Bridge Birding Guided Tour morning, Don Olivio Chocolate Tour afternoon
We are not renting a car so we will rely on tours and shuttle service. (after Arenal we’re off to Manual Antonio)
I know zip lining is spectacular – for various reasons we are skipping it this trip and we have been to waterfalls on other trips. We are staying at a hotel with hot springs on site so we are covered with the hot springs experience. We want some down time to relax at the hotel.
In your experience and opinion – would you recommend swapping the Penas Blancas Safari Tour with the Pure Nature Rio Frio Safari Float – and possibly skipping the 1968 Trail hike due to time. Or is there something else you recommend we cut out so we do the Rio Frio in place of the Penas Blancas?
I would personally do the Penas Blancas morning and Volcano hike in the afternoon, the hike is pretty nice and the Penas Bancas river offers the same wildlife watching experience as Rio Frio. Rio Frio is if you reallllly want something more exclusive and personal since there aren’t other boats or companies on that part of the river, Penas Blancas you will see more.
Susan Davis says
Appreciate your input, thanks!! We’d like to use Jacamar. Think they would do a combo tour with Penas Blancas + 1968 Trail? Do you know if they are they taking credit cards or pay pal only (we don’t use pay pal) Also – do you have a partnerships with a tour company serving Manual Antonio?
Thanks so much!
Thanks for all your awesome information! We are planning a trip for next winter and hoped to spend time in the Arenal area and probably at the coast near Jaco or Samara. I read your great articles on both. I’m wondering how you would recommend splitting the time? 5 day Jaco, 5 day La Fortuna? Etc.
We will be there for 10-11 days and are traveling with 4 adults and 2 kids (9&12) who love nature and hiking and also love a good chill beach. Thanks much for your thoughts!! ❤️
Hi Rachel, if you’re flying in and out of San Jose, the easiest beach would be Jaco/Manuel Antonio. I personally wouldn’t recommend 5 days in Jaco, I’d split it in between Jaco and Manuel Antonio. If you’re renting a car, there are a lot of other chill beaches in between though which are less touristy like Esterillos Oeste ad Playa Bejuco
You could definitely do 5 days in Arenal, there is a ton of things to do in that area and you can see a lot of the area.
Interested in the Rio Frio safari tour.
We are (4) at the Arenal Paraiso Hotel in March and have a free day.
– Would we have to make our own way to the tour destination?
– How long would it take as we would prefer the morning tour?
Thanks for any info
Hi Norman, roundtrip transportation is included in the tour so you don’t have to drive to the river. The drive from la Fortuna to the Rio Frio river start is around 1 hour, and pick up is around 7-730 AM (will confirm the time when the reservation is made).
Hi Nicole, the drive from Tabacon to the tour is about 1 hour. It’s not really windy or bumpy, from what I remember it was mostly on a paved road.
Nicole Cook says
How far away is this excursion from Tabacon Thermal Resort & Spa? Is the road there windy and bumpy? Thanks!
My wife and I are in our early 60’s, active, enjoy hiking, swimming and kayaking, but have never gone white water rafting. Although the safari float sounds wonderful, we were thinking that we would like to try white water rafting instead. We would also book it thru Jacamar. Can you help us decide which excursion would be best for us?
Hi Marc, if you haven’t done white water rafting before, the one from Arenal is really nice! Not super crazy but crazy enough 🙂 Jacamar made a video of the white water rafting Class 2 and 3 rapids you can watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gMag2Og4zVw
Yeison did that one last year and he had a lot of fun. I think that’d be a great tour for you guys to do since you haven’t done rafting before and the scenery is really nice.
Super interested in the Rio Frio safari tour, but wondering if minimum age is still 8 yrs. old for this. We are traveling to Arenal area in 2 weeks with a 6 year old who would love this safari, but obviously will not book if age limit is 8. Thank you in advance!
Hi Julia! The minimum age is 5 so you can definitely go with your 6 year old, they will love it!
Rio Frio is not listed as an option. Does it go by another name?
Hi Peter! Yes they call the tour “Pure Nature Safari” 🙂
Do you think it would be safe to bring a DSLR camera on this tour? I don’t plan on jumping in.
Hi Jeremy, yup bring it! I took the photos in the post with my DSLR and you don’t get wet at all. Don’t miss the awesome wildlife shots and bring your DSLR
Ryan Biddulph says
Love that sloth! We’re arriving by Puerto Viejo in 10 days. Living in Buena Vista on a house sit for 2 months in an off the grid setting. I look forward to seeing toucans and Howler monkeys and all of these fab creatures as our neighbors. Neat change up from the more suburban life of here in Granada, Nicaragua.
Cool 🙂 I’m sure you will see plenty of wildlife in PV. Hope you enjoy your time in Nicaragua and CR!