Created to preserve the area’s abundant fauna, the REFUGIO NACIONAL DE VIDA SILVESTRE BARRA DEL COLORADO lies at the northern end of Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, 99km northeast of San José near the border with Nicaragua. This ninety-square-kilometre, sparsely populated (by humans, at least) tract of land is crossed by the Río Colorado, which debouches into the Caribbean next to the village of Barra del Colorado. The grand Río San Juan marks the park’s northern boundary, which is also the border with Nicaragua. The river continues north of the border all the way to the Lago de Nicaragua and almost all traffic in this area is by water.
The small, quiet village of Barra del Colorado, the area’s only settlement of any size, is inhabited by a mixed population of Afro-Caribbeans, Miskitos, Costa Ricans and a significant number of Nicaraguans, many of whom spilled over the border during the Civil War. The village is divided into two halves: Barra Sur and the larger Barra Norte, which stand opposite each other across the mouth of the Río Colorado. Tropical hardwoods are still under siege from illegal logging around here – you may see giant tree trunks being towed along the river and into the Caribbean, from where they are taken down to Limón. There are no public services in town (no post office, police station, internet café or hospital) except for a couple of public phones outside the souvenir shop next to the airport and near the Los Almendros bar.