Curu National Wildlife Refuge – Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Curu

Sitting casually along the roadside on Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula is the Curu National Wildlife Refuge. Marked by a few simple signs, most travelers race past this reserve on their way to destinations like Montezuma, Tambor, and Santa Teresa. But for those who do stop, an abundance of wildlife and variety of habitats are waiting to be explored. In this post, we’ll tell you all about the Curu National Wildlife Refuge so you can plan a visit.    

A tidal river flows into the Curu National Wildlife Refuge


Curu National Wildlife Refuge is located on the southeastern side of Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula. It’s between the small tourist town of Tambor and locals’ town of Paquera.

Paquera is best known for its ferry terminal where the Puntarenas Ferry arrives and departs. This large boat transports passengers and vehicles to and from the southern part of the Nicoya Peninsula, saving a lot of driving miles.

Most people visiting Curu National Wildlife Refuge stay in nearby Tambor or Montezuma. The reserve also has some very simple lodging.

Curu is about 3 hours south of LIR Airport in Guanacaste and 4 hours west of SJO Airport, including the ferry ride.  

Tip: This area is best explored with a rental car since beaches and attractions are spread out. If you are looking to rent a car, check out our discount through one of the largest and most reliable agencies.

About the Curu Reserve

Before becoming an official wildlife refuge in 1981, the vast property of Curu was used for many purposes, including farming and tree harvesting. Later those practices were scaled back to make way for conservation and ecotourism.

Today, Curu National Wildlife Refuge protects 75% of its 3,697 acres (1,496 hectares) as pristine forest. The remaining 20% is used for farming/ranching, while 5% makes up the reserve’s hiking trails and visitors center.

Wildlife crossing sign at the Curu Reserve

A Variety of Habitats

One thing that makes Curu National Wildlife Refuge so special are the variety of habitats on the property. There is tropical dry forest, wet forest, mangrove, pasture, beach, and marine zones.

This makes it especially attractive to wildlife like birds as well as mammals, reptiles, amphibians, insects, and of course fish.

During our visit, we saw a lot of wildlife hanging out near the streams and mangroves.  

White-faced Monkey
Close up with a white-faced monkey

Visiting Curu National Wildlife Refuge

The Trails

From the visitors center at Curu National Wildlife Refuge, you can walk along several trails to make a loop. Each one is unique and will allow you to see some of the different habitats.

A few of the trails were closed when we visited. Here are some of the major trails that make for a good hike.

Trail Map Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Curu
Trail Map of Curu National Wildlife Refuge

Manakin Trail – Sendero Toledo

This short 200-meter (0.12 mile) trail is named after the Toledo bird (Long-tailed Manakin) that can be found inside the reserve. It starts at the visitors center and goes south along Playa Curu. Along the beach trail, there are some picnic tables nestled into the shrubby forest.

We came back to this spot after our hike to cool down and have a snack. Beware that there can be wildlife looking to grab your food. We saw both racoons and white-faced monkeys, which were aggressively trying to investigate our cooler.

It is important not to feed these animals as you can make them very sick. They also become more aggressive towards future visitors.

After the beach section, the Toledo Trail has a long, rustic bridge that crosses a tidal river. We saw lots of fish swimming in the shallow water as well as birds and iguanas along the banks. Signs also warn of crocodiles.  

Bridge along the Manakin Trail
Bridge along the Manakin Trail

Monkey Farm Trail – Sendero Finca de Monos

After the Manakin Trail is a turnoff for the longer Monkey Farm Trail (Sendero Finca de Monos). This trail is roughly two kilometers (1.25 miles). There are a few ups and downs along this trail, but the hike overall is fairly flat and easy.

The Monkey Farm Trail goes inland through some of the tidal mangrove forest before transitioning to a normal lowland jungle.

During our visit, it was low tide so the roots of all the mangrove trees were exposed. There were lots of crabs peeking out of their holes and foraging for food. We also saw a giant Ivory-billed Woodpecker up in the trees.

This trail eventually ends at a small stream and the entrance road. If you are looking for a short hike, you can simply follow this road back to the parking area and visitors center.

Where the trail curves around the stream (near the road), we saw a large family of howler monkeys lounging in the tall trees. Make sure to keep an eye up to the trees around this area. At first the monkeys were being very quiet and were hardly noticeable. Later they started calling with their loud calls, which made them easier to spot.

Howler Monkey at Curu
A howler monkey along the Monkey Farm Trail

Ceiba Trail – Sendero Ceiba

If you want to continue hiking from the Monkey Farm Trail, you can trek along the Ceiba Trail. This trail continues inland another two kilometers (1.25 miles) before meeting up with the entrance road. Like the other trails, it is fairly flat and easy.

Flat trail conditions on Ceiba trail
The Ceiba Trail

The Ceiba Trail was interesting for us because it went past some little waterways, which had small fish in them. Our kids loved looking in these puddles to see what they could find.

The water also attracted some animals called agouti. These are small rodents that sort of hop like rabbits. They are really shy and eat fruits and vegetation off the forest floor.  

An Agouti hops through the underbrush

Another highlight on the Ceiba Trail is a manmade lagoon near the end. The lagoon is sectioned off with a fence and gate. That is because there are crocodiles inside! When we visited, one was sunning itself right in the shallow water. It was small but still intimidating.

Crocodile in the shallow lagoon
Small crocodile in the lagoon

Entrance Road – Camino Principal

Though technically not a trail, we would be leaving out an important part of the reserve if we didn’t mention the entrance road. You walk this back to the visitors center after leaving either the Monkey Farm Trail or Ceiba Trail.

It was along this road that we saw a lot more wildlife. First, it was a family of coati (pizote), which are similar to racoons but have a long snout and slender tail that they often stick straight up in the air. They were foraging under some dead logs, digging up insects to eat.

We also saw a lot of white-tailed deer along this road. They were a bit shy but also curious and let us get close enough to get some nice pictures.

A deer peeking through the trees
White-tailed deer

Crab Trail – Sendero Cangrejal

The last trail we took was Sendero Cangrejal, named after the land crabs in the area. At times, these crabs, which live inland, flock to the water in droves to breed. They march across roads, fields, and mountains, no matter what is in their way.  

On this flat, one kilometer (0.62 mile) trail, you loop around a section of sparse forest and mangrove. We didn’t see much in this area, but it was later in the day and very hot. It could be much better for birds and animals during the early morning or late afternoon.

Closed Trails

A few of the trails inside the Curu National Wildlife Refuge were closed at the time of our visit. Notably, the long (5 km/3.1 mile) trail to Playa Quesera was closed. This is supposed to be a gorgeous, pristine beach.

Also closed were the Avispero (Hornet’s Nest) and Killer Trail. Based on those names, we weren’t too disappointed.


Although some of the trails above are flat and easy, they still have uneven parts that would be difficult for someone with limited mobility. However, the entrance road, as well as the area around the visitors center and beach can still offer a pleasant experience and plenty of wildlife viewing. 

Other Things to Enjoy

Restaurant & Gift Shop

There is an onsite restaurant and gift shop at the Curu visitors center.

The restaurant serves traditional food. It’s best to order what you would like inside the gift shop before starting your hike. That way, they can prepare. Otherwise, you might be waiting a long time to eat.

Inside the gift shop is a nice selection of T-shirts, souvenirs, and handmade gifts, as well as some cool old photos of the area. 

Curu Beach

With your admission, you also can enjoy the remainder of your day at Playa Curu. The beach is set in a wide cove and is very tranquil. There are only gentle waves, making it a great place to swim with kids. There is some shade near the visitors center, but again, watch out for the aggressive monkeys!

The calm cove of Playa Curu
Playa Curu


If you have more time to spend at Curu National Wildlife Refuge, you can take some of their tours. They offer horseback riding, kayak rentals or tours, night tours to see bioluminescent algae, and day tours to Tortuga Island. The activities are very affordable; for example, horseback tours are $15 per hour.

The tours do not include the entrance fee, so if you plan to come back another day for tours, you will have to pay the entrance again.

Planning Your Visit

What to Wear & Bring

We recommend wearing lightweight clothing, sturdy shoes for walking/hiking, and a hat for sun protection. Be sure to bring along some sunscreen, insect repellent, and a lot of drinking water since the trail can be very hot.

For more tips on what to pack in your daypack, see this post.   


Open Daily, 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Admission Cost

Adults: 9,000 colones (foreigners). 3,000 colones (nationals).

Children: 3,000 colones (foreigners). 1,500 colones (nationals).


We really enjoyed our visit to Curu National Wildlife Refuge. We had driven past this reserve many times but hadn’t had the chance to stop. We always wondered if it was worth the effort to visit. Now we can definitely say that it was, and we are already looking forward to going back again. We hope you’ll go and experience it too.

Have a question about visiting Curu National Wildlife Refuge? Leave a comment below.

Looking for more information to help you plan your trip? Check out these articles:

Tambor: A Relaxing Escape on the Nicoya Peninsula – Learn all about the Tambor area with this post. Includes accommodation recommendations.

Taking the Puntarenas-Paquera Ferry – This is the ferry that you will likely take to reach the southern Nicoya Peninsula if flying into SJO Airport. We cover all the details.

Renting a Car in Costa Rica: Clearing up the Confusion – If you want a car to explore this area of the country, read this article to find out how the insurance works and what else to watch out for.

A Bioluminescent Kayak Tour on the Nicoya Peninsula – This tour is located near the Curu Reserve. It’s an amazing experience to see the natural phenomena of glowing algae in the sea.

Related Posts

Turtle Nesting
Tortuguero Sea Turtle Nesting Tour
Lake Arenal Boat Cruise
Lake Arenal Sunset Cruise: Wine, Cheese & Views
Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve Guide
Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve: Uncrowded Nature
Cerro Tortuguero
Cerro Tortuguero: Hike and Viewpoint


  1. We enjoyed our time spent exploring Curu. We saw capuchins, coati, anguoti, crabs, deer and some wading birds. Many families were having picnics along the beach and children were swimming in the water. It was a nice park. We highly recommend the trip for snorkeling at Tortuga. There are many locations along the Nicoya southern coast to arrange boat transport to snorkel.

  2. We really wanted to explore this region on our first trip, but didn’t have time. Thank you for all the details, because it was pretty daunting before.

  3. Hello, I am appreciating your website as we plan our frist trip to CR! (It’s also our first trip out of the country since having kids over seventeen years ago!) We plan to drive from Nosara to Curu one day (this July) to stay at the Curu Wildlife Refuge. I read on a post that the roads on that route can be “horrendous” especially during rainy season. What has your experience been? I am up for some adventure but I don’t want to destroy our rental car!! Thanks!

    1. Hi Pixie, the roads have improved a lot in that area. They are all paved from Nicoya to Curu. The one spot on your route is the short stretch from Nosara to Route 150. No 4×4 is needed but that part (Route 934 and part of Route 160) is pretty bumpy and only paved in some spots. Once you get on Route 150, it’s paved to Nicoya and smooth sailing to Curu. Enjoy it!

  4. We have visited Curu 4 times, the last 3 staying in one of the cabins for Christmas Eve and Christmas day. The cabins are VERY basic with a kitchen area which is really just a sink and worktops, with nothing else. Nothing to cook on, with, or eat off. We travel by campervan, so have a stove, cool box/fridge and everything we need to be self sufficient. There is a restaurant on site where you can order meals when booking the accommodation, but we have never used it so can’t say what it is like. There is no a/c but a fan in each bedroom is fine. Cold water only, and in some there is no showerhead, just a cold water pipe sticking out of the wall . . . . Which all adds to the rustic experience we enjoy so much. It is not however for everyone, if you enjoy more comfort, or any nightlife don’t bother.
    What they lack in home comforts is more than compensated for by the setting! Far enough apart that they feel completely private, set in the trees but only metres from the beach, which we have to ourselves most of the time, lots of wildlife passing by.
    But, our favourite part is having the park/trails to ourselves at sunrise and sunset (before and after they open and close to the public) for wildlife spotting. The highlight on our last stay was after hearing some rustling in the treetops, stopping and quietly waiting to see what it was, and watching a Tamandua (anteater) come all the way down to about 4 metres above our head to rip apart a termite mound, before casually making its way back up. 20 minutes of awe! I can honestly say that in a 1 hour sunrise hike we see more wildlife than we did in 3 hours at Manuel Antonio NP. If booking a cabin, the entrance fee is included, so it makes it one of the cheapest places we stay when not using a campsite.
    As this is our favourite, almost private place to stay I probably shouldn’t be writing this, but it is too good not to share and give others the chance to enjoy our ‘Happy Place’.

    1. I enjoyed reading your comments after our recent visit to Curu in April 2023. We spent 2 nights in one of their cabins and really liked the experience largely due to the extreme beauty of the location. If you don’t mind really rustic accommodations for a couple of nights, the Curu Refuge is a fantastic wildlife experience.

      We were prepared for basic cabin with cold water only and no A/C. We did enjoy taking our meals at their restaurant in the Refuge. We prepaid for 3 meals daily which were very inexpensive. The food is basic TICO cuisine, rice and beans, fresh fish and chicken cooked to order, and fresh cut fruits but very tasty. You need to order your choices in advance for lunch & dinner.
      Besides the beautiful beach and walking trails in the Refuge, there are various extra activities that one can purchase, like horseback riding, snorkeling and scuba, boat trip to Tortuga Island and Playa Quesara. These activities are reasonably priced and can be booked when you arrive at the Refuge. One warning is try to avoid the snorkeling trip to Tortugas on weekends and other busy holidays as it is often very crowded with tourists.

      1. I’m glad you had a good time, it’s wonderful isn’t it. The tours are all very good (maybe not the overcrowded Tortuga Island excursion) with our favourite being the Bioluminescence tour. If you’re there during a new moon, or a few days either side, it is spectacular.
        We were lucky enough to go when the walking trail to Playa Quesera was still open. It was a good 10km round trip, and a lot of it over open land with not much shade, but well worth it to get to one of the few white sand, calm water beaches in Costa Rica. Still worth a visit, either by boat, or hire a kayak for a couple of hours if you’re feeling energetic.

        1. Our visit to Curu was extra special for me as I had visited back in 1969 while serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Puntarenas. Frederico Schutt was the American owner of the family ranch. I met him while hiking the coast from Lepanto to Montezuma doing a survey of the fisheries resources of the Gulfo de Nicky’s. He invited me to stay the night in his house & have dinner with him & his wife. The next day he took me back to Puntarenas on his 40 foot wooden launcha. Pictures of the boat & his family are in the walls of the administration building. I was able to speak with 2 of Frederico’s children while visiting in April 2023.

          Despite all the plastic trash on the beach, we really enjoyed swimming in the bay & observing the monkeys & other wildlife that are all around the reserve. It is much wilder than it was 54 years ago.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Add Trees to Your Order


Become a Subscriber!

Receive our newest articles by email. It’s free.