Curu Wildlife Refuge near Paquera in Costa Rica is a complete hidden gem. In the two years of living and traveling in Costa Rica we had never even heard of this place. Now it is definitely up there in our top five places to hike in Costa Rica.
The nice thing about this spot is there is a lot more to do than just hiking. We were surprised by all the activities at this spot. You can take day tours, spend a night in their cabins, rent kayaks, swim in the ocean, have a picnic, and more!
Anyway, enough of rambling about how great this spot is, let’s get down to the complete guide to visiting Curu Wildlife Refuge!
Curu Wildlife Refuge – Important info
The refuge is open daily from 7 am until 3 pm. If you are taking an evening tour from the refuge it is possible to enter and exit later as well. Those hours are specifically for the hiking portion of the refuge.
It costs $10 per person to enter the refuge. If you are a Costa Rican national it is about $4 to enter.
First off, if you are traveling from the San Jose area, it is easiest to get here by ferry. We have a complete guide to the Paquera ferry here.
Once you arrive in the Paquera area it is really easy to get here. Just follow the road as if you are heading to Montezuma and you will see the refuge on your right-hand side. It will be about five miles into your drive.
If you are coming from Montezuma you will also have no trouble finding this place. I will warn you, there are not a lot of signs announcing that the refuge is close, but with GPS it is easy to find. It is located about 16 miles from Montezuma heading north on your right side.
In Waze we entered “Curu” and clicked “Refugio Nacional Curu” to get directions. It will be the top result that shows up.
Note: If you are unsure what is the best way to get around in Costa Rica, we have a complete guide to driving directions here.
Once you enter the refuge you can drive straight down the road until you reach the main parking lot. I’d say it’s about 1.5 miles down. However, there are trails along the way and you are welcome to pull your car off on the side of the road to explore any of the trails.
Just please always remember not to leave anything of value in your car. When we visited there were a lot of people around, so I don’t think anybody would try to break into a car, but you never know!
Also, when we were driving out of the refuge we ran into all these cows pictured above. They were great about moving out of the way, but it still was a bit freaky to have a ton of big cows heading directly towards the car.
Curu Reserve has more as far as facilities than any other reserve I have seen in Costa Rica. There are bathrooms near the parking lot, an info center, a cafeteria, cabins you can rent, and their own tourism company for day tours.
The cafeteria is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. They serve typical Costa Rican food like rice, beans, salad, vegetable, and meat. We did not eat here, but I read some reviews online which said the food was actually pretty good.
What to wear
We both wore sports shorts and cotton shirts for the hike. I wore a bathing suit under my clothes because I thought I might want to jump in the ocean.
Thomas wore a hat (he’s smarter than me).
On my feet, I opted to wear sandals. They were completely fine for the hikes we did. There were a few trails which were marked as being difficult and we skipped those because I wasn’t sure how those would be with sandals on. Thomas wore sneakers. In an ideal world, I would have worn my Keen’s. They are by far my favorite footwear for Costa Rica.
Thomas opted to bring his swim shorts instead so he could change into them if he wanted.
What to bring
We didn’t bring much with us on the hike. This refuge is set up really well, so you can check out a few trails and can easily stop by your car before exploring more.
The only things we packed in our backpack were sunscreen (you never know when you’ll need to top up), bug spray, our phones for pictures, our pocket binoculars, and a ton of water (we needed it).
In the car, we left some snacks, towels for if we went swimming (we swear by microfiber towels because they dry fast and you can easily fit them in your luggage), and extra water bottles.
Amount of time you need
We spent about three hours here, but you could easily spend a whole day here if you want to take advantage of all that Curu Wildlife Refuge has to offer.
Best time to visit
We visited during the rainy season, but surprisingly most of the trails were very dry. Your best chance of having great weather is by starting your hikes in the morning. If there are rain storms they usually roll in around mid-afternoon.
The dryest months are from mid-December until mid-April. These are also the months with the most tourists, so the refuge will be more crowded.
As I already mentioned, there are several small cabins you can rent at the reserve. According to their website, they cost $20 per person per night. This does not include the $12 admission per person to the reserve that you will need to pay daily.
The cabins look very basic and rustic from the pictures but they are also directly on the beach in the refuge. If you are OK with a very basic place to stay, I think it could be really fun to sleep here.
If you are interested in staying at the Curu Wildlife Refuge cabins you can get in contact with the reserve via their website here.
One of the most unique things about the refuge is that they offer a lot of different day tours at very fair prices. In fact, in comparing their tour prices with tours leaving from Montezuma, Curu Wildlife Refuge’s tours were on average $10 to $20 cheaper. That is including the $12 park entry fee that you need to pay if entering the refuge. We are all about saving money, so this completely won us over.
However, I do need to let you know that we did not personally take any tours from Curu. I checked out reviews of their day tours on TripAdvisor and there is a wide mix of reviews. The biggest complaint I saw was that everything was in Spanish and some of the tours left late. However, there are also a lot of very positive reviews as well. I’d check out the reviews yourself here to determine if their tours fit what you are looking for.
The tours they offer are sports fishing, snorkeling, kayaking, a boat tour to Tortuga Island, a whale sightseeing tour, a horseback riding tour, and a bioluminescence night kayaking tour.
You can get more info on the various tours on the Curu Wildlife Reserve website here.
Alternatively, if you are staying in Montezuma or Santa Teresa and would like to visit Curu with a private guide and transportation we suggest this tour.
Curu Wildlife Refuge – The hikes
There are tons of hiking options at Curu. We found the trails to be relatively easy for the most part. All of the trails were well maintained. The map above is accurate. Most of the trails seemed to be a relatively fast walk, but we are also generally fast walkers.
There is also a lot of wildlife you can spot in the refuge. We will get into what we saw in a minute, but the Curu Wildlife Refuge website states that their refuge is home to 78 species of mammals, 87 species of reptiles, 25 types of amphibians, and over 500 species of plants.
Curu Wildlife Refuge – Our experience
We had no idea what to expect with the refuge. We had actually never even heard of this place before until I started looking at things to do near the Paquera ferry landing. See, Thomas had a four day weekend and we wanted to head to Montezuma. We wanted to leave after Thomas finished work for the day, but knew that if we went all the way to Montezuma we would get there really late at night. Instead, we wanted to spend one or two nights near the ferry landing.
Most people don’t do this and head straight down to Montezuma or Santa Teresa, but I was doing some research and discovered there is actually a lot to do in the Paquera area.
Anyway, we spent the first night of our long weekend in Paquera and went to the refuge the next morning. We arrived at Curu Reserve a bit later in the day then we wanted to, but after the long drive the day before Thomas was really tired. Our goal was to be there by 8:30 am but that ended up being more around 9:45 am.
When you turn into the refuge there will be a person collecting payment for admission. They will also give you a map of the property. We then drove to the main parking lot to start our hikes.
From the parking lot (labeled “Administration” on the map) we first hiked the trail Toledo. This trail was awesome because of the unique wooden bridge you have to cross towards the start of the walk.
We then hiked Finca de Monos, Ceiba, and Posa Colorado trails. This will then bring you out to the refuge road. We started walking back to our car and took a little detour to hike Laguna trail.
When we got back to our car we had a quick snack and restocked up on water before heading to the Posa Colorado trail. We didn’t do the whole trail, but instead only went to the viewpoint (marked point number 5 on the map). This trail was the only trail we walked which was a bit more exhausting. It is almost entirely uphill to get to the viewpoint, but it only took us about five minutes which made it completely manageable.
We hiked almost every single trail except for the trail called “Killer” (I was intimidated by that name) and the trail to Playa Quesera (it was just too hot at that point).
Along the trails, we saw a lot of different wildlife including monkeys, agoutis, centipedes, entire fields of crabs, and deer. We have actually never seen deer in Costa Rica before. I didn’t even know they lived here. We were really happy that we brought our binoculars because some of the monkeys were very high up in the trees.
After our hikes, we left, but that was only because we were not fully prepared. When we visit Curu again we’ll bring food for a picnic lunch and will plan a few tours with the guides at Curu. I would also love to stay at the cabins on site. Unfortunately, I planned our trip so last minute that I wasn’t able to get in contact with them to reserve a place to stay.
Curu Wildlife Refuge – Helpful tips
– Get here early. It can get really hot as the day goes on. We suggest exploring all the trails earlier in the day and enjoying the rest that Curu has to offer once it gets very warm.
– If you are planning to do any tours with Curu Wildlife Refuge it is best to do the tours on the same day you plan on hiking the refuge because you have to pay the $12 daily entry fee even if you are only doing a tour.
– Check out the refuge’s official website here. It is not the best website in the world, but it is helpful if you want to look into booking a day tour or want to rent a cabin.
– Just a warning, the monkeys can be a little crazy. In some spots, they were throwing tree branches at us. Jerks!
– There are plenty of signs, but there are areas with crocodiles. Do not get too close or get in the various ponds and streams.
– You can never have enough drinking water! It’s crazy how fast you can get dehydrated here.
Curu Wildlife Refuge – What to do after
Curu Reserve is a great place to stop if you want to break up your trip from San Jose to Montezuma or Santa Teresa.
However, there is definitely enough to do at Curu that you can make a whole day out of it and stay nearby like we did.
After our hike, we ended up checking out Playa Organos and doing some unsuccesful fishing.
We hoped this helped you plan your trip to Curu Refuge. Honestly, if you find yourself in the area we 100% recommend checking this place out. We were so surprised by how amazing it is. Let us know if you have any questions as you plan your trip here. We are always happy to help you out!
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