A fundamental question in protein science is how the inherent dynamics of a protein influence its function. If this function involves interactions with a ligand, the protein-ligand encounter has the potential to modulate the protein dynamics. This study reveals how site-specific mobility can be modulated by the ligand to facilitate high affinity binding. We have investigated the mechanism of retinol uptake by the cellular retinol-binding protein type I (CRBP) using line shape analysis of NMR signals. The highly similar structures of apo- and holo-CRBP exhibit closed conformations that seemingly offer no access to ligand, yet the protein binds retinol rapidly and with high affinity. NMR line shape analysis reveals how protein dynamics resolve this apparent paradox. An initial nonspecific encounter with the ligand induces the formation of long-lived conformers in the portal region of CRBP suggesting a mechanism how retinol accesses the cavity.