Cabo Blanco

Location: 7 miles (11 km) S W of Montezuma, the southernmost tip of the Nicoya Peninsula.
Size: 2,896 acres (1, 172 ha) of land; 4,423 acres (1, 790 ha) of marine habitat.
Hours: 8 a. m. to 4 p. m., closed Monday and Tuesday.
Information: Telephone hotline 192, telephonelfax (506) 642-0093.

Cabo Blanco Strict Nature Reserve is important historically as well as biologically. It was set aside as a protected area in 1963 before Costa Rica had a park service, largely through the efforts of Olof Wessberg and Karen Mogensen, both now deceased, who had come to live on the Nicoya Peninsula in 1955. Because of their love of nature and concern about rapid destruction of forest on the tip of the peninsula-plus personal commitment and a good measure of persistence with funding sources and bureaucracy this forest and sanctuary for seabirds exists today. A memorial plaque at the entrance honors Olof and a trail is named for Dona Karen.

The reserve is a treasure. The magic begins on the path between the parking area and visitor center. Take your time and walk quietly. A whitetailed deer, framed against the greens of the forest, studied our arrival on my last visit. Further along the path, howler monkey were feeding on the yellow fruit of the jobo tree. Howlers, white-faced monkeys, and coatis eat this fruit whole, defecating the large nuts in a day or two. An agouti moved through the underbrush. Visitors often see monkeys and an admirable assortment of birds and butterflies in the picnic area next to the visitor center.

Birds are abundant. 'Me current list has more than 130 species; one birder counted 74 species in four hours. I-and species include thicket tinamou, great curassow, red-lored parrot, cinnamon hummingbird, masked tityra, scissor-tailed flycatcher, red-crowned ant- tanager, black-headed trogon, orange-chinned parakeet, blue-crowned motmot, and long- tailed manakin. Among water birds are olivaceous cormorants, bare-throated tiger-herons, American oystercatchers, and whimbrels.

The reserve claims 140 kinds of trees; predominant species are gumbo limbo, lemonwood, frangipani, dogwood, trumpet tree, and cedar. You'll pass the gumbo limbo, with its peeling bark, and the spiny pochote trees on the walk in. Rainfall in this moist forest is 118 inches (3,000 mm); average temperature, 81'F (27C).

Cabo Blanco ( White Cape) got its name from the small island a short distance off the point, though there is dispute about whether the name comes from deposits of bird guano, a white cliff, or light-colored soil. Pelicans, frigate birds, and brown boobies hang out there. The area is rich in marine life: octopus, starfish, sea cucumber, lobster, giant conch, and fish such as snapper and snook.

The small visitor center has attractive exhibits on Cabo Blanco wildlife as well as a snack stand (sometimes closed in low season), drinking water, and rest rooms. You can purchase various small publications, including a bird list with English, Spanish, and scientific names; a bilingual folder on mammal tracks; and a bilingual booklet on Cabo Blanco tree species.

A well-maintained loop trail that takes about 90 minutes goes through secondary and some primary forest, hilly but not difficult. A two-hour trek through low mountains, steep in places, leads to Cabo Blanco Beach, a sandy spot on a mostly rocky shoreline. You may still have the beach practically to yourself for a bit, except for colored crabs and seabirds. The famous English pirate Captain John Cook died off these shores in 1684 and was buried here, site unknown.

Remember as you walk through this small fragile reserve that until the 1960s, 85 percent of it was pasture and agricultural land; now it's secondary forest. Primary forest still standing when the Swedish couple mounted their conservation campaign, constitutes 15 percent of the reserve today; it provided the gene bank that allowed natural forest regeneration once the area was protected. Seeds dispersed by wind and by animals took root and grew. Some marine species on the point of disappearing are now thriving.

Getting There

By bus: Bus to Montezuma; from there go by tour, taxi, bike, horse rental, or on foot.
By car: Unpaved road from Montezuma; if the bridge is not finished, ford the usually shallow river. The reserve's parking area is a distance from the visitor center. In high season an attendant watches cars for about $ 1; if no one is on duty, don't leave valuables in the car, even though so far this seems to be a safe area.

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Telephone: +1.888.365.0904 / +506.2643.2953 -- Fax: +506.2643.1356
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