Top activities on Nicoya Peninsula: hiking in Cabo Blanco.Costa Rica is known around the world for its exemplary environmental protection of more than 26 percent of its territory in national parks and private reserves. But it wasn’t always like that.

More than 46 percent of Costa Rica’s forests were lost from 1950 to 1983, cleared for farming, ranching and lumber, according to the Costa Rica Ministry of the Environment (MINAE) and the National Forestry Financial Fund (FONAFIFO). What started Costa Rica back on the path to reforestation and protecting its natural resources was the Cabo Blanco Absolute Nature Reserve.

The tiny nature reserve at the extreme southern end of the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica seems too pretty and unassuming to have changed history, though it did.

In 1960, when Swede Nicolas Wessberg (known as Olaf or Olle) and his Danish wife Karen Mogensen bought a farm near the town of Montezuma, the forest on the peninsula tip was completely cut for farming and cattle except for a small piece of primary forest.

The nature loving conservationists, impressed by the abundant wildlife and the enormous size and diversity of trees still left, bought 3,100 acres with the help of an international conservation organization. In October 1963, they convinced the Costa Rican government to award it the status of the country’s first privately protected reserve. The step led to the development of Costa Rica’s extensive national park system which thrives today.

Costa Rica - Cabo Blanco mapNowadays, the Cabo Blanco Absolute Nature Reserve safeguards 3,140 terrestrial acres and 4,420 marine acres. It has a combination of dry and humid tropical forest and protects all waters extending 1 km out from theCosta Rica - Cabo Blanco founders Nicolas & Karen shoreline. With pure white sand beaches covered with colorful shells, clear aquamarine sea, waterfalls and rivers, huge trees and abundant wildlife, Cabo Blanco is one of the most scenically beautiful areas of Costa Rica.

Since before the time of the Spanish conquistadors, this area has been known as the “White Cape,” or “Cabo Blanco,” for the bird guano-encrusted rock island that is located 1.6 km offshore. Cabo Blanco Island is an important seabird sanctuary, inhabited by large numbers of Brown Pelicans, Magnificent Frigates, Laughing Gulls, Common Terns, Ospreys and the largest colony of Brown Boobies in Central America.

6The majority of the Cabo Blanco Absolute Nature Reserve is secondary forest that is about 60 years old. The remaining patch of primary forest (15% of the area) is inaccessible at the highest point of the reserve. About 150 species of trees have been identified. The forest is home to animals such as white-tailed deer, agoutis, armadillos, anteaters, coyotes, porcupines, raccoons, coatis, and howler and white-faced capuchin monkeys. Wild cats include margays, ocelots and jaguarundis. Due to the combination of sea coast, freshwater rivers, mountains and forest, you can see hundreds of different types of birds, including roseate spoonbills, kingfishers, toucans and bellbirds, besides the sea birds.

Costa Rica - Cabo Blanco beachThe Cabo Blanco Absolute Nature Reserve is open Wednesday to Sunday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. There are two main trails to hike. The shortest trail, called “Sendero Danes” (Danish Trail), is 1.3 km long and can be easily walked in a morning or afternoon. The longest trail, called “Sendero Sueco” Pranamar Oceanfront Villas, Santa Teresa, Costa Rica(Swedish Trail), is more than 4 km and leads you to the pristine white sand beach in front of Cabo Blanco Island. This trip will take more than half a day, so plan to bring a lunch, plenty of drinking water and allow time to enjoy the beach and have a swim. There are showers and drinking water available at the beach.

Where to stay on the Nicoya Peninsula:

Pranamar Oceanfront Villas & Yoga Retreat is a top beachfront hotel in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica. The Costa Rica beach resort can arrange guided hiking tours in Cabo Blanco Absolute Nature Reserve. Designed with Balinese-style oceanfront villas, the holistic resort specializes in yoga and surfing holidays, daily yoga classes, and yoga retreats. Pranamar is offering Costa Rica yoga vacation package special deals from July 5 to Aug. 8, 2014.

Article by Shannon Farley