Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve has the distinction of being the first protected park area in Costa Rica when it was established in 1963. The park is renowned for the white cape, a group of rocks located at the southern tip of the reserve that serves as a habitat for a plethora of rare and interesting bird species. The two beaches of Cabo Blanco, Playa Cabo Blanco and Playa Balsitas are an excellent location to witness hundreds of pelicans as they take flight while scouring for their daily fish.
This park is named after the island Cabo Blanco, located around 1.6 km from the reserve’s southern tip. Since the times of the Conquistadores it has been known as the “White Cape” because encrusted guano envelopes the rocks. Cabo Blanco is an important seabird sanctuary, inhabited by a large number of brown pelicans, frigate birds, laughing gulls, common terns, ospreys and Costa Rica’s largest community of brown boobies.
Within the reserve, along the coast, there are three roost trees of brown pelicans to which around 250 birds retire each evening. In the late afternoon from the beaches of Mal Pais and Santa Teresa visitors can view them gliding past in spectacular V-shaped formations. The abundance of bird life only rivals the wildlife found under water. 1,788 hectares of ocean belong to the protected area of Cabo Blanco hosting many fishes and large quantities of lobster, giant conches and oyster.
Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve is in an ideal location to spot indigenous botanical wonders as it is juxtaposed between tropical dry and wet forests. The park is home to more than 140 different species of trees, including the wild plum, trumpet tree, lance wood, and the sapoditta – famous for producing the material that is used to make chewing gum. Housed within these trees, visitors will spot, white throat magpies, ringed kingfisher, toucans, cattle egrets, green herons, scarlet macaws, parrots, and turquoise-browed motmots. The forest is home to a large variety of animals like white-tailed deer, pacas, armadillos, anteaters, howler and capuchin monkeys, coyotes, porcupines, raccoons and coatis. There are also wild cats like ocelots, jaguarundis and margay cats but you are less than unlikely to see them in the wild. Some other mammals that call
Cabo Blanco home are white faced monkeys, porcupines, cougars, gray fox, anteaters, hog nosed skunks and the margay.
The Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve comprises 1,270 hectares of mixed forest, which can be categorized as moist tropical forest. Around 150 trees have been identified. Evergreen species predominate, but deciduous dry forest species can be spotted here as well. Among the most commonly found trees here are lance wood, bastard cedar, wild plum, gumbo-limbo, trumpet tree, dogwood and frangipani. The most frequently spotted tree is the spiny cedar (Pochote) with specimens more than 40 m high. Another impressive tree is the silk cotton tree (Caoba) which can tower up to 60 m. The unique climate and geographic location of Cabo Blanco also hosts rare tree species like the Camibar which are not found elsewhere on the Nicoya Peninsula. A major portion of Cabo Blanco is secondary forest which is around 60 years old. The remaining patch of primary forest accounts for 15% of the area and is located at the inaccessible highest point of the reserve.
This is the largest single area in Costa Rica set aside as an “Aboslute Reserve”, which completely restricts the impact of humans. But does not mean visitors can´t enjoy it breathtaking natural beauty. To aid their conservation objectives, Cabo Blanco limits entrance and provides minimal facilities to visitors lest it turns into a boisterous tourist den. Visitors can´t camp in the park and the only thing to do is hike in and hike back out through long market trails. The ranger station, 2 kms from Cabuya, has a good collection of maps of the various trails featured in the park.
Officially named the Cabo Blanco Absolute Natural Reserve, this tiny private reserve at the tip of Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula is spectacularly picturesque with tropical forest, pristine white-sand beaches, warm aquamarine sea, waterfalls and rivers, and abundant natural sights from trees to birds to monkeys to shells. A naturalist guide will lead your hike and explain what plants and wildlife you’re seeing as you cross the trails down to the pristine sugar-colored beaches. Due to the combination of sea coast, freshwater rivers, mountains and forest, visitors can spot hundreds of different types of birds, including roseate spoonbills, kingfishers, toucans and bellbirds. The rocky coastline and Cabo Blanco Island are a hotbed for marine birds, including a huge number of pelicans and the largest colony of brown boobies found anywhere in Central America.
Cabo Blanco History
Cabo Blanco owes its existence as a protected area to Olaf and Karen Wessberg, who moved from their native Sweden to a small ranch on the peninsula in 1955. Not long after arriving the Wessbergs discovered that the last of Nicoya’s once magnificent forest were in danger of destruction from rapidly expanding agricultural settlements and lumbering in the area. They set about collecting the funds necessary to purchase the last large stand of forest, and in 1963 they bought the land that now comprises the Cabo Blanco Reserve. Thus it is the oldest protected area in Costa Rica. Until the late 1980s Cabo Blanco was called an “absolute” reserve because no visitors were permitted. Now there are hiking trails and visits are allowed. Park directors have closed the reserve on Monday and Tuesday to mitigate the high tourist impact.
There are trails that take visitors between the Administration Station and Playa Cabo Blanco, and Playa Balsitas and the San Miguel Station. Potable water and restrooms are available at stations, picnic areas and showers at Playa Cabo Blanco. Camping permits are limited. Facilities at the San Miguel Biological Station include classrooms, laboratories and a reference library. Bunkbed lodging with electricity, shared rooms and baths is available for groups up to 30. The station is open to students, investigators, and any group interested in learning first-hand about these varied, fascinating and increasingly threatened ecosystems of Costa Rica.
From San Jose, Costa Rica take the InterAmerican highway to Puntarenas. Take the ferry across the Gulf of Nicoya to Paquera, then continue driving along the Tambor, Cobano and Cabuya. The Administration Station is 2 miles south of Cabuya. The San Miguel Station is located near Mal Pais, Costa Rica on the western side of the Reserve. Other nearby popular beach areas in the region include Mal Pais, Santa Teresa, and Playa Tambor.