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Costa Rica Nicoya Peninsula
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The Travel Guide to the Peninsula de Nicoya, Costa Rica, with detailed Maps, Hotels and Tourist Information

 

Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve, Costa Rica

Cabo Blanco Costa Rica
View to the Cabo Blanco Island

Nestled on the extreme southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula is the Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve, one of the most scenically beautiful areas of Costa Rica.

Cabo Blanco has its own special place in the history of Costa Rica, becoming the first protected area and National Park in Costa Rica in 1963.
» The History of Cabo Blanco

The reserve is named after the island Cabo Blanco, located 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 covers the rocks. Cabo Blanco is popular with ornithologists: it’s inhabited by large numbers of brown pelicans, frigate birds, laughing gulls, common terns, ospreys and Costa Rica's largest community of brown boobies making it a very important seabird sanctuary.

Shells of giant conches on the Cabuya Island

Along the coast of the reserve are various roost trees to which large numbers of pelicans retire each evening. In the late afternoon from the beaches of Mal Pais and Santa Teresa you can see them gliding past in their long V-shaped formations.

The abundance of bird life matches the wildlife found under water. 1,788 hectares of ocean belong to the protected area of Cabo Blanco which is home to many species of fish, large quantities of lobster, giant conches and oyster. » The ocean in front of Malpais

Nature and Wildlife of Cabo Blanco:

The spiny trunk of a giant spiny cedar (pochote)

The Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve encompasses 1,270 hectares of mixed forest and is classified as moist tropical forest. About 150 trees have been identified. Evergreen species predominate, but deciduous dry forest species are found as well. Among the most common trees in Cabo Blanco are Madroño (Lance Wood), Guácimo (Bastard Cedar), Jobo (Hog Plum), Indio Desnudo (Gumbo Limbo) and Guarumo (Cecropia). The most abundant tree is the Pochote (Spiny Cedar) with some specimens over 40 m high. Other impressively tall trees are the Ceiba (Silk Cotton Tree) which can tower up to 60 m, and the fast growing Espavel (Wild Cashew). The unique climate and geographic location of Cabo Blanco also provides habitat for rare tree species like the Camibar which cannot be found anywhere on the Nicoya Peninsula expect Cabo Blanco.

The majority of Cabo Blanco is secondary forest which is around 60 years old. The remaining patch of primary forest accounts for 15% of the area. It is located at the highest point of the reserve and is inaccessible.

Wildlife in Cabo Blanco
Coati, a member of the racoon family

 
The forest provides refuge 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 it is almost impossible to see them in the wild.
See: Animals of the Nicoya Peninsula in the » Wildlife Guide

Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve
Anteater in Cabo Blanco

Around 240 species of birds have been recorded in Cabo Blanco. Along with seabirds you can also see magpie jays, motmots, long-tailed manakins, egrets, crested caracaras, black-headed and elegant trogons, chachalacas, ringed kingfishers and various types of parrots and parakeets.

» Visitor information and Cabo Blanco trail map

The history of Cabo Blanco, the first nature reserve created in Costa Rica

The history of Cabo Blanco

In the fifties the government of Costa Rica encouraged the local people to "develop" pieces of land on the isolated southern part of the Nicoya Peninsula. For clearing a piece of land, they were rewarded with ownership. Within a few years most of the dense woodland of the peninsula had been "cultivated".

In the early sixties the Swede Nicolas Wessberg (also known as Olaf or Olle) came to Costa Rica with his Danish wife Karen Mogensen. They bought a farm near Montezuma and Olaf Wessberg often went to Cabo Blanco to collect seeds for their orchard.

At this time just a small piece of primary forest was left on Cabo Blanco. Impressed by the abundant wildlife and the enormous size and diversity of trees there Nicolas Wessberg decided to preserve the area. With the aid of foreign conservation organizations he bought 1,250 hectares of land and after persistent talks with the Costa Rican government the status of an Absolute Nature Reserve was given to Cabo Blanco in 1963.

Olaf Wessberg memorial plate in Cabo Blanco

The Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve was the initial step in the development of Costa Rica's extensive national park system which led to the country's successful ecotourism.

Sadly, in 1975 Olaf Wessberg was assassinated on the Peninsula de Osa where he supported the creation of the Corcovado National Park. Undeterred by her husband’s death his wife Karen and many others continued with his conservation projects. Two nature reserves on the Nicoya Peninsula have been named after them: the The Karen Mogensen Nature Reserve in the mountains of the peninsula and the Nicolas Wessberg Absolute Reserve located along the beach north of Montezuma.

More about Olaf Wessberg:
The Olaf Wessberg Story (pdf)
Pictures of Olaf Wessberg and Karen Mogensen