Cabo Blanco

Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve

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 holds a special place in the history of Costa Rica. It was the country’s first area that was protected for nature conservation, and the first National Park created 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 an important seabird sanctuary and popular with ornithologists. It hosts large numbers of brown pelicans, frigate birds, laughing gulls, common terns, ospreys and Costa Rica’s largest community of brown boobies. » List of Birds in Mal Pais and Cabo Blanco (pdf)

View to Cabo Blanco
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 watch 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 Cabo Blanco nature reserve, protecting many species of fish, large quantities of lobster, giant conches and oyster.» The ocean in front of Malpais

Nature and Wildlife of Cabo Blanco:

Giant Tree in Cabo Blanco
The spiny trunk of a giant spiny cedar (pochote)

The Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve encompasses 1,270 hectares of mixed forest which is classified as moist tropical forest. Around 150 species of 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 that have grown 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 else 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 only accounts for roughly 15% of the area. It is located at the highest point of the reserve, inaccessible for visitors.

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

Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve
Anteater in Cabo Blanco

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

» Hiking through Cabo Blanco

The history of Cabo Blanco

Costa Rica’s first Nature Reserve

The history of Cabo Blanco
Slash-and-burn agriculture

In the 1950s the government of Costa Rica encouraged their citizens to "develop" the land on the isolated southern part of the Nicoya Peninsula. For clearing a piece of land, people were rewarded with its ownership. Within a few years much 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. The young couple bought a farm near Montezuma and Olaf Wessberg often went to Cabo Blanco to collect seeds for their orchard.

By this time only a small piece of primary forest was still left on Cabo Blanco. Impressed by the abundant wildlife and the enormous size and diversity of trees, Nicolas Wessberg wanted 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 Cabo Blanco
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 eco-tourism.

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:
Olaf Wessberg and the Creation of Costa Rica’s first National Park (PDF)
Pictures of Olaf Wessberg and Karen Mogensen