Peñas Blancas Wildlife Refuge is located at the southern slope of the Tilarán Mountain Range. It was created on December 13th 1985 to protect the flora and fauna of the high watersheds of the Ciruelas and Barranca rivers. It includes steep slopes and flat and wavy plains, 64% of which is covered with evergreen and semi-deciduous forests, the remainder being grassland.
Peñas Blancas National Park means “white cliffs’ and refers to the diatomite (diatomaceous) deposits in the canyons of some of the river beds or where there have been landslides in the upper regions. Diatomite is a porous sedimentary rock that is whitish in color and formed by the accumulation of siliceous shells left by diatom seaweeds of marine or lake origin. Indeed, the reserve may be more interesting to geologists than ecologists, as there has been much forest clearance and only around 70 species of birds have been recorded.
Peñas Blancas is an area of very abrupt terrain made up of volcanic rocks from the Aguacate Group with peaks that go from 600m to 1.400m. Most of the refuge is covered by forests that have been altered to some extent, although the original forest mass can still be found in the most remote areas and in the river canyons. The vegetation in the lower areas, towards the south, consists of tropical dry forest. Towards the north and upper areas grows a premontane moist forest. A fairly deep canyon can be found in the Jabonal River, which more or less crosses through the center of the refuge.
In fact, the evergreen forests grow over 1,370 hectares that spread around the river canyons and Zapotal Peak. The semi-deciduous and deciduous forests grow in the lowlands, covering only 7% of the refuge. Typical trees here are the Gumbo-Limbo, Spiny Cedar, Freijo, Mayflower and Spanish Cedar. Other plants that are of interest to the botanists and that have been collected in the refuge include ferns, oaks, epiphytes and bamboo, such as Asplenium Cristatum, Dryopteris, Solandra brachycalyx – a shrub that begins as an epiphyte and grows into a bushy clump covered with large yellow flowers –, the Ceiba rosea, an epiphytic tree with strangler roots and stems covered with razor-sharp thorns, specimens of which are not often collected; the Habenaria, a ground orchid with green inflorescences; the Anthurium ranchoanum, a ground cover with bright green, leathery leaves; and the Rhipidocladum pittieri, a bamboo plant of the understorey which flowers in intervals of several years. The Quercus brenesii oak, a tree that only grows about 25 meters tall, can be found in the upper reaches of the refuge. It grows in Costa Rica and Nicaragua and its wood has traditionally been used to make coal, which has placed it in danger of extinction.
As a result, wildlife is scarce. However the forests provide shelter for several species of butterflies, birds and some mammals, mainly pacas, red brocket deers, collared peccaries, howler and white faced capuchin monkeys, kinkajous, raccoons and opossums. This wilderness area has been set aside to protect the watersheds of several rivers, to conserve the forests and to increase the wildlife.
The waterways are fed by heavy and frequent rains, which in turn also wash away the banks and erode the slopes. In fact the entire zone is one of great instability and proof of it can be seen in the solifluction (slow creeping of soil) manifested in mud and rockslides. The weather here is warm in the lower sector of the refuge and starts cooling as you gain elevation, the rainy season is from May to November. There are a few trails and camping is permitted, but there are no visitor facilities.
Getting to Peñas Blancas Wildlife Refuge?
From San Jose take the Pan-American Highway to the Miramar exit (6 km. north of Barranca). From Miramar, take the road out of town to the east (ask directions for Sabana Bonita). Beyond Sabana Bonita, take the left fork at the T-intersection which will bring you to the village of Peñas Blancas. A four-wheel-drive may be necessary, depending on what the current road conditions are. Now you can also take the new Caldera Highway, until you get to Miramar, passing through the Puntarenas entrance. The Caldera trip takes about 1 hour from San Jose while the other takes about 2 hours. Or, from San José is 108 km. Between San Ramón and Esparza, at Macacona, follow a 20km road to the refuge. The refuge sits 6km (3.7 miles) to the northeast of Miramar (5 miles, 8 km northeast of the Inter-Americana Highway).
From Daniel Oduber International Airport (LIR), drive south on the Pan-American Highway to Miramar exit (6 km. north of Barranca). From Miramar, take the road out of town to the east (ask directions for Sabana Bonita). Beyond Sabana Bonita, take the left fork at the T-intersection which will bring you to the village of Peñas Blancas. A four-wheel-drive may be necessary, depending on what the current road conditions are.
Take a bus from the route San Jose – Miramar, which takes about 2 hours to Peñas Blancas Wildlife Refuge (Transportes Miramar, 2248-0045).
Location: 32km (20 miles) northeast of Puntarenas, district: San Jeronimo, canton: Esparza, province: Puntarenas, Costa Rica. Zone postal code: 60205.
Miramar GPS Coordinates: 10.092769,-84.729722 (10°05’33.97″N, 84°43’47.00″W)
Size: 2400ha (5930 acres)
Altitude: 600m (2000ft) to 1400m (4600ft)
Central Pacific Conservation Area (ACOPAC) Telephone: +(506) 2416-7878
INFOTUR Tourist Information: 1192