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Penas Blancas Wildlife Refuge

Penas Blancas Wildlife Refuge

Quick Facts

  • Location : 20 miles northeast of Puntarenas
  • Altitude : 4,600 feet above sea level
  • Area : 5,298 acres

Situated on the southern slope of the Tilaran Mountain Range, Penas Blancas Wildlife Refuge is named for its unusual pale cliffs -- formed by diatomite deposits that bleach the rock face white. The refuge was created in 1985 to protect the flora and fauna native to the area's high watersheds, which include the headwaters for several major rivers including the Ciruelas and Barranca. The refuge is very secluded and one of the country's least visited destinations.

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More than 64% of the reserve is covered in evergreen and semi-deciduous forests; the rest is comprised of volcanic rock, river canyons and other rugged landscape. As the elevation climbs, the terrain transitions from lowland tropical dry forest to premontane wet forest. Ferns, oaks, cedars, bamboo and gumbo-limbo trees tower overhead, and epiphytes cling from the forest canopy. 


The best time to visit is during the dry season, which runs from December-April. Temperatures are hot and humid throughout the year. 


Trails are limited, but serious hikers relish the challenge of trekking through Penas Blancas. Make sure to speak with a park ranger before beginning any hike, as the region is prone to heavy rains and trails may be washed out. 


The park offers very basic hiking trails that are recommended only for experienced and fit hikers. Camping is permitted at the park, but no facilities (water, showers, picnic areas) are offered. 

Flora & Fauna:

Due to a history of logging, animal populations have dwindled at Penas Blancas. However, small mammals have begun repopulating the area and sightings have been reported for paca, white-faced monkeys, peccaries, howler monkeys, and kinkajous. Approximately 70 bird species have been recorded at the refuge. 

Getting There: 

From San Jose, take the Pan American Highway west. Get off at the Miramar exit and take the eastern road out of town, following signs to Sabana Bonita. At the T-intersection, turn left and drive to the town of Penas Blancas. Follow signs to the wildlife refuge. A 4WD vehicle is recommended.

Penas Blancas Wildlife Refuge in Pictures

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