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Nicoya Peninsula Day 9: Cabo Blanco Reserve and the Beach

Destination: Santa Teresa

The best way to prepare for a long day of hiking in Cabo Blanco Absolute Reserve is with a large dose of caffeine. We fueled up on coffee and panini breakfast sandwiches at the Artemis Cafe in Santa Teresa.

After our meal, Vincent and I drove 15 minutes south through Mal Pais until the road dead-ended at the San Miguel Biological Station, which is part of the reserve. Farther away at the Cabo Blanco station in Cabuya, it is possible to pick up other trails; we chose to begin in Mal Pais because it was closer and more isolated.

Here, the colorful and multi-layered stones sparkling on the beach surprised me. I realized why the locals say that the area is not only important to animals, but also in a geological sense. Smooth yin yang-like and lavender-colored rocks were scattered about the beach, along with unbroken seashells and armies of hermit crabs.

The trail from the park to the beach led past a number of unusual plants. Enormous pochote (a type of spiny cedar) trees and various species of cacti lined the path.

I studied "big-bellied cedars," a pregnant-looking tree, skinny at the bottom and top but fat in the middle. At the rocky entrance to the beach, two stately bare-throated tiger herons greeted us. Their bell-shaped bottoms and brightly striped, elongated necks made them appear to have come straight from the other side of Alice's looking glass. While fishing, they permitted us to approach close enough to snap a few photographs before taking flight.

After hiking a mile or two around the rocky shore, we found an inland path guarded by a large family of seventeen friendly black howler monkeys in a humongous tree, eager to interact with two interesting humans. Never taking her eyes off of us, a new mother nursed her tiny baby, that otherwise clung to her back at all times. The group of flexible creatures elegantly swung from tree branches and hung off of each other with nothing but their impossibly long arms and tails.

We hiked another mile until an intimidating DO NOT ENTER sign forced us to turn back. On the way back we spotted a number of birds, including pelicans, and an orange bellied trogon. Unfortunately I tend to pound the ground when I walk, and no matter how carefully and gingerly I placed my feet the animals would scatter before I could see them, leaving me with nothing but a mysterious rustling sound to brood over. Vincent was a light walker, so most of the time I lagged behind, allowing him to go ahead with the camera for better photo opportunities.

A few hours later, we met back at the car and decided to cruise the nearby beaches. Because of its rocky shore, Playa Mal Pais can be considered, as its Spanish name implies, "bad country" for amateur surfers. The neighboring stretch of beach at Playa El Carmen offers smooth and consistent waves, but is always more crowded. Farther down the coast, Santa Teresa Beach looked nearly the same as El Carmen but with fewer people enjoying her sands.

We found even fewer visitors at the neighboring beach of Playa Hermosa, and absolutely no one 30 minutes north at Playa Manzanillo. We traversed hill after hill to reach a stunning lookout point over the "M" shaped cove.

That night I dined at restaurant Piedra Mar, the most picturesque backdrop in the Nicoya. Locals gather here each night to feast on the best (and cheapest) seafood around. Unfortunately, there are rumors circulating that the government is threatening to reclaim this landmark. Hopefully the hideaway will remain undisturbed for years to come. Meanwhile, I watched the sun slide below the horizon through the silhouette of jagged rocks being pummeled by the rising tide.

Nicoya Peninsula Day 9: Cabo Blanco Reserve and the Beach in Pictures