Peñas Blancas Wildlife Refuge, San Jose

Squirrel Monkey relaxing in tree
Squirrel Monkey relaxing in tree
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Located along the southern slopes of the Tilaran Mountain Range, the Peñas Blancas Wildlife Refuge is one of the most secluded and least frequented protected areas in Costa Rica. Established in 1985, the Peñas Blancas Wildlife Refuge is tucked within the town of the same name. It stretches across more than 5,920 acres and protects a variety of flora and fauna, including pacas, deer, raccoons, butterflies, monkeys and more. While Peñas Blancas Wildlife Refuge may not be in one of the most popular regions of Costa Rica, it is stunningly unique and a wonderful place to visit for travelers who love the great outdoors. The protected area sits entirely in the Montes de Oro Protected Zone.

The wildlife reserve is comprised of more than 64 percent of land covered in evergreen and semi-deciduous forests. Boasting various types of terrain and landscapes, the Peñas Blancas Wildlife Refuge transitions from premontane wet forest to lowland tropical forest across varied elevations. Volcanic rock and river canyons make for a truly unique and rugged landscape with bamboo, gumbo-limbo trees, ferns, oak and cedar dotting the land. Because of the variety of trees in the park, more than 70 avian species have been documented, making it an ideal place for birders.

The refuge gets its name from 'White Cliffs', which are diatomite deposits in the canyons along various river beds in the region. Resembling white chalk, these deposits are actually remnants of algae that were once common to this area many thousands of years ago, when Central American was submerged under water. With a history of landslides, Peñas Blancas Wildlife Refuge features these deposits, which are siliceous shells. It also makes for fascinating views along hikes. The Jabonal River, which intersects virtually directly through the refuge, is a large canyon where travelers can view these deposits.

Trails in Peñas Blancas Wildlife Refuge are sparse, but the refuge is an ideal place for the ultimate thrill seeker. Experienced hikers enjoy the challenging trek through the rocky landscape.

Amazing Hiking & Camping

If you plan on visiting the Peñas Blancas Wildlife Refuge, the one thing that you need to keep in mind is that there are no visitor facilities here. And while camping is allowed, you need to be well stocked if you stay here, as the nearest town of Miramar is quite some distance away.

A key watershed for the area around the Ciruelas and Barranca rivers, the Penas Blancas Wildlife Refuge has a rugged and steep terrain, with the hiking trails here a challenge for any ordinary trekker. Most of the trails here are not well maintained, and thus make them quite difficult to follow.

When to Visit

If you are planning to visit Peñas Blancas Wildlife Refuge, the best time to plan a trip here is during the dry season, which is from December to April. During the wet season, landslides can pose quite the danger to travelers because of the steep canyons. Sometimes the trails can get washed up all together during this time as well.

Getting to Peñas Blancas Wildlife Refuge

A four-wheel-drive vehicle is recommended for travelers who are driving to this refuge, as the roads can be a bit treacherous. From San Jose, the Pan American Highway extends west to the town of Miramar, which is the exit travelers should take.