The wildlife-rich REFUGIO DE VIDA SILVESTRE RESERVA KAREN MOGENSEN, 20km southwest of Playa Naranjo, offers the most rewarding ecotourism experience on the southern Nicoya Peninsula. This nine-square-kilometre patch of primary and secondary dry-humid tropical forest functions as both a private reserve and tourist lodge and has become the most crucial link in an expanding biological corridor that runs between the Reserva Natural Absoluta Cabo Blanco, 85km south at the end of the peninsula, and Parque Nacional Barra Honda, 50km north in Guanacaste. Named after the late Karen Mogensen, the Danish conservationist who was instrumental in creating Cabo Blanco, the reserve was established in 1996 by the local not-for-profit ASEPALECO (t 2650-0607, w http://www.asepaleco.com) – a name that references the peninsula’s three main towns, Paquerea, Lepanto and Cóbano.
Fence removal, tree planting and natural regeneration has returned this former patch of farmland into a fully functioning jungle ecosystem. Endangered plant species such as rónrón, mahogany, teak and ebony grow in the reserve, while white-faced and howler monkeys abound, and deer roam the forest, preyed on by elusive pumas. More than 240 species of birds have been spotted, including great curassows, motmots, long-tailed manakins, spectacled owls and three-wattled bellbirds.
Five kilometres of well-maintained hiking trails run through the reserve, leading to lookouts with jaw-dropping views of the Gulf of Nicoya as well as to one of the most breathtaking waterfalls in the country – the 18m Catarata Velo de Novia (Bridal Veil Falls), which cascades down a rounded cliffside before dropping to a deep, turquoise swimming hole.