The Karen Mogensen Reserve, protecting the rivers of the Nicoya Peninsula
Cerro Escondido Lodge is at the end of a hour or so hike into the Karen Mogenson Reserve on the Nicoya Peninsula on the west coast of Costa Rica. The views from the dining pavilion and the lodge decks let you take in the full sense of this tropical rain forest, from the calls of the howler monkeys to the dozens and dozens of species of birds.
Luis Mena, biologist extraordinaire and one of the principal movers behind ASEPALECO, the grassroots environmental organization that owns the lodge, told us that when he was growing up, he had heard about the farm in a hidden valley near San Ramón, but that it seemed "as far off as Africa". In the early 1990s, he visited the campesino couple that had homesteaded on the farm for 50 years. They were getting old and wanted to sell. Luis saw that several rivers that supply drinking water to the whole peninsula were born on the farm. Before she died, Doña Karen Mogensen, a Danish environmentalist who had lived on the Nicoya Peninsula for many years, heard about the farm and offered to bequeath money to ASEPALECO to buy it.
Cerro Escondido Lodge
The old farmhouse is still there. The wood stove is made of rocks and ashes, and the kitchen is just as it was in the old days. Now there are attractive wooden cabins near the farmhouse and a lovely open air dining room. Doña Mary cooks when guests are there, and polishes the old stove with ashes each time she prepares a meal, adding to the stove's burnished glow. The meals were delicious, and we slept well in the quiet cabins.
Velo de Novia Waterfall
In the morning, Don Arnulfo, who knows the area like the back of his hand, led us on an hour's hike down into the Río Blanco gorge. The steep trail had cement steps built into it all the way down. Someone had gone to a lot of work to make the trail safe and secure. When we reached the Río Blanco, we walked upstream over some slippery rocks until we could see the jewel of the Karen Mogensen Reserve, Catarata Velo de Novia, an incredible 75-foot waterfall that spreads out over a curved cliff like a lacy bridal veil.
Below the falls, there is a pristine swimming hole with the most amazing green crystalline water, a testament to ASEPALECO's work in assuring the water supply for the surrounding area. Doña Mary had prepared us a picnic lunch which we enjoyed on the rocks by the swimming hole.
On the hike out to the village of San Ramón, we met the two elderly campesino brothers who had carefully laid 1327 cement blocks into the trail from the cabins. You could tell that this was a labor of love for them, and that they were totally involved in ASEPALECO's vision for the health of their community.
The car ferry ride across the Gulf of Nicoya from Puntarenas to Playa Naranjo is a "trip", with seagulls screaming overhead and pelicans skimming the water's surface as the ferry glides by the verdant islands of the Gulf. From Playa Naranjo, it's a about half an hour west to Jicaral, then inland half an hour to San Ramón de Río Blanco, where the trail begins to the Karen Mogensen Reserve. You can also get to Jicaral by way of the bridge over the Río Tempisque, if you don't want to take the ferry.
As with most remote ACTUAR lodges, you do need to make reservations in advance and you'll need a bilingual guide if you don't speak Spanish. We can connect you with excellent local bilingual guides, or with one of our excellent bilingual naturalist guide/drivers.
What our travelers are sayingWe loved Cerro Escondido. Mary and Arnolfo showed us amazing things about living in the rain forest.
While in San Ramon de Rio Blanco we fell in love with our host don Arnulfo and his family as well as our guide, Jairo. They were totally helpful and knowledgeable. It was plain to see that they love their land and were interested in sharing as much as they could with us about its nuances and history. Jairo was so patient with the girls and a delight to be around. We missed him the rest of the trip.
Thank you for your help in planning our wonderful Costa Rica adventure! The highlights for us were Villa Blanca (amazing!) and Cerro Escondido (true Costa Rica!).