If you find yourself in Guanacaste during dry season and you want to go outside but just can’t take that powerful sun cooking the fun out of your outdoor activities, I’ve got just the place for you. Go visit Reserva Natural Monte Alto in Nicoya.
Monte Alto is a 924 hectare, or 2,283 acre, protected forest located just outside of the town of Hojancha. It’s a pretty forest in a pretty area. The town of Hojancha is what I think of if someone told me to picture an idyllic Guanacasteco Tico-town. It’s centered around a busy little plaza and is packed with well-kept little houses, stores of every kind, and small sodas where you can find a bite to eat. Make stopping in town for a meal either before or after your hike part of your Monte Alto itinerary.
While it’s a perfectly wonderful place to visit just about any time of the year, I mentioned visiting during the height of dry season because Monte Alto offers a break from the sometimes oppressive heat of December through April. Though not far from the sun scorched, low-laying beach areas, Monte Alto is cooler.
This is due to its elevation of between 450 and 900 meters above sea level, which makes its forest a transition from Tropical Humid Forest to Very Humid Premontane Forest. These are technical terms that describe life zones that mean as little to me as they do to most of you. The take home is, it’s a type of forest whose towering trees still have leaves to provide shade during a time of year when all of the trees around the beaches are bare and covered in road dust.
Monte Alto is the ideal day trip for any nature lover, but especially those of us with kids. There are four extremely well-kept trails that can be enjoyed by folks of all ages. Some are short and sweet; others can take a few hours and one includes an overlook that allows you to take in practically the entire Nicoya Peninsula. If you’re travelling a long distance or really want to take your time on the trails, then spend the night. You can call ahead to reserve a rustic little cabin for you and up to 15 of your friends.
No matter what you fancy, Monte Alto has the biodiversity to satisfy all visitors. There are 590 species of moths, 206 species of birds, 193 species of trees, 83 species of orchids, and 64 species of mammals and that’s not even close to the complete species list. I personally got a small taste of Monte Alto’s wildlife when I completed a camera trap study there between 2020 and 2021.
With just a handful of camera traps, we recorded nearly 2,000 wildlife videos including collared peccaries, tayras, ocelots, and the reserve’s first recorded video evidence of pumas. I’ll include a video with a few clips below.
Going into the study I expected interesting results because I had reviewed previous studies and in general Costa Rica’s biodiversity never fails to disappoint. What came as an extra bonus was when I realized that the people that work at Monte Alto are fantastic. To a man (or lady) everyone I met and worked with there was helpful and pleasant. The man who runs the whole operation, Miguel Mendez, is among this fantastic crew. He happens to be an expert on orchids.
One of the trails in Monte Alto is lined with all types of these little flowers and his expertise in each was impressive. Miguel actually discovered a new species of plant in Monte Alto which he named (Tabernaemontana hannae) after his daughter Hanna. I still pester Miguel to this day via WhatsApp whenever I have an orchid question.
Monte Alto is open Monday through Saturday from 8am to 4pm and costs a mere $5 to enjoy its forested trails. So what are you waiting for? Pack up the family, grab a bite to eat in Hojancha, take your time enjoying the shaded trails, if you run into Miguel, practice your Spanish and ask him a question about orchids, and have a lovely day in Reserva Natural Monte Alto.
About the Author
Vincent Losasso, founder of Guanacaste Wildlife Monitoring, is a biologist who works with camera traps throughout Costa Rica. Learn more about his projects on facebook or instagram. You can also email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org