Monte Alto – biological station for forest regeneration

About five kilometres South East of Hojancha, in the Costa Rican province of Guanacaste, one finds the Zona Protectora Monte Alto. It is not advertised as a biological station, but during a visit this weekend, it appears to have suitable facilities for seminars, teaching and perhaps field work. Since I am not a biologist, I can not judge if the forest is interesting for its flora and fauna as such, but forest regeneration has become a hot topic and this Protectora has 30 years of experience.

Monte Alto is a protected forest meant for the restoration of the water supply around Hojancha. The story goes that the area around Hojancha had suffered from increasing droughts causing problems with the water supply. So much so that cattle farming had become nearly impossible. Ironically, just like in much of the Nicoya peninsula, deforestation for cattle farming and other agriculture had caused the area to dry out half way the twentieth century in the first place. It had become a tropical but dry area. Around 1990, the local community then decided to buy degraded land and regenerate forest in the headwaters area of the Nosara river in order to restore their water supply. This resulted in what is now Monte Alto.

A good read about the development of Monte Alto can be found in this report on the SINAC website, which goes into process of participatory development that made the Zona Protectora possible. Although it is an interesting story about forest regeneration, which takes place in the heart of one of the world’s five blue zones, this post is here to point out the potential use of Monte Alto as a biological field station.

The area is about 900 hectares in size, contains a regenerated secondary forest of about 30 years old, with plenty of streams and a network of five paths (of 970, 500, 300, 3500, and 500 meters), including one exhibiting some of the area’s orchids. Most of the paths are easy or relatively easy to walk. However, the path of 3500 meters turns into a trail and gets steep and slippery at the last kilometer. It is probably not all the way suited for inexperienced hikers. At the time of writing the paths and trails were well maintained and the parts close to the parking area in exceptionally good condition.

Besides the nature and the paths, Monte Alto also has a visitors center (which I did not visit), toilets, a cabin with kitchen and bathroom for one family, a lodge with 11 bunk beds with shared toilets and showers,and 5 separate rooms with 2 beds each and private bath rooms. Next to the lodge is a common dining area with kitchen facilities and a laundromat. Last but not least, Monte Alto has a seminar room for about 20 people with BBQ area and toilets. The lodge, dining area, seminar room and cabin can be reached by wheel chair from the the parking lot. Although I have no experience with wheelchairs, it seems that some of the paths are suitable, or at least partly suitable for wheelchairs as well. My impression is that the sleeping facilities, and in any case the bunk beds, are not mosquito proof, so bring your own mosquito net and repellent. The latter is a good idea anyway.

There is mobile phone coverage in a specific corner of the lodge. There is no wifi available. If leashed, then dogs are welcome.

I found no website, but Google knows it : goo.gl/maps/cE4zSojFuQSVokZE8 (Note that in Google, it is announced as a Reserva Natural, but I believe that the current status is Zona Protectora)

El Toledo, reserva Agroecológica

When viewed on the map, Monte Alto roughly has a U shape. In the bent of the U one can find El Toledo, Reserva Agroecológica, a privately owned extension to the forest. The owners try to regenerate forest while introducing fruit-bearing tree species for human consumption. One can think of bananas, mango and papaya. This way a regenerating forest does not need to be set-aside but can be of economic use.

The forest has a modest but well maintained network of paths with a couple of benches and is open to the public. This forest too is secondary forest but also has a number of older trees. A guided tour can be provided.

El Toledo has group accommodation for 28 people in rooms of different sizes. It has a dining area with kitchen facilities where guests can cook for themselves, and healthy Tico style breakfast, lunch and dinner can be ordered for groups. Vegan diet is possible and, in my vegetarian’s opinion, well done.

Mobile phone coverage is better than at Monte Alto but not super. Wifi is available.

Website : www.reservaeltoledo.com

How to get there

Monte Alto and El Toledo can be reached by car from Hojancha. Take road nr 902 exiting on the South East of Hojancha towards Pilangosta. Continue past Pilangosta until El Toledo is on the right side of the road. Look out for the butterflies. To get to Monte Alto turn right directly after the building with the butterflies. From here on a four wheel drive would not hurt. One needs to cross a stream by driving through it.

Disclaimer : all information is provided as is. Prepare yourself well if you want to visit.

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