Santa Elena Rainforest Reserve
A culture is no better than its woods.
~ Woods, Wynstan Hugh Auden, 1907-1973
Much less visited, so in some ways more virginal, is the nearby Reserva
Santa Elena, one of the first successful community-administered private
reserves in Costa Rica. More than 750 acres of rainforest land was
permanently leased by Santa Elena High School seven km/4.4 miles from
the town of the same name. It was originally meant to be a training
ground for farming, but in 1989 students and faculty decided to open it as
a cloud forest preserve instead. Now it is an outdoor classroom in botany,
biology, ecology and tourism. Entrance fees go towards maintenance and
benefit local schools. One of the highlights in the 12 km/7.5 miles of trails
is an 11-meter/36-foot viewing platform above the rainforest canopy.
A four-wheel-drive leaves from Pension Santa Elena and the Banco
Nacional each morning and heads to the reserve. Make reservations for a
ride and/or a guide by phoning . 506/645-5014. There’s also a welcome
center at the north end of town.
On the way to the reserve is Mirador San Gerardo (take the left fork in
the road, . 506/645-5087) that offers sweeping views of Arenal Volcano
and Lake – but usually only in the dry season (it’s always cloudy in the
rainy season). The ranch features horseback rides and hikes on their
property, including lunches, hostel accommodations and a restaurant.
One enticing horseback ride heads to the volcano – a unique, sore-butt,