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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, overnight excursion.

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