Peñas Blancas to Pocosol: The Ultimate CER Adventure

A view of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve and the Children's Eternal Rainforest at the beginning of the Peñas Blancas-Pocosol trail from the lookout point named "La Ventana", or "The Window".

Dear Rainforest Friends,

I was going to postpone writing this blog until later, as a grand finale to the series of blogs introducing you to the various places within the CER. I changed my strategy, though, because there was a group of nature lovers who organized a hike through the CER that I just had to share with you as soon as I could.

This particular hike is the longest in the CER open to the public. It can be completed in as short as two days, or extended to one week, depending on how adventurous you are. As for wildlife sightings, it is one of the richest, rawest and most interesting experiences you could have in the country, and you are guaranteed to see something that you have never seen before in your life.

The Route

Map: How to Get to the CER

The dotted line traversing the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve and the CER represents the 28 kilometer Peñas Blancas-Pocosol Hike.

The Peñas Blancas-Pocosol trail spans from the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve through the CER and ends at the Pocosol Field Station near La Tigra de San Carlos. The trail is about 28 kilometers long, and is cut into manageable sections by two refuges along the way.

Usually the hike is done in two parts. The first half begins at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve entrance, and after descending for about two and a half hours (depending on how fast you walk), you come to the Aleman Refuge for a refreshing lunch and coffee break. You could even go as far as taking a short siesta, or play in the nearby Peñas Blancas River to cool off. After your short respite at Aleman, the hike continues for another two and a half hours until you reach Eladio’s Refuge for an overnight stay. This refuge was once a farmhouse owned by the Cruz family, but they sold it to the Tropical Science Center and it is now used for educational hikes through the reserve. Eladio Cruz himself oftentimes provides his famous culinary services for visiting groups, hauling in the rations on his two plucky horses, Niño and Julieto. Not only does he cook for groups, but he also shares fascinating stories about his family’s life on the farm, and how hard they worked to survive in the middle of the untamed rainforest.

After your stay at Eladio’s, the hike continues across the powerful Peñas Blancas River, fed by other tributaries such as the Gemelos Streams and the Sulfer River. It’s no river to mess around with, so if the level is too high oftentimes you have to wait it out until it is deemed crossable by your experienced guides. After crossing the river, the trail begins its ascent to the Pocosol Field Station. It is a grueling 14 kilometer hike, the first half mainly uphill. You then descend through secondary forest that once used to be cow pasture, a first-hand look at the rainforest’s healing process. At the bottom of the hill, you will first come upon the Laguna Pocosol, a very deep lake ideal for cooling off after your 14 kilometer trek. After taking a dip in the lake, you are greeted by Minor Elizondo, the Pocosol Field Station manager, with hot coffee and a freshly-made meal in the dining hall overlooking the CER.

Food never tasted so good.

What You Will See

The famous hammock bridge over the Peñas Blancas River leading to Eladio's Refuge.

Just think about it. You are hiking into a huge, continuous rainforest that has been untouched by humans for a very long time. In many places you are walking through primary forest, which is basically the rainforest at its best. There are countless species of birds, numerous species of reptiles, small mammals, and yes, even cats. You will see orchids, palms, lianas, killer fig trees and and fungi that probably have not even been identified by science. I can go on and on, but you are almost guaranteed to see mountain lion tracks along the trails, as well as packs of peccary and lonely agoutis searching for seeds among the underbrush. If you are quiet and lucky, you might even see a mountain lion up close.

If you go on this hike, you will be accompanied by MCL park guards that know the terrain like the backs of their hands. They can show you amazing waterfalls and hidden lagoons, as well as take you to places that only a few fortunate individuals have been able to experience.

The Challenges

A hike of this proportion, of course, does not come without its many challenges. It is definitely not for the meek, and you must be in pretty good physical condition to be able to complete it. As you get further and further away from civilization, the wild takes over and brings insects along with it. These insects can be overwhelming to someone who has never experienced them before in such densities, and the most common ones tend to be the most annoying.

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One of the challenges in the CER is trying to stay dry. Also, insect populations tend to be denser near swamps and riparian habitats.

The animal that hikers usually remember the most is not the beautiful red-rumped tanager or red-eyed leaf frog, but the persistent tabanid fly (a.k.a. the horsefly). The females are famous for taking blood meals from mammals, and that does not exclude humans. During certain times of the year, these horse flies can be almost unbearable. Their bites are painful, and they can leave its victim with good sized welts that itch for days. Fortunately they are clumsy and slow, so many bites can be avoided before they happen. These flies are thought to be attracted to dark colors, so if you want to avoid more bites than your fair share, wear light-colored loose clothing. It is also a requirement to sleep under mosquito netting to avoid nocturnal attacks by tabanids and other insects.

There are other possible risks such as parasites, but as long as you stay as dry as possible, keep your shoes on and take daily showers, you should be fine.

Logistics

Eladio Cruz taking food to Eladio's Refuge with his horses Niño and Julieto.

Every expedition has its costs and logistics, and the Peñas Blancas-Pocosol Hike is no exception. The trail is not open to independent hikers, meaning you need to make a reservation for the hike through the Monteverde Conservation League. The trail is not always clearly marked, so the MCL requires the presence of two park guards at all times. These park guards do not speak English, so it is important to be prepaired. The park guards are not nature guides, although they are very knowledgeable about the forest and extremely observant, but they are mainly there to get you from A to B. There is a cost per park guard, per day for their services, which is established by the MCL.

You will also have to take your own hiking equipment, food and toiletries (you could hire Eladio Cruz to be in charge of the food). There is a fee to enter the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve as well as to stay overnight at Eladio’s Refuge and the Pocosol Field Station. If you would like more detailed information about the costs and organization of the hike, please contact info@acmcr.org.

The March Expedition

A friend of mine, and former director of the MCL, Johnny Rosales, has been organizing group expeditions to various natural areas in Costa Rica for years. His most recent trip was the Peñas Blancas-Pocosol Hike which inspired this blog, and many of the participants commented to me that it was a life-changing experience. They were all very exited to share their collection of amazing photographs, and I am very happy to be able to do so through this blog. The following photo album illustrates the hike from start to finish, from Monteverde to Peñas Blancas, and finally to Pocosol. Enjoy!

 

For the Forest,

Mia Roberts

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