San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Out of Africa

THE land of the howler monkey, sloth and leatherback turtle will be welcoming the giraffe, hippopotamus and rhinoceros to its ecosystem as the first phase of the África Mía (My Africa) private wildlife reserve is completed and opened to the public at the start of 2006 near Liberia, capital of the northwestern province of Guanacaste. “We want this to serve as an example for the international community of what can be done with wildlife reserves in Central America,” Javier Ordóñez, director of the África Mía reserve, told The Tico Times.

“In Central America, there are no places like this yet.” Situated in El Salto, nine kilometers south of Liberia, the 100-hectare compound will feature a realistic African savanna atmosphere with animals, waterfalls, lagoons and hiking trails, as well as a five-star hotel, the largest butterfly conservatory in the world and, eventually, a water park for families. “We want this to be an experience built into nature – a place where you can feel like you’re right in the middle of Africa while experiencing the nicest hotel rooms in Costa Rica,” Ordóñez said.

THE reserve will feature animals from the savannas of Africa in natural, cage-free environments, so they can roam free throughout the entire property. Visitors will have the opportunity to observe the animals in their natural habitats from observation walls or organized safari-style jeep tours. Couples can enjoy experiencing the African-style environment, surrounded by beautiful waterfalls, volcanoes and forests, Ordóñez said, while children will have the opportunity to see and learn about the wildlife, feed baby animals and even play in the pools. No predators will number among the several types of African animals the project has included.

“We don’t want to bring in any animals that cause stress,” Ordóñez said. “Everyone is going to be safe, right along with the wildlife. That way, the kids, adults and grandma can all go together in the trucks to experience the animals.” The project, which was started eight years ago, is meant to be not just a tourist attraction but also a functioning wildlife reserve that works to educate its visitors about the animals and combat extinction, according to Ordóñez. “Many of the animals we will have here are at the point of extinction,” he said. “(Costa Rica) has the same climate and latitude as parts of Africa, so it’s a perfect place to have these animals… and to encourage natural reproduction as well.”

ALTHOUGH the hotel is still under construction, Ordóñez estimates that the facility will have 80 hotel rooms, some of which will be in a traditional Africansafari- tent style and will be located outside of the main hotel buildings, for those who want a more realistic safari experience. Prices for the hotel rooms and tour packages are not yet available, but Ordóñez said the pricing would be “exclusive,” and that limits would be established on the number of people allowed into the park on a given day, as a protective measure for the animals’ habitat.

The project is a collective effort by Ordóñez, television executive Angel Arce and film producer Mario Sotela. Hours of operation will be 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., initially. Ordóñez said the hotel and other amenities will be finished “as soon as possible.” For more information, call 2661-8161.

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