Blog WHS Visits

Wadden Sea: Schiermonnikoog

In January I already wrote about my visit to the Dutch Wadden Island of Texel, as part of my goal to visit all national parks in The Netherlands. On Ascension Day 2021 (May 13), I managed to tick off the last one of the 21 parks: another Wadden Island, called Schiermonnikoog. It was my first visit to this island and I went there for a day trip.

The Schiermonnikoog National Park covers the whole island. With only 900 inhabitants and 40 square km surface, it is the smallest inhabited Wadden Island in the Netherlands. Just like at Texel, the Wadden Sea WHS is limited to the island's coastal areas.

How to get there

Schiermonnikoog can only reached by ferry from the port of Lauwersoog (Groningen). The transfer with a big boat takes about 50 minutes, there are also smaller boats which can take you there in 20 minutes for a surcharge. Ferries leave a few times a day (schedule), there is no pre-booking possible. When it is very busy they just will add another boat. You’re not allowed to take your own car with you to the island, only inhabitants can do so and there are also trucks making the journey across. There are public buses on both sides, so also when you’re limited to public transport it will be easy. The most popular transport option however is the bike: many people bring their own, and you can also rent them from the dock in Schiermonnikoog.

The journey across the Wadden Sea I found quite uneventful. We only encountered a couple of fishing boats.

Which locations are inscribed?

The Wadden Sea WHS mostly consists of a marine area which falls dry during low tide. But it also includes a few coastal locations on the ring of 'barrier' islands that enclose it to the north. The more detailed maps for each island can be found in the nomination dossier. At the one for Schiermonnikoog the island's shape is hard to distinguish, as the map not only shows the permanent land but also the banks that fall dry. The main location in the southwest of the island is the "Rif", a gigantic high tide refuge. The area to the east of the ferry port is also included. These are the "Kobbeduinen" dunes, a series of named natural ditches within the salt marshes and the eastern tip of the "Balg" sandbank.

What are the typical landscapes to look for?

The site's OUV is based on the "multitude of transitional zones between land, the sea and freshwater environment". Examples are:

  • Salt marshes that are regularly flooded by the tides and provide resting, breeding and feeding grounds for birds. This is a specific strong point of Schiermonnikoog. Already directly at the ferry port and the marina that lies some 2km to the west large groups of birds can be found ‘camping out’. Sometimes species by species (the oystercatchers seem to enjoy their own company), but also in mixed groups.
  • Coastal sand dunes. The dunes here aren’t as high or spectacular as on Texel, but they can be climbed and will give you good views of the “Rif”.
  • Barrier islands: the whole of Schiermonnikoog is one.
  • Sandbanks: the "Balg" is only accessible during low tide. Seals can often be seen here.
  • Tidal inlets and channels: a number of natural channels or ditches (“slenk” in Dutch) can be found in the southeast of the island. They are not that accessible and can be impossible to cross on foot during high tide.

Where are the birds?

Like Texel, Schiermonnikoog is a great birding site. I was even more lucky here, probably because of the season (May versus January). Several fields were closed to visitors because of the breeding season, but there was plenty to see even from behind the fences. Despite its small size, Schiermonnikoog actually has quite a varied landscape with forests, fields and farmlands in addition to the coastal features. In the forest I saw my first European goldfinch and Coal tit, the farmlands were literally covered with Barnacle geese, in the fields I saw no less than 3 Pheasants and the high tide refuges near the marina were occupied by hundreds of Bar-tailed godwit and Oystercatcher. A first for me here were the Ruddy turnstone (see 3rd photo).

Els - 16 May 2021

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Blog WHS website

WHS Plaques and Certificates

Over the years, many reviewers have pointed out the location of the WHS Plaque or a framed Certificate of Inscription in describing their visits. Finding them is almost a niche within a niche hobby! There is even a Flickr group dedicated to the subject (it got a bit sidetracked but the earlier entries do have some good examples) and a stock photo collection. Personally I am not so obsessed by this – I notice them in passing but usually am more interested in finding the OUV or an angle that has not been reviewed on this website yet. I even had a hard time finding photos of the things for this blog post.

But due to the general interest I’d like to poll how we can incorporate these markers in the website.

The Story behind the Plaques and Certificates

A few years ago already, Solivagant has explained the background story on these markers in depth in this forum topic. The bottom line is:

  • There are no “official” plaques that are handed out to new WHS, a site should place one (“whenever possible”) after having been inscribed.

  • “It should be so placed that it can easily be seen by visitors, without disfiguring the property”

  • “the World Heritage Emblem should appear on the plaque”

  • “the text should mention the property's Outstanding Universal Value”

  • The Certificate of Inscription (aka “Framed Paper Version”) has no official status in the Operational Guidelines, but seems to be sent out on the occasion of inscription or of official inauguration by a dignitary. Possibly also in multiple copies when there are serial locations.

What kind of markers have we spotted?

182 WHS reviews currently contain the word “plaque” (including 57 written by Clyde!), and 172 of them refer to the kind we mean here. Most of the time the appearance of the plaque is not further described, but we have at least:

The Certificates of Inscription come in fewer appearances, most of the time it is the A4-sized paper in a simple frame. There is however a mixed form with the plaque: a bronze plaque with the inscription certificate engraved in it. Examples can be found in front of the Hoja Nasruddin statue in Bukhara and at Bahla Fort (see 3rd photo). 

There are also many haphazard signs, as the one below from Abu Simbel, that do show the official logo but have no reference to the OUV of the WHS.

Where are they found?

The guideline “It should be so placed that it can easily be seen by visitors, without disfiguring the property” seems to be followed well. The certificate-style marker is usually found in museums / visitor centers / gift shops (even outside the core zone). In the Charles Darwin Research Station for Galapagos for example.

The metal plaques often are at the entrances of sites, near the ticket offices. Or on the floor in front of the actual monuments if they are in city centers.

The Rhaetian Railway has a red square one at every train station.

If we are going to dedicate a fixed corner of this website to WHS Plaques and Certificates, how should we organize this? Should we:

a.    Create a connection where we log for each WHS: what kind of marker it is – where it is located. Adding a photo here would be hard, only a link would be possible.

b.    Add a text in the info section to the right of each WH page, again with what kind of marker it is – where it is located. Small photos could be added. Against it could be argued that the info section is for more formal information and this stays trivial and is based on submissions of individuals.

c.    Start our own Flickr group?

Or do you have another suggestion?

Els - 9 May 2021

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Clyde 15 May 2021

I have hundreds of Unesco plaques, markers, boards, signs on my Flickr account

Astraftis 12 May 2021

Hey, I am emerging from the hiding I have disappeared in until now to say that I'd like a lot to see this information on the respective WH pages. I think it deserves to stay there, at least i na sidebar, it has some symbolic importance, too. And maybe it could also have a link to a Flickr album.

Esteban Cervantes Jiménez 10 May 2021

A Flickr album is the simplest option, for me.

Nan 9 May 2021

I would rather see this as a general issue: Where to put general information. Right now, it's often hidden in the reviews and I would say we should rather manage this type of information as a wiki.

Essentially site info would go to a separate tab/page. We can even make it so, that it is available offline at the same time.

For site info (apart from what we have so far) I would see the following sections.

1) Getting To
Directions. Bus/Train/Plane. Car if special. General Access Points and hubs.

2) Getting In
Ticket process, reservations etc.
Athos -> 20 Tickets for non orthodox male christians. Female visitors can only do a boat trip.
And core zone discussion (e.g. Manu).

3) What to do
Sian Kaan: Boat trip (Reserve at Native tourist office). Bird watching..

4) Where to stay
Either travel hub / city with hotels or special places directly tied to the WHS

5) Points of Interest incl. Unesco plaque
Note: I have been in favor in the past of having location maps with POIs for each site, e.g. Tour Eiffel in Paris.

Michael Novins 9 May 2021

It would be great if we could find a home for a plaque on each WHS’ page. I have hundreds.

Kyle Magnuson 9 May 2021

Flickr Album to share a variety of examples from around the world.

Blog Connections

WHS affected by Poaching

Last week, 3 foreigners accompanying an anti-poaching patrol in Arly NP in Burkina Faso were murdered. With the focus of the jihadist killers on the white people within a larger group, this does look like a terrorist act.  However, it also highlights the issue of poaching as they may not have liked the international attention for their illegal activities in the region and the park. I have used this tragic act for a refreshment of 2 connections on our website: “Poaching” and “Rangers killed by Poachers”.

Poaching as a threat

According to the IUCN Outlook 2020, poaching is the number 1 threat to natural WHS in Africa and Asia and the 4th overall. The COVID-19 pandemic also causes an increased risk of poaching, as in-person staffing is reduced and illegal activities can flourish.

So far we only had 6 sites in our Poaching connection, but I got 52 hits on a text search for “poaching” on the UNESCO website. After some further scrutinizing, using the UNESCO documents and the IUCN outlook reports for the individual sites, I was able to extend the connection to 39 WHS. Notable additions include Okavango (hunting of giraffe for meat), Saryarka (reducing the numbers of the endangered Saiga antelope) and Lake Turkana (for bush meat and trophies (zebra)).

It becomes clear that poaching does not only cover the hunting of iconic threatened mammals such as elephants and rhino’s, but also illegal fishing and shooting of birds. It is sometimes the result of encroachment and low-level substinence hunting by local people. In other cases international criminal organizations are behind it.

In Danger due to Poaching

9 WHS are currently placed In Danger because of Poaching. These are:

Looking at the seriousness and high occurrence of this threat you’d expect more of these to come. Strong candidates are Thungyai-Huai Kha Khaeng (tiger), Mt. Nimba, and Air and Teneré (gazelle and ostrich) – some of these sites have been hardly monitored during the past decade in the WH lifecycle and lack data from Periodic Reporting (should be every 6 years) or SOC reports.

Rangers killed by Poachers

There are good news stories as well – anti-poaching measures have brought things under control in Chitwan and Ujung Kulon for example. At other locations, park rangers or members of anti-poaching units find themselves in the frontline against sometimes heavily armed poachers:

  • Garamba NP: in 2017, 2 rangers were killed during a fire fight with poachers who were cutting up a recently slaughtered elephant
  • Serra da Capivara: also in 2017, a ranger was killed when he was ambushed by armed men who were hunting illegally
  • Thungyai-Huai Kha Khaeng: 2 rangers killed in 2013 by poachers who "admitted killing and eating several adult gibbons, and were planning on selling the baby into the pet trade" 
  • Kaziranga: 1 killed by rhino poacher in 2015 and others before (the site is also known for its ruthless killing of poachers by rangers
  • Virunga: 19 killed in 2020-2021 and many before

Els - 2 May 2021

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Tips for travelling to Costa Rica

In March 2021 I spent 2 weeks in Costa Rica, my first visit to this country. It had never been that high on my wish list – too touristy and no specific highlights that appealed to me. But it’s quite an ideal destination during Covid times: a real outdoor destination with good healthcare and few limitations. I easily covered 3 of its WHS, its only TWHS and several additional parks by rental car. Find below my Top Tips for Travelling to Costa Rica as a World Heritage Traveller.

One of the many bridges on the Drake Bay Trail

1. It's so easy

Travelling in Costa Rica is like doing a jigsaw puzzle with only 100 pieces. The travel complexity factor is very low: everything runs smoothly, a lot of English is spoken, it is remarkably clean, you can drink the tap water, you can pay in USD or colones which both can be withdrawn from ATM’s. Many accommodations are owned by foreigners who cater to North American and/or Western European tastes. All this makes Costa Rica an ideal destination for travellers who venture outside of their own continent for the first time or those travelling with families.

2. Go meet the birds and the butterflies

The natural green surroundings almost everywhere are clearly Costa Rica’s main strength. Even when you’re not a birder, signing up for a bird walk will be rewarding here. The country also has beautiful large butterflies. Just enjoy the countryside in slow motion by hiking or spending the night in a rural area. The zones right outside of the (often pricey and overly manicured) national parks can be just as rewarding.

Rufous-tailed Jacamar

3. Create your own balanced itinerary

There is a really well-trodden tourist trail around the country, but with a focus on WHS and also including a couple of cultural sights in addition to the best national parks you will get more out of your trip. The capital San José is worth a day for reasons I already described here. The FTWHS of Guayabo archaeological site certainly warrants a visit. And I did enjoy Marino Ballena national park near Uvita as the best non-WHS natural site - you can do great long beach walks here. Esteban has provided me with a wealth of trip ideas, I will share some of them on the Forum for future use.

4. Don't skip the Osa Peninsula

The Osa Peninsula was the highlight of Costa Rica for me. This included the day trip to the Sirena station of Corcovado NP for example (overnighting is not possible at the moment). But I also enjoyed the Drake Bay Trail, a lovely coastal hike that you can do on your own for as long as you like (the full trail is 20km long, one way). And I did a private guided birding tour in the outskirts of Drake Bay in patches of primary forest, which resulted in views of three species of manakin and other colourful birds.

When you do not get the vaccin, you’re like soft ice cream!

5. Rental car or public transport?

Due to being able to stay in my own little Covid bubble, I travelled around alone in a rental car. I had a Hyundai Creta SUV - no 4WD but a 2WD. The high clearance came in handy about 2 or 3 times, for those final 5km towards a destination. I found car rental pretty expensive, usually I take the smallest and cheapest car available but that’s not an option when you need a SUV. The driving itself was easy as long as you’re not in a hurry. In non-Covid times I’d certainly would have done this trip by public transport. Buses will get you to most places, albeit in a bit more time. The twice daily Drake Bay – Sierpe boat service for example was awaited by minibuses set for Palmar Norte.

The (T)WHS of Costa Rica are seriously underreviewed at this website. Please write down some of your memories no matter from how long ago in a review.

Els - 25 April 2021

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Esteban Cervantes Jiménez (WHS) 26 April 2021

Well, it's great to have helped you have the best experience possible, Els. I always really find interesting to see what people from other countries think of Costa Rica. Normally, the experience of tourists (and many Costa Ricans, who know mainly shopping malls, all-included hotels and always the same beaches) is very poor and superficial, getting to the extreme of thinking that there aren’t cultural destinations. As an avid hiker and someone who fully knows 333/488 districts of the country (and who knows in part another 85), I guess I have some criteria on that. Then, my main purpose was to provide you with the richest and most varied experience possible, on a limited schedule.
Regarding what you say of rural areas, I agree. Not only environmental policies have resulted in private areas sharing many features with neighboring protected areas, but also areas like Zona de los Santos, northern Cartago, Turrialba, El Guarco, Occidente, Puriscal-Mora-Acosta municipalities, etc., are favorite destinations of me and rewarding in many senses. On a normal hike I usually get to experience great landscapes, forested areas, some wildlife, rivers to swim at, agricultural lands, towns with maybe a heritage church, school or house, people, “comida típica” and a rich cultural experience.
Therefore, my advices for people visiting the country would be:

a) It is a real pity to see tourists always circling between Manuel Antonio, Monteverde, La Fortuna, Jacó, Tamarindo, Puerto Viejo-Cahuita and maybe the Poás and Irazú volcanoes NPs. Even when doing that beaten track, some variations may be possible: for example, Carara National Park near Jacó is a great chance to see a transition from a dry-tropical to a wet-tropical life zone and Orotina -nearby- has interesting railroad history, Cerro Chato near the Arenal volcano is a demanding hike to an exuberant cloud forest and a pristine volcanic lagoon, Playa Grande near Tamarindo is near the entrance point to Las Baulas National Park, etc.

b) Venture outside the beaten path and try some rural tourism too: it may not only benefit a community and create productive chains, but would additionally be the best mean to get insight of the country's real and regionally-varied nuances.

c) I would also consider visiting an indigenous reserve: they provide a really different culture experience: I have the feeling that festivities like “El Baile de los Diablitos” from the Boruca people, el “Baile de la Yegüita” from the Chorotegas in Nicoya, or “La Jala de la Piedra” from the Bribri people will sometime be inscribed in the Intangible Heritage List. Many of these communities are in the poorest parts of the country, so visiting a Ngöbe, Maleku, Teribe, Huetar or Cabécar town would also be great, if you approach their communities and traditions with respect.

d) As stated before, there isn’t a homogenous “Costa Rican” culture, landscape or feel, they are as diverse as our microclimates. To incorporate different regions in a same trip is great to see variety. Even between regions that were populated through the outwards migratory movement of “white” or mestizo people from the Central Valley (1840s-1910s), there are differences. Additionally, different migratory movements after independence (from Europeans in the 19th and early 20th centuries, Jews, Afro-Antilleans, Chinese, Lebanese, people escaping from Latin American dictatorships in the 1970s and 1980s and back again now, Colombians, Nicaraguans, Panamanians, Venezuelans, etc.) have enriched the culture of many areas.

e) Regarding cities/towns, I would not skip them either. As Els says, San José (still) has things that are worth a visit: just this 44 km2 municipality has 90 heritage buildings and sites and many which potentially be declared so. Though all cities have suffered decades of loss of their heritage (as Els describes in her San José review), some still have public spaces, buildings, places that could be rewarding: Heredia, Cartago, Santa Domingo (recommended), Atenas, Alajuela, Palmares, Naranjo, San Ramón, Grecia, Barva (partly lacking authencity, but still interesting besides its central park), Ciudad Colón, San Joaquín de Flores, etc., have (in my view) something interesting. Outside the Central Valley, Puntarenas is a great experience of a coastal city, Esparza and San Mateo preserve many of their Victorian buildings, Liberia and to some extent other Guanacastecan cities an towns (Nicoya, Santa Cruz, Bagaces, towns like Quebrada Honda, Bolsón and Santa Bárbara de Diriá) show a really different cultural background than the Central Valley (and I suspect that part of Liberia may be a future TL Site), Limón is dilapidated, unsafe and poor as can be, but has this rich past, Victorian architecture and Afro-Caribbean feel really got me during a visit I made last January (and they’re working towards using that as an engine for urban renewal and social fabric restoration), “plantation” towns like Golfito, Quepos, and Palmar Sur keep some of their 1930s-1940s heritage, etc.

f) Regarding food, I think there is also this prevalent idea of Costa Ricans only eating rice, beans and “Casados” and it's really not like that. I don't want to be super extensive on this, but the country has different regional variations, from the very established culinary tradition of Guanacaste -with a distinctive Mesoamerican tradition, and corn-oriented dishes- to the Southern-Caribbean food, the great seafood and desserts at Puntarenas, to the important Chinese community that flourished in the country and is practically everywhere, to the Costa Rican regional varieties of coffee (with Tarrazú, and Turrialba being my favorites). Just referring to the Central Valley, I can mention the variety of "picadillos", soups (like “Olla de Carne”, or “Sopa Negra”), rice dishes, corn dishes, seafood-based Holy Week dishes, sweets (like "cajetas", "guayabitas", "dulces" or “mieles” of different fruits and vegetables, "Tres Leches" and other pies), natural fruit drinks, “Chifrijo” and other “bocas”, and others. For your reference, I share with you the link to these traditional cooking books that the Heritage Center has developed, specialized each of them on a specific region:

Lastly, needless to say, if you require some advice on places to visit, please consider my e-mail address: I will try -with my sometimes-limited time- to provide detailed orientation to you.

Els Slots 25 April 2021

Pricewise it is comparable to South Korea or Southern Europe, so medium range I would say. The food is not especially outstanding, but maybe Esteban will correct me on this!

Meltwaterfalls 25 April 2021

As ever thanks for this run down Els. As you say it certainly seems appealing as a family holiday destination.

I've always assumed Costa Rica to be a more expensive destination, is that the case?

How did you find the food? Any particularly tasty dishes that you encountered?

Blog WHS Visits

WHS #744: Guanacaste

Like Talamanca, Guanacaste is a vast area which value is hard to summarize in one phrase. One can easily spend days visiting its specific features, its OUV ranges from the marine (turtle nesting sites) to the terrestrial with dry tropical forests and much more. I am only the third reviewer on this website, 11(!) years after the last one. However parts of the included area close to Liberia are quite popular with the beach tourists that mostly come from the USA.

There’s a similar choice to make as with Talamanca as to which included area to visit. The WHS comprises a contiguous area of seven protected zones. I did a half-day visit from Liberia to “Horizontes Forestry Experiment Station”. I had also wanted to add a stay near “Rincon de la Vieja National Park” (probably the most touristy part), but a rescheduling of my flight back to Europe forced me to cut my stay short.

Horizontes was a late discovery during my preparations. It needed pre-booking for Covid reasons as well, however the process wasn’t as smooth as with other parks in Costa Rica. Payment could only be done by bank transfer in USD (15) or colones, for which my bank asked a 50 EUR fee. Fortunately, Wise did it much cheaper.

This former cattle ranch has been turned into a cultivation site for native forest species and their associated forest ecosystems. It lies almost directly behind Liberia airport. Only the final 4km is on a dirt road with some rough patches (it needs a high clearance vehicle). I received a warm welcome and it was explained to me that there are several trails that I was free to walk. They are signposted with coloured arrows, it just felt like hiking in The Netherlands again! I was asked if I came for birding – apparently that is the only reason tourists show up here once in a while.

This park protects a Pacific dry forest ecosystem. Tropical dry forests are rare and threatened around the world – the only other 2 WHS that hold them are Kakadu NP and Thungyai-Huai Kha Khaeng. It surely felt and looked like Australia; I had arrived a little after 8 am in the already blistering heat and I saw the remains of some wildfires on the way out there.

I walked the Green trail, Sendero El Guaracho, and the loop in the Arboretum. The difference between them is that the trees in the Arboretum have shields with their species name on them, while those on the Green trail only have numbers without explanation. I don’t have a great interest in trees so it wasn’t too exciting. The trails are on easy terrain but the heat quickly gets to you. I started looking for birds and did manage to score a black-headed trogon.

I spent around 2.5 hours at the site. The trails are short and easy - except for the lack of shade. However it felt good to be outside of Costa Rica's manicured, tourist friendly parks (having visited Manuel Antonio NP the day before, which is the worst example of that case). On the way out I encountered a large spiny tail iguana on the road – I guess lizards at least enjoy this kind of environment and the dry leaves on the ground.

Els - 18 April 2021

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Esteban Cervantes Jiménez (Vantcj1) 20 April 2021

Yes, AC Guanacaste is a site which would require some days for a fuller appreciation. Additionally, March/April is the latest part of the dry season so it will be really be hot and dry in this part of the country (the hottest and driest of them all), though an upside is the blooming of trees like cortez amarillo, roble de sabana and others. A lot of water, sunblock and additional cover, are also a must, though it will still be unpleasantly hot, even for people from the Central Valley, like me.
The rainy season, which usually doesn't start there until late May (this year is an exception, it is already starting) may provide better conditions, greener landscapes and abundant water in stational creeks/rivers.
Personally, I haven't been to Horizontes Experimental Station so the idea of the Arboretum seemed a good one with the lack of available time, but it seems it isn't as good, though may be more enjoyable for birdwatchers.
I am of the idea-having visited 3 of the several protected areas- that the best option is to combine a lower and a higher location, respectively Santa Rosa National Park and Rincón de la Vieja National Park. The lower will provide a more typical dry forest and access to a marine sector, a higher location will provide better landscapes, more luscious rivers and more importantly, the chance to see the transition between dry and wet pre-montane forests.
In the case of Santa Rosa, I've been there 3 times: 2 to the Historical Sector (besides the FTLS Casona Santa Rosa, which now mostly lacks authenticity due to an intentional fire in 2001... still worth some minutes through its corrals, the Indio Desnudo trail is a great chance to see the typical dry forest...all times there I have seen several animals) and 1 to the former Murciélago sector, which is now closed. Additionally, the marine sector is interesting: Naranjo beach is great, landscape-wise (even for people who're not interesting in swimming) and I've heard that tours to Nancite beach can be done during turtle hatching season. The Murciélago islands can be accessed by sea (so $$), but I know of friends who have hiked there and really had great experiences, these islands have a great on-land and marine biodiversity, I haven't been there, but hope to go some time.
Rincón de la Vieja is probably my second most favorite Costa Rican national park, after Talamanca's Chirripó: I went twice in the 90s, so a lot has changed (back then it was possible to go camping, the trail up to the volcano is currently closed due to its activity). Las Pailas sector is mostly interesting for the abundance of volcanic features, and has great rivers, La Cangreja waterfall was my favorite, however, the most interesting thing was the hike to the volcano, because the transition of life zones was very clear, you could easily spot animals (me and my mother were even followed some kms by a feline, of course nothing happened) and many species of orchids. We also back then marginally visited Santa María sector (another volcano, though inactive, it seemed very forested from a distance), only to the thermal waters. This sector's description shows that is really is the best option to see the transition to wetter forests, plus additional waterfalls, volcanic features, orchids and birdlife. Santa María sector is currently closed due to COVID-19 restrictions (Las Pailas, as the main sector, is open), but most probably will be reopened as soon as possible.
Regarding Guanacaste National Park, I haven't ever gone and I understand that access to any of its biological stations might be possible to not only scientists, but has to be requested well in advance. It seems that it may be very interesting (it also has some archaeological remains, it has both lowlands and highlands, so all life zones), but to me keeps on being a pending task.
Lastly, Guanacaste Conservation Area has one unified webpage, I think it's a great source of information/updates:

Zoe 18 April 2021

Huai Kha Khaeng only by car. Once you get to the ranger station there isn't much to do in terms of hiking afaik, although you can freely go into the park area by yourself by following the jeep trails. Lots of lizards roaming around, too. Enjoy the heat. :)

Els Slots 18 April 2021

Thungyai-Huai Kha Khaeng is also pretty difficult I believe. Kakadu may be the easiest, with a car.

Michael Ayers 18 April 2021

Guanacaste is one of those Sites that is a little difficult to organize. In theory, I have been there twice, but I am still only 90% sure that I stood on the core zone.

I should be visiting Thungyai-Huai Kha Khaeng within a week. Perhaps someone else would volunteer to go to Kakadu soon, so we can cover all three dry forest Sites during this month :-)

Blog TWHS Visits

Corcovado NP

Corcovado currently is the only entry on the Tentative List of Costa Rica. There seem to be no plans to bring it forward (again), after the 2004 withdrawal caused by a negative IUCN advice. At the time it was dismissed with not much further explanation than “too small”, too small even for its mammals to survive in the near future. It could not match similar sites (Darien, Talamanca) that were already inscribed. Although I can see the point, I still found it the most worthwhile destination of my Costa Rica trip.

I based myself for 3 nights in Drake Bay, the most common access point on the Osa Peninsula. It is off the beaten tourist track, but not that remote. The area around Drake Bay itself is already really nice, I did a late afternoon birding tour there and hiked part of the Drake Bay Trail (a 20km long coastal path) on my own. I could have easily stayed one or two nights longer, tying in a trip to Isla del Cano for example.

For my Corcovado visit I booked a day tour to the Sirena station of the National Park at the cost of 85 USD. You may only visit the park accompanied by an official guide. At 6 a.m. two boats with some 25 tourists each set from the coast of Drake Bay, already a minor adventure in itself as the place has no jetty. So you have to wade from and to the boats. I shared a guide with a couple from Alaska and a guy from Spain, so it was a pleasantly small group. We hardly met the other groups while in the park, we only did so at the centrally located ranger station which has a small shop, a place to refill your waterbottle and toilets.

After an hour’s boat ride we landed at low tide at Corcovado. There is a very large tidal difference and we had to walk 200 meters over pebbles and the remains of molten lava to get on shore. We had to report to the ranger post first. What now is the park used to be inhabited and it was agricultural land. It only became a protected area in 1975.

Corcovado is best known for the presence of a large number of mammal species that are easy to spot. In the bushes right next to the beach we quickly discovered a small deer, a Red brocket. We left the beach for the forest at the mouth of a river, an idyllic spot. This is were the guide found us the flagship species of Corcovado: the Bairds tapir. These animals are most active early in the morning, now around 8 o'clock they were resting. We found two: a mother with a 6 months old calf. They were in the undergrowth and we tried to find an angle to take good pictures without disturbing them.

That effort proved to be unnecessary in the end, as after a few minutes they started walking out into the open on their own. They ate some leaves, peed in the river and then disappeared from sight. Although we were only 5 meters away, they went about their business undisturbed. While we were waiting for the tapirs to move, one of the tour mates suddenly spotted another creature walking over a tree trunk. I immediately recognized it as a tayra, a marten-like species. The guide was also completely perplexed that we saw it in broad daylight. These were certainly the 15 best mammalwatching minutes of this trip!

We spent 4.5 hours in Corcovado and walked a couple of the trails around Sirena. Monkeys are easily seen here, but I had already covered all four Costa Rican species without much effort in the days before. Only the Geoffroy's spider monkey can be observed here better than elsewhere. We found a group relaxing on the tree branches. Furthermore we saw three more tapirs resting in a mud bath, an agouti, mantled howler monkeys, Central American squirrel monkeys and some birds including a spectacular woodpecker. And a group of white-nosed coatis ran down the path. Our efforts to spot a sloth were unsuccesful. We did see a boa constrictor though, sleeping in a tree. It did not show its head, but its fat body alone already was impressive.

So mammalwise it was a succesful tour. It may be because of the park’s relatively small size and island-like biological isolation that the animals can’t move away from the park trails and are accustomed to the presence of people.

Els - 11 April 2021

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Esteban Cervantes Jiménez (vantcj1) 12 April 2021

Loved this comment. Yes, it is pretty much a place where you see a lot of wildlife easily (of course with the valuable help from a guide), which is not the most usual thing in a wet tropical forest. I had as much luck as you when I went there (to both Sirena and San Pedrillo sectors) in late 2016.
Regarding a WH nomination, as you indicated, it seems totally dead at this point. IUCN's review was ultra harsh on this site (I don't say it for being a Costa Rican, I say it because I have elements to compare to other natural sites, even inscribed) and the government simply chose not to follow thru.
The day you did the hike from Bahía Drake along the coastline, you discussed how much you saw -outside the NP- also a lot of the species that you saw in the park. To me, it is a point to go from this TL to a new one that incorporates the Piedras Blancas NP, the Golfo Dulce FR, the Pejeperro and Pejeperrito wetlands and parts of the Térraba-Sierpe National wetland, maybe Caño island and marine areas, as a probable nomination of most or the whole Osa Conservation Area, which I think might be much stronger, for its ecological continuity and very high biodiversity.
That would have complications according to Costa Rican legislation (Forest Reserves and the Térraba-Sierpe wetland are mostly on private soil, though very preserved, the rest of areas are public and wouldn't pose a problem).
After traveling around the country for decades, I have some ideas of sites that may have OUV, but a Osa Conservation Area nomination is for me a strong contender.

Els Slots 12 April 2021

At 42,500 ha it would be much larger that the smallest natural WHS in our connection . So "small" is not really a good reason.

Jay T 11 April 2021

That’s good background on where Costa Rica is with its tentative list. There are some other natural sites that are pretty small — I wonder what IUCN would have considered appropriate for Corcovado and its surrounding environs. I’m glad you had such success finding animals on your tour!

Blog WHS Visits

WHS #743: Stone Spheres

This is a kind of WHS visit that I always especially look forward to: remnants of an ancient culture. The Stone Spheres of the Diquís are mysterious stone balls, created by a Precolumbian Costa Rican civilization. With the help of Esteban I tried to get access to a second location in addition to the main site (Finca 6), but although I applied a month before it was not granted (the other 3 locations are not equipped to handle visitors during Covid times was the explanation). So I just focused on Finca 6, which lies in an area dominated by banana and palm oil plantations. The road there is signposted by a simple “Museum” sign.

The pre-trip efforts at least resulted in giving me free access (not something that I was after) and a guided tour of the museum and the archaeological site. The museum is small, but shows that in addition to stone spheres, the Diquís also left ceramics and stone figurines.

Then we walked onto the site of the excavations. A trail takes you past the main points of what was once a settlement of about 500 inhabitants. It only takes a few minutes for the first sphere to come into sight. Before we could get closer, something happened that is also typical for this place: a load of bananas passed by! The land in this area has been used by the United Fruit Company (now: Chiquita) as a banana plantation since the 1930s. They use a system of overhead lines across the terrain along which the heavy bunches of bananas are pulled by a man. You can hear them coming from afar, it is as if you have to cross a tramway railtrack.

The settlement was conveniently built near a river and it is crossed by several streams. The Diquís took stones from the river to build their village, although the larger stones for the spheres were taken from further away.

Most of the stone spheres found here at Finca 6 have been preserved because they were buried for centuries under thick layers of sediment. They were up to 1.5m deep in the ground. Some specimens have been damaged by the sun and also by agricultural machinery from the banana plantation. That is why most of them have now been reburied and only their tops show above the grass line.

The first stone spheres that we see belonged to the homes of high-ranking residents. The houses were built on a platform, with a ramp made of river stones and then a stone sphere each on either side of the entrance. The spheres were larger or smaller, depending on the prestige of the resident. Spheres were also placed on public grounds. These probably had a role in ceremonies. There are three in a row in the center of the Finca 6 site which are said to have astronomical connotations.

At the end of the route there are two more groups of spheres that have been brought here from other places in the area. They had simply been in people's homes or in their gardens for a long time. Here they are now protected, although they suffer from the sun and varying temperatures. You can clearly see how they were made: cut from a large stone and then sanded.

In the afternoon I tried to find two of the other locations, although I knew they would be closed. Batambal lies almost next to the main road 34 between Uvita and Palmar Norte. There is a small signpost coming from the south. About 1.5 km of dirt road follows, through a neighbourhood where the inhabitants looked at me suspicuously. It ends at a field and a gate. The second location was Grijalba-2: I got close to that one too, but ended up at a farm. There are 3 dirt roads next to each other where the marker is on the map. Here are no signposts. The ‘best’ location apart from Finca 6 seems to be El Silencio, as there the biggest sphere lies buried.

Els - 4 April 2021

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Esteban Cervantes Jiménez (vantcj1) 5 April 2021

Well, it seems that you enjoyed the visit, even when we couldn't get the approval for the visit to other sites. A pleasure to have been of help to get the collaboration of the site manager and the presence of the site educator, so that you obtained the best perspective of this particular site and the overall sites' OUV. Though the initial colonization of Osa municipality by the banana company (in the 1930s and 1940s) was extremely detrimental to the preservation of the original sites and so their original alignments, it is also an important component of heritage there, as your review shows and as many buildings at Palmar Sur attest.

Blog WHS Visits

WHS #742: Talamanca Range

“The rugged terrain, difficult access and the formal protection status have kept human impacts at bay”, the OUV statement for the Talamanca Range states proudly. That means that a proper visit of this WHS, although it covers over 7% of Costa Rica, is not so easy (for a glimpse of it you can drive Route 2, Carretera Interamericana Sur, from San José to San Isidro General and look to the left). It encompasses eight contiguous protected areas including one in Panama, as shown on this map. I first targeted Chirripó NP, however it turned out that access is almost exclusively geared to trekkers trying to reach the peak of Chirripó mountain. Esteban found me one alternative, with a local rural tourism assocation in San Jeronimo, which may be worth looking into for a future WH traveller.  

Eventually I settled for the safe bet of Tapantí-Macizo de la Muerte National Park. This lies near the pleasant town of Orosi, 2 hours south of San José. Covid limitations to the number of daily visitors required me to reserve a spot beforehand for a specific day to visit, but otherwise the park is easily accessible. It lies at the northern edge of the Talamanca range and is mostly known for its rain forest habitat. Consequentially it is also one of the rainiest parts of Costa Rica.

I arrived there at the opening hour of 8 am. On the advice of the Swiss owners of my guest house, I left the car at the park reception and continued on foot. The accessible part of the park consists of a 5-kilometer long asphalt road, with 5 short hiking trails on either side. You can drive your car up and down, but because the forest is so dense the best views and best birding are actually from the main road. Large mammals such as jaguars and tapirs will not show themselves so close to civilization though. During the full 3 hours of my visit I encountered no other tourists - I only met the park maintenance guy twice....

It was easy to walk on the paved road, which goes slightly uphill. The weather was lovely, about 25 degrees Celsius, but also partly cloudy so that the sun wasn’t too hot. I heard many birds but saw only few. Little brown and green birds in a green forest are always very difficult to spot. After about 2 km of hiking I reached the entrance to the first trail. This is a 1200 meter long, flat forest path qualified as “easy”. It ends at the bank of a river. From the river you also have a more open view of the wooded mountains (see third photo).

Afterwards I walked another 2 kilometers on the paved road to the start of the next trail. There are actually two of them together there, the path splits halfway. It went down quite steeply at the start - this one has been qualified as “medium" -, fortunately it was a dry day so it was not slippery. At the crossing I choose the route to the waterfall. This leads up to a viewpoint from where you can see one vertically falling off a mountain wall. I also paused here for a bit and spotted a squirrel – my first Costa Rican mammal!

As a conclusion I find that the huge scale of this mountain range and its vast forests do not allow for more than a superficial impression. You probably won’t encounter that puma, that quetzal, that specific type of orchid. Its conservation importance is undoubted though, it being a land bridge between South and North America for fauna and flora species, and of course for the preservation of this huge stretch of natural forests.

Els - 28 March 2021

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Jay T 29 March 2021

Those are some good insights for seeing the Talamanca Range -- thanks, Els and Esteban!

Esteban Cervantes Jiménez 29 March 2021

Yes, I agree that visiting this WHS will take some time to get the best experience of it. For example, Chirripó would require at least 3 days hiking: one up for Base Crestones, one up to the summit...maybe some other attractions and 1 down...but 4 days would be best, in case you wanted to visit places like Ditkevi lagoon, the Morrenas, or Sabana de los Leones (which is on the way from San Jerónimo). In the case of La Amistad proper (Altamira sector), and Barbilla, you can do that maybe in 2 days, but if one wanted to go to Kamuk in La Amistad, from Tres Colinas station...that would be 5 days. Tapantí-Macizo de la Muerte is definitely the option of choice (not the greatest one, though, as most of the park is non-accesible wilderness) when time is limited, plus allowing to fit in Orosi and Ujarrás FTLS.
I hope to get back to Chirripó maybe next year, combining the routes from San Gerardo and San Jerónimo...and sometime do the Kamuk hike in La Amistad.

Blog TWHS Visits

Guayabo National Monument

Costa Rica’s Tentative List has only one entry, so for the second time I will review one of its FTWHS as they are the country’s best cultural sites. The Guayabo National Monument is its most important archaeological park. It comprises a settlement created by one of the local pre-Columbian chiefdoms; it flourished between 1000 - 1400 AD. Guayabo has been designated as International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark for its extensive roadways and water supply system.

I arrived by car from the north, from San José via road #230. It’s only 80km but it will take easily 2 hours because of the winding roads and pedestrians/cyclists on the road. The Guayabo National Monument is well signposted almost directly after you leave San José. 95% of the route is covered by an excellent asphalt road, but at the end there is an unpaved stretch of five kilometers. It’s not too bad, but I was happy that I rented a car with high clearance. On the way out by the way I took the southern loop (via route #415) and that one is fully paved.

Guayabo is quite a popular attraction with the locals, of which several dozens showed up on the Sunday that I visited. Payment at the entrance is by credit card only (5 USD for foreigners). The site is located in a nice patch of rainforest and I enjoyed being in the tropical nature again.

On the way to the partly excavated ruins of the settlement you’ll encounter water works and a stone with petroglyphs. The stone is carved on both sides, with an image of a lizard on one side and that of a jaguar on the other. The water network had open and closed aqueducts, canals and storage tanks. Some of these waterways are still functioning and provide clean spring water. In the central area you can see that the water flows into ponds near the residences.

The ruins lie in a large clearing in the forest. The city here is said to have had 2,000 inhabitants (a number of 10,000 is also often mentioned but that seems like a lot, it may relate to the wider area). The people lived in large communal wooden houses with thatched roofs. These stood on circular stone plateaus, and that is all that is left. The trail takes you along a number of those plateaus. It ends at another strong piece of infrastructural architecture: a long and wide stone road that enters the city. The best view of it all can be had from the Mirador that overlooks the site - there you see how the road runs straight into the city. At its start lie two square plateaus, which may have been watchtowers for the defense of the city. The city is further enclosed by a dense rainforest.

After walking the same part of the route for the third time, I turned to the exit. That way I found out that the central excavation area actually is very close to the ticket office, there is a 400m long trail for the disabled that takes you directly to the ruins. With my longer loop though I spent an hour and a half on site.

Guayabo was rejected from becoming a WHS in 1984 - citing "its current state" and offering the option to renominate when further excavations "produce results of exceptional universal interest". Although it’s no rival to Machu Picchu or the Mexican archaeological sites, it’s not bad either and can match for example the Qhapaq Nan serial sites such as Ingapirca. I especially enjoyed the ingeniously constructed water network and the old road.

Els - 24 March 2021

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Esteban Cervantes Jiménez 29 March 2021

Well, it's great to see that you enjoyed it. Yes, the best way is to go to the lookout point first and then down to the archaeological site. Plus, Turrialba is rich in other cultural things of interest, like the coffee-town of Aquiares (my favorite in the country), railroad history in Turrialba and Peralta, cheese-production in Santa Cruz, churches like the one in La Pastora, Aquiares or San Antonio, etc. On the other hand, I see no interest from the government to even update the country's TList, so I have the impression that its pretty improbable (for the moment), the country will ever put this site forward again.

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San José

At every new country that I visit, I always try to stay at least one full day in its capital. I definitely won’t say that with visiting a capital you can ‘tick’ a whole country (I am looking at you, 193 chasers, who claim Botswana and Namibia after having set foot only in Gaborone and Windhoek!) – but I also believe that you miss out on something when you don’t visit a country’s capital. Even when that capital city in itself is not ranked that high by others, I do enjoy observing how the country sees itself / presents itself. Any National Museum is a great place to do so, as well as a city park, a seat of parliament or a major religious building.

Costa Rica’s capital San José is a typical one that gets skipped easily – “it’s not a bad place to get things done that can’t be done elsewhere” is among the more positive praise. Fortunately I was in the hands of fellow WH Traveller, Costa Rican native ánd architect Esteban. He guided me around for a full day. We started in the morning by walking from one architectural highlight to another in the mostly low-rise residential and business areas just outside the city center.

The thing with San José is that it has never been that rich in the past, it suffered from serious earthquakes and a lot of demolitions for the sake of modernity. The latter is still going on til today, creating parking lots is the new craze. The buildings we stopped at included schools, private residences, former factories and the railway station. Styles range from the neoclassical to the “Hollywood colonial style”, the eclectic and brutalist. We literally saw dozens of them, but they would be hard to find for an outsider as they are so scattered around.

San José has no WHS but it had two TWHS in the past: the National Monument and the National Theatre. Both disappeared from the T List quietly after having been rejected in 1980 without any reason given.

The National Monument is a dramatic bronze statue that commemorates Costa Rica’s victory in the War of 1856-57 – a war against the invaiding forces of ‘filibuster’ William Walker who wanted to create English-speaking, slave-holding colonies in Central America under his own control. This war, that cost the lives of 10,000 Costa Ricans, also gave the country its nation hero (Juan Santamaría, who sacrificed himself – San José airport is named after him). The statue shows all parties involved (women representing each Central American nation and the fleeing William Walker). It’s a part of history of which few people will have heard globally, but it defines independent Central America. The monument lies at the center of a pleasant little city park.

The National Theatre opened in 1897, during an economic boom caused by coffee exports. It was funded by levying a tax on coffee. It is considered the finest historic building in San José and is known for its lavishly furnished interior. Unfortunately we didn’t get beyond the lobby, as the building can only be visited on a guided tour for which we were too early. Still it was the most opulent building that we saw on our day around San José.

San José has three major historical museums – the National Museum, the Gold Museum and the Jade Museum. We visited the first two, and I’d like to focus on the National Museum as this is where the idea of Costa Rica presenting itself can be felt the strongest.

The National Museum is almost symbolically housed in former army barracks, which ceased to be necessary when the Costa Rican army was abolished in 1948. Two of its towers (one with a lot of bullet holes) still stand as do the dungeons where prisoners were kept. The first hall of the museum is a butterfly garden, certainly the first one that I have seen in a National Museum around the world! After that you enter the open air central plaza of the barracks, it is here where a number of stone spheres have been brought from the Diquis area. The more conventional exhibition rooms tell the story of the country from the indigenous chiefdoms via the coffee and banana booms to the welfare state of the 20th century.

Els - 21 March 2021

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Esteban Cervantes Jiménez 29 March 2021

It was a great pleasure to guide you through the city, Els! In the end, I made the count and we saw like 59 of the 90 heritage-declaredbuildings in the municipality of San José (and many more who would be worthy of an addition to that list). I just regret we couldn't fit the chance to see the buildings from the Carmen church to the Post office, and the area around the Merced church-former Fire station-San Juan de Dios hospital-former Chapuí asylum. But it was great. I think the best experience for someone visiting would be to give 1 day for a tour of the city and another one for the cited museums (plus maybe the National Art Museum and a tour of the Theater).

Els Slots 22 March 2021

Thanks Jay T. I will review some of the FTWHS as well, as they are still among the most interesting cultural sites of the country.

Jay T 21 March 2021

Sounds like you got to see a lot in San Jose thanks to Esteban! I look forward to the reviews on Costa Rican sites; it’s a country I really should visit some day since it is so close.

Michael Ayers 21 March 2021

Esteban sounds like Una Guia Bien!

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