Photo by Els Slots.

The 'Area de Conservación Guanacaste' covers diverse landscape and forest types, including a rare vast stretch of Pacific Tropical Dry Forest.

This ecosystem ranges from 12 miles into the Pacific Ocean, with its upwelling and coral reefs, to the coastal dry tropical forest and the lowland Caribbean rainforest it interacts with. It is a habitat for threatened or rare fauna species like the False Vampire Bat, Olive Ridley Sea Turtle, Jaguar, and Mangrove Hummingbird.

Community Perspective: located in northern Costa Rica not far from Liberia airport, this is a contiguous area of seven protected zones. Rincon de la Vieja National Park is the most visited of those, while Horizontes Forestry Experiment Station is easily accessible too. 

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Kyle Magnuson

California - United States of America - 30-Mar-24 -

Guanacaste by Kyle Magnuson

I dedicated 3 days to exploring the Area de Conservación Guanacaste in March 2024. Every day we made sure to arrive at the park gate when it opened at 8am (pay attention to which parks are open each day). Our logic was - do the hike in the morning (avoid peak temperatures), higher potential of spotting wildlife, and to finish in time for a late lunch. In the end, we felt we succeeded as we arrived to all parks between 8:00 and 8:30 in the morning, the heat was not uncomfortable, and we did indeed spot plenty of wildlife. Access to each park was reserved in advance online, with the exception of the Junquillal Sector.

Day 1: Monday - Santa María Sector

Day 2: Tuesday - Pailas Sector

Day 3: Wednesday - Santa Rosa Sector & Junquillal Sector

In our Toyota Cross SUV rental, every drive was fine. However, I will note the road to the Santa María Sector is the most difficult. Unfortunately, once you're a few kilometers outside of Liberia you pass by a dumpsite for the city that is an unpleasant reminder of the challenges of Waste Management in the country and the effects of mass tourism. The last few kilometers to Santa María Sector are particularly bumpy and should not be attempted in a sedan car. Not long before the gate entrance we spotted a red Coati, our first mammal!

Santa María Sector is wonderfully remote and off-the-beaten path compared to its more popular neighbor in Rincón de la Vieja Volcano National Park. During our hike we saw plenty of the large Blue Morpho Butterflies (though difficult to photograph - hence wikipedia). Fortunately, we came across some Crested Guans on the short side trail to a waterfall. The major highlight for visitors to this sector is the natural Río Negro Hot Springs at the end (not to be confused with the 'other' hot springs managed by Hacienda Guachipelin further down the river). The site was a pleasant destination to explore before turning back around. In the past it was fairly normal for hikers to bath in the hot springs, but this is now prohibited. Touching the water, it is fairly warm and while certainly an experience, it did not feel like it would actually be refreshing when you are already hot! On the way back we came across a Bocaracá Eyelash Viper that was in the middle of digesting its prey. We really took our time here and we completed our excursion just before noon, spending nearly 4 hours at the park.

The Pailas Sector of Rincón de la Vieja Volcano National Park is more popular and easier to access, yet most visitors only visit the 3.4km loop trail. Just before arriving to the National Park there is a private property/hotel called Hacienda Guachipelin (previously mentioned) which charges a right of way access of 800 Colones (not part of the park entrance fee). We decided to complete the Loop trail first as its more exposed to sun and can be busy, but on a weekday between 8am and 9:30am it was fairly quiet. The loop is a blend of tropical forest and exposed areas that includes volcanic activity. Note that its possible to hike to the Santa María Sector from this Loop trail. 

By 10am we had begun our longer (less-frequented) hike to La Cangreja Waterfall. Perhaps 45 minutes in, we came across a group of a dozen or so Howler Monkeys high up in the forest canopy. We stayed for 10-15 minutes watching their behavior and seeing how they used their powerful tails. Since this hike goes up and down quiet often, its far more tiring than the slightly shorter hike in the Santa María Sector. Continuing on to a fully exposed part of the hike, views of the mountain range are revealed. During this hike we saw few fellow hikers, but upon arrival to the waterfall there were plenty of people enjoying the cooler temperatures. While swimmers/bathers are generally prohibited from entry, the temptation was impossible for some to resist. About an hour into the return journey we came across a group of at least twenty White-faced Capuchins. Picking and eating fruit, they were a lively group and they were in close proximity to us compared to the Howlers (perhaps 5-10 meters). We could easily see a baby held in its mothers arms and we simply observed them eating and discarding red fruit.

On the final day, from Liberia we headed North on National Route 1 (North InterAmerican Road). As you dissect the Area de Conservación Guanacaste, the road increasingly becomes more scenic. This route into the Santa Rosa Sector is almost entirely paved and the entry road is well-maintained (accessible to all vehicles). As we parked adjacent to the Hacienda Santa Rosa Casona, the park rangers and us (the only visitors yet in the park) noticed a Gray Fox which had appeared and was crossing part of the historic site grounds. We decided to hike the Sendero Indio Desnudo trail before visiting the restored historic house. Within 10 minutes we were glimpsing (but mostly hearing) another group of Crested Guans. A few minutes later we came across a surprisingly quick Armadillo, but it was out of site rather quickly. After finishing the short trail, the Hacienda Santa Rosa Casona took about 20-30 minutes to explore. We spent only 1.5 hours at Santa Rosa Sector in total. Of all Sectors we visited we saw more Iguanas here than anywhere else, they are numerous and large. For those more adventurous than us and if your vehicle rental is 4x4 high clearance, you can consider driving a long rutted dirt road to eventually reach Playa Naranjo.

Bahia Junquillal National Wildlife Refuge is one of the only Sectors that is not contiguous with other parts of the Conservation Area. Playa Junquillal is easily accessible and we picniced here. I hoped also to see a few Crocodiles. I brought my binoculars and I enjoyed using them to watch the Pelicans dive at high speed into the bay to catch fish. I also saw plenty of birds here including a shy Whimbrel. Technically there are 3 'trails' in the wildlife refuge, yet only one would be considered an actual trail (albeit a short one). The other two are just walks to the Northern and Southern part of the bay, along the beach. Yet, both do have highlights besides a beautiful, clean beach. The Southern axis leads to a muddy river with mangroves that is one of the areas you might spot Crocodiles. The Northern axis leads to a lagoon. I noticed plenty of crabs here, but no sign of Crocodiles. We spent about 4 hours here and it never felt too busy, the beach is excellent, and the refuge is operated by park rangers. Just before leaving the refuge we spotted another Red Coati, our last mammal!

  • Santa María Sector, Rincón de la Vieja Volcano National Park
    • Río Negro Hot Springs Trail (9.5km) 3.5 hours
  • Pailas Sector, Rincón de la Vieja Volcano National Park
    • Sendero Las Pailas Loop (3.4km) 1.5 hours
    • La Cangreja Waterfall (10km) 4.5 hours *300m plus elevation gain
  • Santa Rosa Sector, Santa Rosa National Park
    • Hacienda Santa Rosa Casona
    • Sendero Indio Desnudo (Naked Indian Trail - 1.5 km)
  • Junquillal Sector, Bahia Junquillal National Wildlife Refuge
    • La Laguna 'Trail' (North Axis Walk - Laguna Palo Seco, 800m)
    • Estero Seco 'Trail' (South Axis Walk, 800m) *crocodile warning sign

Read more from Kyle Magnuson here.

Els Slots

The Netherlands - 31-Mar-21 -

Guanacaste by Els Slots

Like Talamanca, Guanacaste is a vast area whose 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 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.

Read more from Els Slots here.

Esteban Cervantes Jiménez

Costa Rica - 30-Apr-10 -

Guanacaste by Esteban Cervantes Jiménez

Guanacaste Conservation Area is in the northeastern cantones (counties) of Liberia, La Cruz, Bagaces and Upala, spanning between the provinces of Guanacaste and Alajuela. This area comprises three national parks: Rincón de la Vieja Volcano NP, Guanacaste NP and Santa Rosa-Bolaños island NP, the recreational area of Junquillal, Horizontes experimental station and some smaller protected areas.

The particularity of this part of the country, regarding the rest of the country, is it´s drier climate to the pacific side of the mountain slopes. So, it´s considered the last relict of the dry tropical forest that sometime covered from Guanacaste to southern Mexico. With this respect, it´s the largest area to include such forest. It also has some other important aspects: the large biodiversity that it houses, somewhat different to what is usual in the wetter parts of the country, the savanna-type vegetation, the presence of different species such as: deers, coaties, monkeys, armadillos, snakes, etc. The marine part is also particulary rich and pristine in terms of biodiversity.

Bolaños island is considered a sanctuary for marine birds, Junquillal and Naranjo beaches are extremely appreciated for their waves and rugged landscape, Santa Elena peninsula in Santa Rosa NP is the driest and geologically oldest part in the country and it´s in a great deal untammed by human action, Murciélagos islands are also representative of the historic and biological evolution of the area. Santa Rosa has the biggest section of dry forest, a mariine area, and coastal marshlands, and also has Nancite Beach, one of the most important beaches for sea turtles spawning in the Pacific Ocean.

Santa Rosa is also important for costaricans is also representative of the country´s history for Santa Rosa hacienda, that even when it´s a reconstruction of the original hacienda (burnt in 2001), it´s stock corrales and the sites of three diferent battles (especially that one of 1856 when an unprepared costarrican army defeated a group of mercenary invaders from the southern states of the USA) are of great autenticity by their historical importance and representative of the history of Guanacaste as an area for cattle ranches.

In terms of the importance of the ongoing biological processes, Guanacaste NP is the most important of the three, covering from the steppe-like vegetation on the pacific slope, to the high peaks of Orosi and Cacao Volcanoes, to the wet parts facing the Caribbean side. Rincón de la Vieja is well known as a park with two high volcanoes, a series of hot springs, mud volcanoes and other volcanic formations, a rich forest bordering pristine rivers and waterfalls, acid lagoons and other impresive landscapes.

As a conservation area, Guanacaste is unique for it´s climate, the dry forest and the contiguity of all the areas, that makes easier the biological exchange among the areas. Even when threatened by stational wildfires and hunting, this area represents a microcosm of the variety of protected areas in this country.

Anthony Sun

USA - 17-Dec-08 -

Guanacaste is now very popular as a gateway to the resorts in northern Costa Rica. It has been explosive since the airport opened in Liberia and hotels like Four Seasons in Papagoya became chic.

There is much to do and I signed up for the zip line experience and horse back trail ride in the Rincon de la Vieja National Park. A highlight of the trail ride is a dip in hot springs in the forest.

The one other highlight is to get near Tamarine Beach to watch the Leatherback turtles come up and lay eggs on the beach. I do not think the beach is part of Guanacaste but no matter. The quantity of turtles are diminishing rapidly. Their shells are 5-6 feet and are amazing to watch in the middle of the night.

Site Info

Full Name
Area de Conservación Guanacaste
Unesco ID
Costa Rica
9 10
Natural landscape - Forest Natural landscape - Marine and Coastal

Site History

2004 Extended

To include the Sector Santa Elena

1999 Inscribed


The site has 1 locations



The site has

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