The 'Area de Conservación Guanacaste' is a habitat for threatened or rare fauna species like the Saltwater Crocodile, False Vampire Bat, Olive Ridley Sea Turtle, Leatherback Sea Turtle, Jaguar, Jabiru Stork, Mangrove Vireo and Mangrove Hummingbird.
The ecosystem ranges from 12 miles into the Pacific Ocean, with its upwelling and coral reefs, to the coastal dry tropical forest and the montane humid forest - cloud forest - lowland Caribbean rain forest it interacts with.
The site comprises Santa Rosa (including its marine area), Guanacaste, Rincón de la Vieja National Parks, Horizontes Forestry Experiment Station, the Junquillal Bay Wildlife Refuge and the Sector Santa Elena.
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Visit March 2021
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.
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.
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.
To include the Sector Santa Elena
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