National archeological park of Guayabo de Turrialba


National archeological park of Guayabo de Turrialba has been part of the Tentative list of Costa Rica.

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Els Slots

The Netherlands - 09-Mar-21 -

National archeological park of Guayabo de Turrialba (T) by Els Slots

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.

Read more from Els Slots here.

Esteban Cervantes Jiménez

Costa Rica - 24-Oct-14 -

National archeological park of Guayabo de Turrialba (T) by Esteban Cervantes Jimenez

I would like to add a less general information to my initial account, made years ago. By that time, I hadn't visited the site in some 10 years.

I'm back on visiting different sites of Costa Rica and I made an almost incidental visit on Guayabo on October 12th (an unplanned homage to the initial contact between the native american and indigenous worlds). I did also a lot of photographing, which I hadn't done on my 2 or 3 previous visits. I think I got some really good shots. The area, not just the archaeological area, but the rural environment, the natural heritage, and the landscapes are worth photographing.

On the access, it's relatively easy for a country mostly covered by bus lines. By car, you have three possible routes. By bus, the two first options imply a 8 km-walk to the monument, on gravel road, that to be honest, I think that doesn't need a 4-wheel-traction, because it is in very good conditions, even in the middle of the rainy season. And the second, you get by bus right to the entrance of the park, but lose most of the charm that the other routes have.

The first route: You go from Cartago to Pacayas and Santa Cruz de Turrialba, then turn left 8 km and you get to the national monument. It's more mountainous and kind of windy, but you'll get a really good appreciation of what the traditional countryside is. Plus, you'll pass through enchanting towns (Cipreses, Pacayas, Capellades, La Pastora, Santa Cruz), each with its own set of declared heritage sites.

The second option is to take the main road from Cartago to Turrialba city and then go up to Santa Cruz, turn right and the 8 km to Guayabo.

The third option is to go to Turrialba city by the main road, continue north and then take the left detour to Colonia Guayabo.

The first one is the one I took, on the way there. It's remarkably lovely, we got by bus from Cartago, 1 hour more or less, but you have to walk from Santa Cruz to the monument, 8 kms, with some rises, and a final big descend. We made the walking in about 3 hours. I think that was the greatest part of the experience, for those like me, that like strolling, It's a great option. You can buy cheese or eat in Santa Cruz (the capital of costarrican cheese), pass near farms, see flowers in bloom, fresh rivers, pass by the house of late costarrican poet Jorge Debravo (who was from Guayabo Arriba), see the cone of the currently active Turrialba volcano and at the end, feel the forest that has retaken the area of the National Monument. The company that gives the bus service to Pacayas and Santa Cruz's name is Gemon and its telephone number is (506) 25373789.

The second route implies the 8 km walk as well. The third is serviced by a bus route, that gets to the entrance of the monument itself. The company's name is Autotransportes Rivera and here you'll find information about its service ( However, as it shows on this website, it's very few times a day, so you'll have to be at Turrialba at perfect timing to take the bus. Anyway, after visiting the monument, we took this bus to Turrialba at 4 pm (the monument closes between 3:30 and 4 pm).

After experiencing the rural surroundings, we visited in just over 1 hour and a half the main attractions of the monument. From the ticket stand (where you can also get a guide, that was really inexpensive), you can take two different routes.

I recommend to take the one on the left, that passes first by the "the Jaguar and the Crocodile Petroglyph", some tombs 'de cajón' and then, rise to the Viewpoint. The view (photo in the link) is breathtaking and you get a impression of what is the configuration of the archaeological remains. From there, you go down to the archaeological site, everything is well sign-posted and the road is marked. You see down there the mounds, the plazas, the functioning aqueduct, the tombs, the paved road or calzada and the two rectangular mounds that were used in precolumbian times to control the access .

Then, after passing a section of the forest, you get back to the ticket and information building. From there also starts a walk through the jungle, to appreciate the natural values of the site. However, on the contrary from the first trail, in the rainy season it is very muddy, we had to get back to where we started.

On the other side of the entrance, there are baths, a place for informational presentations, a campsite, places to eat (at the entrance, there are, by the way, people from the area, selling fruits and costarrican traditional dishes...this rounds up the whole experience), and a crafts shop. There you also take the bus to Turrialba.

In short, if you come to Costa Rica, I truly recommend to get to this site, whether by bus, bus and walk or car. The archaeological remains are really interesting and well taken care of, the jungle adds to its value, the road to Santa Cruz has wonderful landscapes and from there to Cartago, you get a true feel of what Costa Rica is about. A great one-day trip.

Read more from Esteban Cervantes Jiménez here.

Esteban Cervantes Jiménez

Costa Rica - 01-Apr-11 -

National archeological park of Guayabo de Turrialba (T) by Esteban Cervantes Jimenez

This is really worth a visit when you come to Costa Rica. It is almost unique not only because the indigenous communities in Costa Rica did not create sites not even far as grand as the ones created in northern Central America or Mexico, but also because in this country there has not been an adequate protection to archaeological remains, it happens the same as historic buildings, if a private owner finds some archaeological remain in the lot he is planning to build a supermarket, a hotel, a plantation, a road or anywhere else, quickly and silently bulldozes it before the archaeologists of the National Museum appear. Guayabo could have suffered the same destiny because it is located in a very fertile area in Turrialba highlands, eastern Cartago province, but late archaeologist Carlos Aguilar Piedra started back in the 60s regular excavations and campaigned to protect the site, already sacked and vandalized. As a site, it is small (4 ha), but the excavations have come just to the point that the government owns and it is believed that the site extends up to 15 or 20 ha.

The site culturally belongs to the intermediate zone, influenced primarily by the Chibchas and other cultures to the south, but having contact through Guanacaste to the Mesoamerican cultures.

The main features of Guayabo are the mounds that indicate through their size, height and location, the importance of the character that lived there on the mound. The houses were made of wood and organic material, reason for which they have disappeared long ago, before the site was abandoned even before the Spaniards came to Costa Rica, but it has been discovered through studies that this conical houses were large and needed a high degree of specialization, which corresponds to the refinement of the other features found.

Apart from an important number of significant petro glyphs, tombs, and stone sculptures, the two other features that stand out are the aqueduct and the perfectly aligned and build pre-Columbian roads or calzadas, which are believed to extend several kilometers far from the site.

About the aqueduct, it is composed of very refined systems that include underground tanks, sedimentation tanks, catchment outlets, a bridge and other features. But the most important factor is that the aqueduct still supplies water, almost 1500 years later after it was built. This was the main factor for which the whole complex of Guayabo was declared in 2009 a "world engineer heritage" by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Besides the cultural elements of the site, it is important to say that the setting of Guayabo is also impressive, on the foothills of Central Volcanic Sierra, with a view to nearby Turrialba Volcano and the exuberant montane rainforest that covers most of the 232 ha of the national monument has recovered from the time this was agricultural land and depicts several species of mammals (such as the anteater, armadillo, agouti, squirrels) but stands out for its abundant -and easy to see- birdlife.

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Full Name
National archeological park of Guayabo de Turrialba
Costa Rica
Extension of
1984 Rejected

1984 Removed from Tentative List

1981 Deferred

1980 Deferred

1980 Added to Tentative List

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