Guanacaste National Park


Location: N of Liberia on the E side of the Inter-American Highway.
Size: 80,337 acres (32,512 ha). Hours: Always open, but trails limited to use by overnight visitors at research stations.
Information/Reservations: Telephone hotline 192, telephonelfax (506) 695-5598, (506) 695-5577;

Established in 1989, Guanacaste encompasses dry tropical forest and rain forest stretching from lowlands along the northern Inter-American Highway to the mountains of the Guanacaste range. Preservation and restoration of one of the last remaining tropical dry forests was an impetus for forming Guanacaste National Park. Tropical dry forests once stretched along the Pacific from central Mexico to Panama, but most have fallen to agricultural and residential use. At adjoining Santa Rosa park, studies on the forest's seasonal patterns, distinct life forms, and interactions between plants and animals help determine the size and habitats necessary to sustain healthy populations of species. Seasonal migration of some of the animal life from Santa Rosa to rain forests in mountains on the east meant protecting those forests as well.

In addition to protecting remaining forest, regeneration is underway on large areas cleared earlier for agriculture and pasture. Environmental education programs for visitors, who range from local schoolchildren to foreign travelers, share what is being learned in this restoration process.

The good news for nature lovers is that biological stations offer accommodations for tourists as well as researchers, on a space-available basis. The trails are limited to overnight visitors-no day visits.

Cacao Biological Station sits in cloud forest at 3,609 feet (1,100 in). Cacao Volcano, at 5,443 feet (1,659 in), looms above. Sleeping quarters are in one of the station's three wooden buildings: four rooms for eight people each, blankets provided. A panorama of forest and distant coastline unfolds from a long, covered porch. The station is rustic: no electricity, cold-water showers. Other small buildings house a kitchen and a laboratory or meeting space. Bring your own food. Virgin forest behind the buildings holds tapirs, cats, bellbirds, orchids, and bromeliads. Howler monkeys announced daybreak Hiking in the afternoon, we saw howler, spider, and white-faced monkeys within 300 feet (90 in) of each other. There is a trail to the Maritza Biological Station, about three hours away by foot, and one to the top of Cacao. A local guide is recommended for getting to Cacao-when the bad road ends, continue on a notwell-marked trail by foot or horseback.

Maritza is accessible by a road best traversed in four-wheel-drive vehicles. I can attest to that, having slid the entire 11 miles (18 km) after a serious downpour. Maritza lies on the skirts of Orosi Volcano in a windier, cooler area. A more modem facility, the station can house 32 tourists and researchers; shared baths, bring your own food.

In forests around the rivers, wildlife is abundant: toucans, bellbirds, peccaries, sun bitterns, monkeys. jaguars have been known to kill cattle in the area.. Coatis frequently visit the station. Less than 2 hours from Maritza by foot is Llano de los Indios, an open pasture with petroglyphs carved in volcanic stone. More than 80 pieces of rock art are both abstract and representational.

In the Atlantic watershed, Pitilla Biological Station houses 32 persons (shared cold-water baths; bring your own food). Both the facilities and the road leading to it are rustic; there's no electricity, and four-wheel-drive is necessary. (Enter via Santa Cecilia.) Views from Pitilla include the Lake of Nicaragua and Orosi Volcano.

A research station is on Murcielagos Islands-Institute of Biological Investigations San Jose, on San Jose Island. Scientists study the abundant marine flora and fauna as well as land species. Ask about visiting or camping.

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