Guanacaste National Park
Rain forests, the rain-drenched, dark jungle isn’t the only type of forest in Costa Rica. Dry forests actually covered most of the Pacific coast of Mexico and Central America until recent times. This forest type, defined by pronounced dry and wet seasons, has become rare throughout its historic range in Central America because of conversion to cattle pasture and savannah. Recognizing that dry forest was being overlooked as a conservation priority, famed ecologist Dan Janzen fought for the creation of Guanacaste National Park in Costa Rica. Since then, the park has hosted student groups, adventurous tourists and scientists studying the dry forest biome.
Location and how to get there
Guanacaste National Park is one of the most aptly named parks in Costa Rica as it protects habitat typical of the province of the same name. This large 26,856 hectare park is found in northwestern Costa Rica, 30 kilometers north of Liberia on the eastern side of the Pan-American Highway. To get there from San Jose, take the highway north towards Liberia. The park headquarters and roads to 3 different sectors are around 20 to 30 minutes past Liberia. The whole trip takes around 4-5 hours.
A large national park that is a piece of an even larger conservation area, by virtue of its size, Guanacaste National Park is able to provide habitat for large animals such as Jaguar, Puma, Great Curassow, White-tailed Deer and Tapir. Three monkey species, Coati, Nine-banded Armadillo, Boa Constrictor, Tropical Rattlesnake and many species restricted to dry forests are also found here. Perhaps the most important role that Guanacaste plays in terms of conserving biodiversity is the corridor it provides for wildlife that need to migrate upslope to cooler, wetter areas during the harsh dry season.
Visiting the Tropical Dry Forest Research Center
The headquarters for the park are where you can learn more about research and restoration projects carried out in Guanacaste as well as get up to date information on accessibility and maybe animal sightings. The headquarters are found on the eastern side of the Pan-American Highway just after the town of Potrerillos.
Cacao Biological Station; where the dry forest meets the rain forest
The Cacao Sector of the Park has a biological station and good hiking trails that start in the dry forest and end in the cloud and rain forests of Cacao Volcano. Walking the trails in this sector can be very productive for seeing wildlife; all 3 monkey species are almost certain to be seen as well as Collared Peccaries, Coatis, Keel-billed Toucan and many other birds, butterflies and interesting plants. Although always difficult to see, even wild cat species are possible. Long hikes here, as in other wild areas, should only be attempted with adequate supplies and preparations. This sector can be reached by turning off the highway at Potrerillos then taking a left at Quebrada Grande.
The Maritza Sector; heart of the park
In the heart of the park, trails around the Maritza Sector can be good for wildlife attracted to streams that flow through this area. There are also pre-Columbian petroglyphs found in this sector; watch for these ancient drawings in rocky areas. The road leading to this sector can be good for night hikes. To reach Maritza, watch for the entrance road on the right, a few kilometers after the headquarters on the highway.
The rain forests of Pitilla
On the eastern edge of Guanacaste National Park, the Pitilla sector is actually on the Caribbean slope. If you miss the rain, come to this sector to get wet in its wild rain forest. A biological station and some trails are found here, open from 8 to 4. To reach this remote area of the park, go past the headquarters on the highway and take the road to the right to Santa Cecilia. Three kilometers past Santa Cecilia, take a right then follow the signs.
Basic, dormitory lodging is available in all sectors but make reservations in advance because they are often used by student groups and researchers. Other lodging is available in La Cruz and Liberia; both a 30-40 minute drive from the park.