.. Guayabo National Monument...
by Infocostarica staff

Due to its unique geographic position at the southern tip of Central America, Costa Rica was important as a place where the South American Indian cultures and those of the North met and interacted. Not directly influenced by the Mayan culture, Costa Rica does not possess the imposing architecture and vast plazas seen at Tikal in Guatemala or Copán in Honduras. Nevertheless, archaeology buffs and nature enthusiasts will find that Guayabo National Monument’s tropical ambience and mysterious origins make for an enjoyable if not fascinating experience. The only archaeological park in the country, Guayabo protects the remains of a city that flourished and disappeared before the arrival of the Spaniards.

Guayabo National Monument was created in 1973 to conserve the largest archeological site in the country. The protected area consists of 540 acres at 3,600 feet (1,100 meters) above sea level on the slopes of Turrialba Volcano, 12 miles (19 km) from the city of Turrialba.

Since 1968 an estimated 10 percent (5 acres) of the total area has been excavated by the University of Costa Rica. And although archaeologists are still unclear about the significance of the site, excavations have revealed a number of cobbled roads, stone aqueducts, mounds, petroglyphs, tombs and sculptures that belonged to a pre-Columbian city, which was inhabited between 1000 B.C. and 1400 A.D.

As you enter the site, you will notice a road that passes between two rectangular stone structures, the road then winds around the largest mound and on to a rectangular water tank fed by a network of covered and uncovered aqueducts. The huge amounts of stone and slabs necessary to build causeways several kilometers long, as well as channels and other basic structures, suggest a highly developed knowledge of civil engineering and urban planning together with a large work force that was kept busy over a long period of time. Since the American Indians did not use the wheel, many of their streets are equipped with stairs to overcome inclined grades. Construction techniques reflect both South American and Mesoamerican influences, and evidence uncovered in archeological digs reveals their main sustenance crop was maize (corn).

Who built this lost city? Why did its inhabitants disappear just before the Spanish landed and colonized the area around what is now Puerto Limón on the Caribbean coast? Speculation suggests disease or starvation, maybe even war.

In addition to the archaeological site, Guayabo protects the only remaining primary forest in the province of Cartago, accounting for 22 percent of the park’s 538 acres. Many birds can be seen, especially in the mornings. These include the oropendulas that build sacklike nests high in the trees above the monument, toucans and loriots.

The site is open from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and guided tours are available (only in Spanish). The offices are located 50 m in front of the park entrance. At the Monument there is an archaeological research station, an exhibition room and a viewing point from which the whole archaeological area can be observed.

To get to the ruins, drive east about two hours from San José through Cartago to Turrialba. Follow the signs off the main road to town and across a bridge. About 9 miles (15 km) up the paved road, watch for a sign on the left that leads you up a dirt road. The park entrance is about 1.5 miles (3 km) down this road. There is also bus service between Turrialba and Colonia Guayabo, a town located about a mile from the park.