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
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.