Guanacaste Conservation Area


Guanacaste Conservation Area’s ocelots, peccaries, white-faced and howler monkeys are among beneficiaries of a bold plan linking Guanacaste National Park with adjoining SANTA ROSA NATIONAL PARK with complementary habitat here of wet and dry forest that continues up and around Orosi and Cacao volcanoes. Together the two create a corridor where wildlife can range safely in traditional migration paths from the coast all the way to the highlands.

Saved as well are magnificent examples of Costa Rica’s national tree, for which this park is named—up to 100 feet (30.5 m) tall, supporting under its broad canopy a wildlife community of some of this park’s 260 species of brilliant birds, 5,000 kinds of butterflies and moths, 3,000 kinds of orchids and other epiphytic plants (which derive their moisture and nutrients from rain and air), along with hundreds of amphibians, reptiles, and large and small mammals.

Jaguars are at home as are troops of ringtailed coatimundis which range widely. So do large-billed toucans and sweet-singing bellbirds. Turkey-sized crested guans forage for fallen fruits. Trogons are inconspicuous until they spread their colorful wings and swoop after insects.

A dry-forest specialty rare elsewhere are noisy white-throated magpie jays, long-tailed, sky blue with exotic curly head plumes. They “mob” spectacled owls and any other suspiciouslooking visitors, sometimes including humans.

More than a dozen separate biological habitats have been identified here, from salt and freshwater lakes and swamps through grasslands and wooded savannahs, and dry and cloud forests on volcanic slopes.

In addition, the natural water system in the Palo Verde section adjoining has created an environment capable of supporting one of the largest concentrations of waterfowl and wading birds, both native and migratory (including large numbers of wood storks and roseate spoonbills), in Central America. There are nesting grounds of endangered jabiru storks and the only colony of scarlet macaws in the dry Pacific forest. Crocodiles up to 16 feet (5 m) long patrol the Tempisque River.

Guanacaste, 131 square miles (340 km2), is 174 miles (280 km) northwest of San José on the Inter-American highway, which separates it from Santa Rosa National Park. Best times are January–March dry season; 4WD is a good idea, or taxi service can be arranged in nearby Liberia to the Maritza field station—after that it’s mostly trail-hiking. Overnight accommodations (some cold water only) can be arranged in advance at biological field stations. (See also Santa Rosa NP headquarters, Tel: (+506) 695-5598.)

 Living fossils unchanged on earth for some 35 million years, tapirs look like cousins of elephants but are more closely related to rhinoceros and horses. Prehensile-looking upper lips are useful for shoveling food in the mouth and gathering leaves from places their tongues and teeth can’t reach. Tapirs are good swimmers and seek out watery, forested swamps in Central and northern South America.

Living fossils unchanged on earth for some 35 million years, tapirs look like cousins of elephants but are more closely related to rhinoceros and horses. Prehensile-looking upper lips are useful for shoveling food in the mouth and gathering leaves from places their tongues and teeth can’t reach. Tapirs are good swimmers and seek out watery, forested swamps in Central and northern South America.

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