Guayabo National Monument. Pre-Columbian archaeological jewel.

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  • We begin our entries on national parks with a one-day destination, a little visited park and yet close to the capital city, a place that not only holds scenic beauty but also incalculable cultural, historical and archaeological value. Today we talk about the Guayabo National Monument Park.

About Guayabo National Monument.

Guayabo National Monument is located northwest of the city of Turrialba, in the Santa Teresita District of the canton of Turrialba, province of Cartago.

About 20 hectares of the protected area comprise the archaeological site, which consists of a group of pre-Hispanic architectural structures made of stone – river pebbles – built between 1000 BC and 1400 AD, for a prolonged occupation of approximately 2,400 years.

Within its 233 hectares, this wilderness area protects a remnant of pre-montane evergreen rainforest. It is located between 990 and 1300 metres above sea level and the average annual temperature reaches 24 ºC.

Guayabo National Monument holds the designation of World Heritage of Civil Engineering, a designation granted by the American Association of Civil Engineers, one of the most prestigious entities in the world in this field. This designation recognizes the engineering achievements and techniques of the early inhabitants of Guayabo National Monument that have endured through the ages.

History of Guayabo National Monument.

Guayabo National Monument is the most important site with preserved and protected archaeological structures in Costa Rica.

The first reports of the archaeological site were made in 1886 by the naturalist Anastasio Alfaro. In 1964 the Instituto de Tierras y Colonización acquired part of the Hacienda Guayabo and declared it a Municipal Park.

Later, in the period 1968-1973, the archaeologist Carlos Aguilar Piedra, professor at the University of Costa Rica, began the first scientific investigations and achieved the declaration of National Monument, by means of Law No. 5300 of 13 August 1973, with the main objective of protecting the archaeological site discovered there, as a representative sample of Costa Rica’s archaeological heritage.

The area excavated by the scientific method to date is approximately 4 hectares, with a total of 16 hectares still to be excavated. Investigations have revealed that this archaeological site was occupied from 1000 BC to 1400 AD, although the greatest development of the chiefdom took place around 800 AD, the time when the stone structures that can be seen today were obtained.

The economy of this indigenous group was based on agriculture, hunting and fishing. From the discoveries made there, archaeologists infer that this city was inhabited by people specialised in different fields, led by a cacique or shaman, who exercised political and religious power over the region.

It is not yet known why this site was selected for habitation or why it was abandoned even before the arrival of the Spanish. The Guayabo site belongs to the cultural region called the Intermediate Area, which stretches from Alajuela in Costa Rica to the plains of the Orinoco River in Venezuela and northern Ecuador.

Admission Fees and Opening Hours.

Opening hours:

Every day from 8:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., including holidays.

Entrance fees:

  • ¢1000 National visitors and residents over 13 years old.
  • ¢500 National and resident children (age 2-12 years)
  • $5 Non-resident visitors over 13 years of age.
  • $5 Non-resident children (age 2 to 12 years)
  • ¢500 National visitors and residents of primary and secondary education, on educational tours organised by the educational centres and which have been previously coordinated with the Administration of the protected wilderness area.
  • Higher education students must pay the established fee for national or non-resident visitors, over 13 years of age.
  • Admission is free for children under 2 years of age, as well as for national visitors and residents over 65 years of age.
  • 2$ Right to camp

How to get there?

By car: Take the road to Cartago, Cervantes, Turrialba, Santa Teresita, Guayabo National Monument, 84 kilometres from San José.

By bus: From San José, Transtusa bus terminal, located on Calle 13 Ave. 6 or from Cartago, south side of the Supreme Court of Justice, in Turrialba take the bus that leaves from the regional terminal to the Guayabo National Monument every day at 6:00 am, 10:30 am, 12:30 pm and 3:00 pm.

What can be done and what can we see?

The vegetation surrounding the archaeological area is characteristic of a pre-montane rainforest and is made up of dense, green foliage. There is an abundance of forest species such as caragra, magnolia, cantarillo, higuerón, quizarrá, cirrí, burío and cedro María, covered by a large number of epiphytic plants such as bromeliads and orchids.

Among the fauna found here are birds such as toucan, oropendola, trogon, woodpecker, momoto, piapia, yigüirro and chachalaca and also some small mammals such as armadillo, rabbit, coyote, sloth, tolomuco, squirrel and pizote. There is also a great variety of insects and some reptiles typical of the area such as snakes, frogs and lizards.

The park has a great diversity of fauna with a variety of birds, including 515 species of resident and migratory birds. The king of vultures (Sarcoramphus papa), bellbird (Procnias tricarunculata), goldfinch (Myadestes melanops) and the quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno) stand out.

Mammal species include the white-faced (Cebus capuchinus), red (Ateles geoffroyi) and howler (Alouatta palliata) monkeys; tapir (Tapirus bairdii), puma (Puma concolor), jaguar (Panthera onca), peccary (Tayassu pecari), peccary bear (Tamandua tetradactyla), mountain goat (Mazama temama) and coyote (Canis latrans).

Nearby activities and destinations.

On the San José – Guápiles road you will be able to observe the scenic beauties of the National Park, where we recommend a visit to the Quebrada González Post, which has three trails through the tropical rainforest.

These trails have interpretative stations and panoramic viewpoints: Las Palmas with a distance of 1.5 km; El Ceibo with a distance of 1 km and the Botarrama with a distance of 2.5 km; you can also enjoy the viewpoint to the Sucio river.

This sector of the park has drinking water, toilets, lunch areas, information on site and parking. In the Barva Volcano Sector you will find four trails: Cacho Venado, Laguna Barva, Copey and Mirador Vara Blanca, with a total distance of 10 km and where you can enjoy the different types of forest that the site offers to visitors. Water, toilets, lunch tables and a camping area are available at the site.

Archaeological Significance.

In total the archaeological area comprises 232 hectares, of which only a small part has been excavated. Various archaeological features such as mounds, stairways, causeways, open and closed aqueducts, water storage tanks, tombs, petroglyphs, monoliths and sculptures can be found in this area.

Petroglyph Guayabo National Monument

In the central area of the monument there are different stone mounds or bases, which generally have a circular base of different sizes and are from 0.5 to 4.5m high, with a diameter of 10m to 30m .

The causeways are made up of a set of stone paths used as transit routes and as part of the drainage system. There are some causeways that extend in different directions in the excavated area, several kilometres long, as well as steps or stairways that function as stone structures to overcome unevenness.

The monument also contains a complex network of aqueducts, some of which are still in operation and were intended as closed or open channels to carry water to the desired locations or to storage tanks in the main part of the city, which are rectangular stone structures.

In addition, the site has different box tombs located in various sectors of the archaeological site, built with boulders and flagstones.

As for artistic manifestations, petroglyphs or engraved stones are the most abundant and are located throughout the archaeological area, including the monolith of the jaguar and the lizard, which consists of a stone carved with the figure of a jaguar on one side and a lizard on the other, the meaning of which remains undeciphered.


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