Established in 1971 to protect a stretch of increasingly rare dry tropical forest, PARQUE NACIONAL SANTA ROSA, 35km north of Liberia, is Costa Rica’s oldest national park. Today it’s one of the most popular in the country, thanks to its good trails, great surfing (though poor swimming) and prolific turtle-spotting opportunities. It’s also, given a few official restrictions, a great destination for campers, with a couple of sites on the beach.
Santa Rosa has an amazingly diverse topography for its size of 387 square kilometres, ranging from mangrove swamp to deciduous forest and savannah. Home to 115 species of mammals (half of them bats), 250 species of birds and 100 of amphibians and reptiles (not to mention 3800 species of moths), Santa Rosa is a rich biological repository, attracting researchers from all over the world. Jaguars and pumas prowl the park, though you’re unlikely to see them; what you may spot – at least in the dry season – are coati, coyotes and peccaries, often snuffling around watering holes.
The appearance of the park changes drastically between the dry season, when the many streams and small lakes dry up, trees lose their leaves, and thirsty animals can be seen at known waterholes, and the wet months, which are greener, but afford fewer animal-viewing opportunities. From July to November however, you may be able to witness hundreds of olive ridley turtles (lloras) dragging themselves out of the surf and nesting on Playa Nancite by moonlight; September and October are the months on which you are most likely to see them. Turtles arrive singly or occasionally in arribadas, a phenomenon unique to this species where thousands of females arrive en masse to lay their eggs. In an attempt to avoid the disturbances caused by big tour groups which have been a problem at places like Tortuguero, a maximum of twenty visitors are allowed access to the nesting area each day; reserve your place on t 2666-5051 or ask at the administration centre when you arrive. Though too rough for swimming, the picturesque beaches of Naranjo and Nancite, about 12km down a bad road from the administration centre, are popular with serious surfers. They’re also great places to hang out for a while, or do a little camping and walking on the nearby trails.Read More
Tropical dry forest
Tropical dry forest
With its mainly deciduous cover, Guanacaste’s tropical dry forest, created by the combination of a Pacific lowland topography and arid conditions, looks startlingly different depending upon the time of year. In the height of the dry season, almost no rain falls on lowland Guanacaste, the trees are bare, having shed their leaves in an effort to conserve water, and the landscape takes on a melancholy, burnt-sienna hue. In April or May, when the rains come, the whole of Guanacaste perks up and begins to look comparatively green, although the dry forest never takes on the lush look of the rainforest.
The story of the demise of the tropical dry forests in Mesoamerica is one of nearly wholesale destruction. In all, only about two percent of the region’s pre-Columbian dry forest survives, and what was once a carpet stretching the length of the Pacific side of the isthmus from southern Mexico to Panamá now exists only in besieged pockets. Today, dry forests cover just 518 square kilometres of Costa Rica, almost all in Guanacaste, concentrated around the Río Tempisque and, more significantly, north in the Parque Nacional Santa Rosa. Due to deforestation and climatic change, tropical dry forests are considered a rare life-zone. Their relative dryness means they are easily overrun by field fires, which ranchers light in order to burn off old pasture. Hardy grasses spring up in their wake, such as the imported African jaragua, which gives much of Guanacaste its African savannah-like appearance.
Along with the leafy trees, tropical dry forest features palms and even a few evergreens. At the very top of a good thick patch of dry forest you see the umbrella form of canopy trees, although these are much shorter than in the tropical rainforest. Dry forest is a far less complex ecosystem than the humid rainforest, which has about three or four layers of vegetation. Like temperate-zone deciduous forests, the tropical dry forest has only two strata. The ground shrub layer is fleshed out by thorn bushes and tree ferns, primitive plants that have been with us since the time of the dinosaurs. Unlike rainforest, dry forest has very few epiphytes (plants growing on the trees), except for bromeliads (the ones that look something like upside-down pineapple leaves). The most biologically diverse examples of tropical dry forest are in the lower elevations of Parque Nacional Santa Rosa, where the canopy trees are a good height, with many different species of deciduous trees. There are also some pockets of mangroves and even a few evergreens in the wetter parts of the park.
Tropical dry forests can support a large variety of mammal life, as in the Parque Nacional Santa Rosa–Parque Nacional Guanacaste corridor. Deer and smaller mammals, such as the coati and paca, are most common, along with large cats, from the jaguar to the ocelot, provided they have enough room to hunt. You may see the endangered scarlet macaw, which likes to feed on the seeds of the sandbox tree, in a few remaining pockets of Pacific dry forest, including Lomas Barbudal and, further south, around Río Tarcoles and Parque Nacional Carara, itself a transition zone between the dry forests of the north and the wetter tropical cover of the southern Pacific coast. In addition, the staggering number and diversity of insects are of great interest to biologists and entomologists: there are more than two hundred types of bee in Lomas Barbudal, for example, and a large number of butterflies and moths in Parque Nacional Santa Rosa.