Located 36km north of Liberia on the Interamericana, much of PARQUE NACIONAL GUANACASTE was not long ago nothing more than cattle pasture. Influential biologist D.H. Janzen, editor of the seminal Costa Rican Natural History, who had been involved in field study for many years in nearby Santa Rosa, was instrumental in creating the park virtually from scratch in 1991. Raising over $11 million, mainly from foreign sources, he envisioned creating a kind of biological corridor in which animals, mainly mammals, would have a large enough tract of undisturbed habitat in which to hunt and reproduce.

The Santa Rosa–Guanacaste (and, to an extent, Rincón de la Vieja) corridor is the result of his work, representing one of the most important efforts to conserve and regenerate tropical dry forest in the Americas. Containing tropical wet and dry forests and a smattering of cloudforest, Parque Nacional Guanacaste also protects the springwell of the Río Tempisque, as well as the ríos Ahogados and Colorado. More than three hundred species of birds, including the orange-fronted parakeet and the white-throated magpie jay, have been recorded, while mammals lurking behind the undergrowth include jaguar, puma, tapir, coati, armadillo, two-toed sloth and deer. It’s also thought that there are about five thousand species of moths and butterflies, including the giant owl butterfly.

The park is devoted to research rather than tourism, and the administration staff at Santa Rosa discourage casual visitors. There are three main research stations, and it is sometimes possible to stay at them if you show enough interest and contact the Santa Rosa administration centre well in advance. Apart from the primary rainforest that exists at the upper elevations, the park’s highlight is an astonishing collection of pre-Columbian petroglyphs at El Pedregal. A trail leads to the site from the Maritza field station.

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