MINI volcanoes, egg-laying leatherback turtles, miles of trails, camping, natural hot springs, spelunking and beaches await the explorers of Guanacaste’s parks. A deceptively profound diversity of sights is within the province’s 21 nationally protected conservation areas – more than the beautiful beaches and always-sunny weather for which the Pacific coast is known.
Most parks have entrance fees of $7 for tourists, ¢600 ($1.40) for residents and nationals, and keep hours from 7 or 8 a.m. to 4 or 5 p.m. Guides are available at most parks, and charge by the person or by the group. Questions about the parks and wildlife reserves are fielded within the country at one number, the national park hotline: 192. Most reserves have their own ranger stations with phone numbers that are available at the hotline. On the Web, helpful sites are: www.1costaricalink.com and www.tourism-costarica.com.
A network of caves – 19 of which have been explored – interlace the Barra Honda National Park (686-6760), 22 kilometers northwest of Nicoya (TT Weekend, Jan. 30). Guides take groups of up to eight people on four-hour tours of some of the most impressive caverns, such as Terciopelo, La Trampa and Santa Ana. Santa Ana is one of the deepest, shooting down 240 meters. Terciopelo has the most to look at, with rock formations such as stalagtites, stalagmites, columns, rocky pearls and flowers, popcorn mushroom and shark-tooth-like structures.
ONE of its attractions Is called the Organ, because soft taps rouse a range of sounds. La Trampa – the trap – is so named for the sudden drop near the front door. The descent is a vertical 52 meters. The cave is spacious, with large rooms, one of which is lined with sparkly white calcite. Another, the Pozo Hediondo – Pestilent Hole – is so named for the guano dropped from its resident bats. It is the only cave with any great number of the creatures.
In addition to the caves, the park of nearly 2,300 hectares is home to a number of plant and animal species, including the capuchin monkey, coyotes, armadillo, deer, foxes, vultures, magpies and skunks.
Foot paths link mini-volcanoes and hot springs in the Rincón de la Vieja National Park (two entrances: 695-5577, 661-8139) in Guanacaste’s cordillera, 27 kilometers northwest of Liberia. The volcano of the same name rises 1,916 meters, has erupted from nine fissures (one of which is active) and has a lagoon in the south end of the crater. The last violent eruptions occurred between 1966 and 1970, when the mountain threw out huge clouds of ash and made a lot of noise. The most recent eruption was in 1991, and now it spouts gas and smoke from time to time.
At the foot of the volcano are hot springs and waterfalls, lagoons, pools of bubbling mud, vaporous spouts and small muddy volcanoes – about five meters in circumference – that spew gases.
THE park contains a range of habitats depending on the altitude, the amount of precipitation and the effects of the volcanic activity. Some of the most common trees are laurel, guanacaste, cedar, oak and cypress. The peak of the volcano is reached via an 8-km hike. Park biologists have counted 257 species of birds, including wild black turkeys, toucans, hummingbirds and owls. Larger animals include mountain goats, armadillos and monkeys.
Hours are from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Camping sites are available. Park guard Javier Sihezar says a run of the entire park takes about three days and advises against camping in the rainy season.
Park director and biologist Rodney Piedra calls the Las Baulas National Marine Park (653-0470) “the most important for sea turtles in the Western Pacific.”
It juts out right on the western-most tip of Guanacaste at Playa Grande, and is the most popular nesting site in the Western Pacific for leatherback turtles. (See separate story, page S-5).
The park’s 445 hectares encompass beaches, forests and mangroves and are home to 174 species of birds, cuddly and not-so cuddly creatures, such as raccoons, caymans and howler and capuchin monkeys.
Piedra advises that tourists call before they visit, because access is restricted to certain seasons and limited to 120 people each day during the egg laying season (the end of September to the end of March).
Cameras are not allowed, neither is camping, and tours are with guides.
Admission costs ¢1,000 ($2.35) for residents and nationals, $8 for tourists, and guides cost ¢500 ($1.20) per person in each group. Information on leatherbacks and their study is available at www.leatherback.org.