Tourism entrepreneurs in the canton of Guatuso, in northeastern Alajuela, are on the verge of losing their businesses following the closure of a path known as “La Paz” that provides the community access to popular tourist destinations in the Tenorio Volcano National Park. Those destinations include Río Celeste, Laguna Azul, La Paz waterfall, and a sector of hot springs.
Guatuso Vice Mayor Wilson Campos Cerdas last week said he received a notice two weeks ago from the National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC) informing municipal officials that “the only official entrance to the national park will be located in the canton of Upala,” some three kilometers northwest of Guatuso.
That entrance, known as “El Pilón,” was recently built by SINAC “even though 80 percent of the park is within Guatuso’s territory,” Campos said.
The SINAC notice also states that the La Paz entrance is unsafe and current conditions could cause an accident. Because officials cannot guarantee the safety of tourists entering the park via the La Paz entrance, officials decided to close it.
Campos said municipal officials do not oppose the opening of a new entrance, but it is “unfair” to close the La Paz path because tourism is the most important source of income for many Guatuso residents. He said SINAC would not allow Guatuso residents to make improvements to the La Paz path, and the environmental agency is only investing in the new entrance in Upala.
“We are neighboring cantons, and we believe the natural beauty of the area can be of economic benefit to both communities. We don’t understand why SINAC insists that tourists must access the area only through Upala,” Campos told The Tico Times. “Tourists have entered the national park through La Paz path for 30 years, and its closure affects many Guatuso residents who depend on tourism.”
Campos also said SINAC workers from the Tenorio Volcano National Park recently dug a ditch and moved debris over a sector of the La Paz path, making it impossible to access the Río Celeste waterfall from Guatuso.
Alexander León Campos, MINAE’s regional director of conservation areas, on Monday denied that access via the La Paz path is blocked, saying in a press release that park staff “only removed some large rocks that endangered visitors and posted information on signs.” The sign reads: “Enter at your own risk,” residents said.
Representatives of the Guatuso Municipality, the local Chamber of Tourism, and community and indigenous leaders met last week with environment officials at SINAC offices in San José to urge them to leave the Guatuso entrance open.
Following the meeting, Environment Vice Minister Ana Lorena Guevara visited the site last Friday. She said the ministry is committed to finding a solution that would allow improvements to the Guatuso entrance so that it can be reopened.
However, in a press release, León said “all tourists in the park without an official MINAE ticket will be asked to leave.” Those tickets are sold only at the El Pilón entrance.
Guatuso residents met again on Monday to evaluate the situation and to plan their next move.
For now, they no longer have access to the Tenorio Volcano National Park or its tourists, their main source of income.