Guayabo National Monument, Cartago

Guayabo National Monument
Guayabo National Monument
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Flanked to the south by the Turrialba Volcano, the Guayabo Nacional Monument is the largest and most important archaeological site in Costa Rica. Some 19 km north of the town of Turrialba, this 232-hectare monument was first uncovered in 1968 by Carlos Aguilar Piedra, an archeologist at the University of Costa Rica. Declared a national monument in 1973, only a small portion of these ruins have been uncovered, with much yet to be excavated.

Not as fascinating as say the Mayan or Aztec archeological sites, the Guayabo Nacional Monumento is intriguing in its own right. Here, one can find a sophisticated city infrastructure as well as an aqueduct system and mysterious petroglyphs and tombs. The pottery and gold artifacts that were unearthed from here are now on display at the National Museum in San Jose.

Inhabited as early as 1000 BC, archaeologists are still unclear why this thriving city was mysteriously abandoned around 1400 AD. Believed to have reached its pinnacle of development in 800 AD, the stone causeways, cobbled pavements and circular mounds of this pre-Columbian city are pretty impressive. To date most archaeologists believe that this city was a key religious, political and cultural center.

The Guayabo National Monument sits on only 10% of its total land area, while the remainder 90% of the land is a premontane rainforest. One of the last remaining stretches of rainforest of its kind in Cartago, not much wildlife can be found living here. Of the most notable birds in the area, the most striking has to be the oropendolas, which live in sack-like nests in the trees. Brown jays and toucans are the most commonly seen birds out here. Of the few mammals that live here, coatis, armadillos and squirrels are frequently spotted.

If you like, you can stay at the Guayabo Nacional Monumento, as camping is allowed here. Visitor facilities here include a ranger station as well as public toilets and running water. The best time to visit this national monument is during January and April. To get here the easiest way is to catch a bus from Turrialba to Guayabo village.