December 24th, 2015 (ICR News) //EG// Costa Rica is famous for many things as a tourist destination: beaches, national parks teeming with wildlife, zip lining, rafting, volcanoes, etc. Yet, so many of the country’s subdued treasures are often overlooked. Among these attractions are a few very nice archaeological sites.
There are no sites to rival Teotihuacán, Copán, or Machu Picchu. Still, there are at least two attractions worth seeing. Both of these sites are now readily accessible and have services that allow for comfortable visits by travelers.
MONUMENTO NACIONAL GUAYABO
Guayabo has long been recognized as a national monument by the Government of Costa Rica. It is located west of San José, north of the city of Turrialba. There are tours, some in the small buses called turismos. The last few miles are a little bumpy, but it is entirely accessible by an ordinary vehicle. It has been designated a World Heritage Civil Engineering site.
The park covers around 575 acres, although fewer than 100 make up the archaeological area. Much of the site remains unexcavated, although work continues in an intermittent fashion. Recently, there has been an extensive dig going on with the express purpose of learning about the pre-Columbian construction techniques. The goal is to allow for reconstruction and preservation in the most authentic manner possible. Recent dating with Carbon 14 indicates Guayabo was built between 900 and 1100 A.D.
An easy 1 mile trail, Sendero Los Montículos, takes you around through forest, past mounds, aqueducts, walkways, stone stairs, water storage tanks, and rectangular stone tombs. The engineering, especially around the management of water resources, is impressive. Don’t miss the excellent petroglyph (low relief carving in stone) in a small covered display area near the visitors’ center.
It’s also just a nice walk in a pretty peaceful place. There is a separate nature trail that starts close to the entrance.
It’s easy to combine a trip to Guayabo with a visit to other area attractions. The scenic Orosi valley is nearby with its lovely old Church of San José Orosi. Irazú Volcano and the national park atop the summit are must sees. Turrialba volcano is very close, but has been very active lately and much of the park is closed for safety reasons. The Ruins of Ujarrás, a colonial church site, has a lovely adjoining park that is a great spot for a picnic lunch.
A variety of accommodations are available in Turrialba, Orosi, and on the road leading to the Irazú.
Please note nearby Turrialba Volcano began erupting on October 29, 2014. The surrounding area was covered in ash and many people were evacuated. Subsequent rains washed away much of the ash. Currently, Guayabo is open and eager for visitors.
ZONA ARQUEOLÓGICA FINCA 6
Archaeological Zone Ranch 6 is an inelegant name for a lovely site in Palmar Sur, the far south of Costa Rica. It is also known sometimes as the Parque Arqueológico, Las Esferas de Diquís, etc. If you mention las esferas, the spheres, any local will understand what you are talking about.
The site is located just a few miles south of Palmar Norte on the Inter-American Highway. The road is level and paved, easily reached in any vehicle. There is a newly opened visitors’ center and a small transportation area to facilitate parking, buses, etc.
The spheres are pre-Columbian man-made stone balls. They range in size from 4 to 60 inches in diameter and up to 16 tons in weight. They are remarkably round and uniform. For many years, this quality led many to question whether they were the result of some natural phenomenon. The four primary locations of the spheres were named by UNESCO as World Heritage sites in June of 2014.
The park has well marked trails with explanatory signs. The trails wind around past working plantain fields and through brush. There are a number of spheres and some mounds. The spheres and mounds are all in cleared grassy areas.
The spheres attract a great of attention for their mystery. One Spanish astrologist tried to organize an international rock concert at the site. There was a lot of publicity and some talk of New World mysticism, but they ended up wallowing in very earthy Costa Rican mud.
Dating the spheres is mostly a guessing game. I see starting dates as early as 300 B.C. and as late as 500 A.D. They were made for a long period of time, but were no longer being fabricated by 1500.
A trip to Finca 6 can easily be combined with travel to other interesting destinations. It is not far off the main road leading to Puerto Jiménez, the jumping off point for the wilder areas of the Osa Penninsula. Just a couple miles south of the park you will find the lovely, and little known, town of Sierpe. Sierpe is one of my favorite spots to spend a few days taking wildlife pontoon boat tours of the mangrove swamps. Larger vessels take visitors to Isla del Caño, Corcovado, etc. It is also the point of embarkation for boat shuttles to Drake Bay.
There are a number of hotels and restaurants in Palmar Norte and Sierpe.