Guayabo National Monument
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Guayabo National Monument (tel. 506/2559-1220 or public phone 506/2559-0099, 8 a.m.–3:30 p.m. daily, $6 adults, $1 children), on the southern flank of Volcán Turrialba, 19 kilometers north of Turrialba, is the nation’s only archaeological site of any significance.
Don’t expect anything of the scale or scope of the Mayan and Aztec ruins of Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, or Belize. The society that lived here between 1000 B.C. and A.D. 1400, when the town was mysteriously abandoned, was far less culturally advanced than its northern neighbors.
No record exists of the Spanish having known of Guayabo. In fact, the site lay uncharted until rediscovered in the late 19th century. Systematic excavations—still underway—were begun in 1968.
The 218-hectare monument encompasses tropical wet forest on valley slopes surrounding the archaeological site. Trails lead to a lookout point, where you can surmise the layout of the pre-Columbian village. To the south, a wide cobbled pavement leads past ancient stone entrance gates and up a slight gradient to the village center, which at its peak housed an estimated 1,000 people.
(The pavement—calzada—is in perfect alignment with the cone of Volcán Turrialba.) Conical bamboo living structures were built on large circular stone mounds (montículos), with paved pathways between them leading down to aqueducts and a large water tank.
About four hectares have been excavated and are open to the public via the Mound Viewing Trail. Note the monolithic rock carved with petroglyphs of an alligator and a jaguar.
The ranger booth sells a self-guided-tour pamphlet ($1). Opposite the booth are the park administration office, a miniature model of the site, and a hut with pre-Columbian finds. Many of the artifacts unearthed here are on display at the National Museum in San José.
Just below the park, the Guayabo Butterfly Garden (tel. 506/2559-0162 or 8832-3586, 8 a.m.–4 p.m. Mon.–Sat., $2 adults, $1 children) has 15 butterfly species flitting about in a netted garden. It also displays snakes and frogs. Horseback rides are offered ($10 per hour).
Hotels and Restaurants
The ranger station offers eight campsites with shelters ($2 pp), plus flush toilets, cold-water showers, and barbecue pits.
Guayabo Butterfly Garden (tel. 506/2559-0162 or 8832-3586, $15 pp) has a four-bedroom hostel with basic kitchen; plus a simply furnished three-bedroom house ($50). A-frame cabins and a restaurant were being added.
The delightful eco-sensitive Guayabo Lodge (tel./fax 506/2538-8492, www.guayabolodge.com, $65 s, $85 d year-round), 400 meters west of Santa Cruz, enjoys a hillside setting. This modern two-story structure has 23 uniquely decorated rooms with parquet floors and delightful decor that includes wrought-iron beds, gaily painted armoires, and charming sculptures and other artwork depicting various indigenous gods of the Americas. A six-bedroom villa was to be added ($400 per night). When not exploring the 80-hectare finca, settle yourself in a hammock and enjoy the superb views. The finca has its own dairy and cheese factory (tours are given), and it hosts a cooking school. There is a hiking trail.
You can catch a filling meal at La Calzada (tel. 506/2559-0437, 8 p.m.–5 p.m. Tues.–Thurs.), 400 meters below the park entrance. It serves local fare, plus trout fresh from its own pond.
Getting to Guayabo National Monument
Buses depart Turrialba for Guayabo village from Avenida 4, Calle 2, at 11:15 a.m., 2:30 p.m., and 5:30 p.m. Monday–Saturday and at 9 a.m., 3 p.m., and 6 p.m. Sunday. Return buses depart Guayabo at 5:30 a.m., 6:30 a.m., 11:30 p.m., and 4 p.m. Monday–Saturday (6:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m., and 4 p.m. Sun.). A taxi from Turrialba will cost about $30 round-trip.
The paved road from Turrialba deteriorates to a rough dirt and rock path about four kilometers below Guayabo. You can approach Guayabo from the northwest, via Santa Cruz; it’s about 10 kilometers by rough dirt road and is signed.
© Christopher P. Baker from Moon Costa Rica, 8th Edition