Guayabo National Monument
Guayabo National Monument

Guayabo: National Monument

The National Monument of Guayabo was established to protect one of the biggest and most important archeological places in Costa Rica. It is in the region of Santa Teresita, Turrialba in Cartago, approximately 85 kilometers from San Jose. It has an extension of 2.179 hectares, that protects the tall evergreen pluvial premontane forests, and the archeologic structures like roads, mounds, bridges, recruitment water tanks, aqueducts, and more. In an administrative form, it belongs to National System of Conservation Areas (Sistema Nacional de Areas de Conservación) and the Department of Environment and Energy (Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía). This place was declared National Monument in 1973. Later, in 2009, the Guayabo National Monument was declared World Heritage of Engineering, thanks to the American Society of Civil Engineering.


There are some theories about the origin of Guayabo’s construction and population. Each of these theories agree that this place was inhabited between the year 1000 b.C. and 1400 b.C. and it has been estimated that there were villages nearby that accommodated around 2000 to 10.000 people.  There is proof that its growth peak was between 1200 and 700 b.C. Thanks to Costa Rica’s geographic composition, in the Atlantic coasts and the Central Valley, it is believed that it had a lot of power and privileges in the pre-Columbian time. It is said that the pre-Columbian city was inhabited by people that emphasized in different areas, led by a chief or “cacique” that practiced the political and religious guide in the region. Presently, the reason of the city’s abandonment is unknown, but the accepted outline hypothesis mention disease, war and internal conflict. Costa Rica’s geographical location played a very important part as an area of the encounter between pre-Columbian cultures. The archeologists believe that Costa Rica gathered influences from North America as South America, but there is no specific evidence that determines the influence of important cultures.

This city contains mounds, roads, tombs, hydraulic constructions, petroglyphs and bridges that show us the advanced civil engineering, architecture and the urban planning. It was discovered for the first time in the beginning of the 1800’s when the first coffee plantations were produced. In 1882, the first excavations were made by Carlos Aguilar, the person in charge, from the University of Costa Rica, and established a program of constant study and investigation of the site.

It is evident to see the faculties of this civilization, like the manipulation of water along with aqueducts made with high technology, that at present-day continue to function; the transportation of gigantic stones, the construction of the type of macadam road (stone broke into uniform pieces used compacted in layers to form roads and paths. They were glued together with tar).

On the central part of the monument, there are different mounds o stone foundations, that generally present a circular base with different sizes that can vary from 0.5 to 4.5 meters in height with a diameter that varies from 10 to 30 meters.

The roads are made with different forms of stone construction, used as roads of transit and part of the draining system. Some roads still exist, and they extend in different directions on the excavated area, with kilometers of longitude and some have stairways that work to get over inclines.

The aqueducts are both built closed and opened to carry water as far as the places that required it. The recruitment water tanks are formed by stones with a rectangular shape that used to save water brought from the aqueducts.

The tombs are to be found in different parts of the site. They are constructed with pebbles and slabs, and they are called “tumbas de cajón”. They were looted by huaqueros (tomb robbers) sometime in the past, before they were found by archeologists. Regarding the artistic appearance, the petroglyphs o stone engravement, are the most important. They are to be found all around the site, but some of them haven’t been deciphered. There is a large monolith with characteristic animals from Costa Rica, like the jaguar and lizards.


The vegetation that surrounds this archeological site es characteristic of the evergreen pluvial premontane forests, constructed by green, dense foliage. Species that can be found are: magnolia, androsace, higueron, cedar, and many epiphytal plants like bromeliad and orchids.

Birds that can be found: chestnut headed oropendola (a type of toucan), trogon bird, woodpeckers, motmot birds, brown jay, clay-colored robin (national symbol Costa Rican bird), and the chachalaca bird. You can find many mammals like the armadillo, rabbits, coyote, sloths, tyra or tolomuco (called in Costa Rica), squirrels and coatis. Besides, you can find lots of insects and reptiles like snakes, frogs, and lizards.


With the passing of time the touristic activity increased in Costa Rica, as well as nationals and foreigners. For those who love archeology, they are attracted by the mystery that the site holds. The excavations and investigations are in control of the Department of Environment and the National Museum of Costa Rica, the best Costa Rican universities and foreign universities that offer support and are interested in the excavations. Some studies have acquired interest, mainly when are linked with Guayabo and the cultural exchange with almost all Pre-columbian America. In Costa Rica, archeology has found artistic objects with influence from (Guatemala) Mayan culture, Olmecs and Aztecs as well as Chibchas from Colombia, Quechuas and Incas from Peru. Other investigators go with the idea that Guayabo is an energy and power center with very special characteristics. Because of Guayabo´s curiosity and mystery that encloses it and the fact that it was declared World Heritage of Engineering, it is conceived as a very attractive place for tourists to get to know.

Thanks to the increasing demand of services, the Guayabo administration, that is managed by the Area of Conservation of the Central Volcanic Mountain Range, is introducing new infrastructure that will permit the ecotourism direct itself to environmental education, archeological and heritage, allowing the tourist to feel more comfortable and at the same time reduce the environmental and archeological impact. They are trying to improve the universal accessibility, viewpoints, places to rest, a place to receive visitors, more services, lecture rooms for training, reception, more trails, and more. Many of the new structures and processes of construction have overseen environmental architects that already have been involved with other National Parks and Protected Areas.

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