There are many ancient ruins sprinkled all around Central America, and Costa Rica is no exception. Even if it doesn’t have places like Tikal or Tulum, Costa Rica has places for people that are looking for cultural tours.
I don’t know if it’s just me, but when I’m in nature or visiting a historical place, I love trying to imagine what it used to be like “back in those days.”
Even when it’s hard to picture it, it’s still fun knowing that the ground we’re walking on was once a busy city street or a marketplace to trade stuff. Or that the crumbling ruin I’m looking at used to be the tribe chief’s home.
Knowing a bit of history not only helps me imagine what it used to be like, but it is also integral to understanding its cultural significance.
A brief history of Guayabo Archaeological Site
More than just watching old rocks (as some people like to write in reviews on Tripadvisor) this place is an awesome place to learn history.
Some people might tell you that Costa Rica doesn’t have culture, but the more we explore, the more we learn more about our country.
So, here are the 5 main facts we think you need to know before visiting Guayabo National Monument:
- The archaeologist that discovered this place back in 1968 was Carlos Piedra Aguilar, known as the grandfather of archaeology in Central America. He thought that it was an indigenous cemetery. Only a small percentage (around 20%) has been excavated.
- On the grounds of Guayabo, there have been signs of life dating back from 1,000 B.C. to 1,400 A.D. It was a village for around 2,400 years in total. Researchers aren’t entirely sure of the exact population of Guayabo, but they believe that it mostly influenced by the South American native tribe called the Chibchas. Because of the tropical weather, they couldn’t find bones to do tests and determine the DNA of the population.
- There is evidence that Guayabo back in those days was a city, let’s say like the San José of today. It was an important spot to do business between the people from tribes from North and South America.
- Nerdy fact #4: The Guayabo National Monument was designated in 2009 as a World Heritage of Civil Engineering according to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). This is because of the technology used to design a network of aqueducts to transport water from a spring in the mountains to the city.
… And this blog post would be done if the idea was just to share the most interesting things to learn about this place in a short “listicle” style.
However, my friend, our goal is to share deeply about must-see places that are not that touristy — places you can’t find a lot of information about.
It’s easy to find those facts above on other websites, but we’re going to walk you through what we did when we visited Hacienda La Central and Guayabo National Monument, because these places might fit with what you are looking for.
Best ways to visit
The Guayabo National Monument is located in Turrialba, where there is also a town that hosts an active volcano (Turrialba Volcano) and the Pacuare River, home of one of the world’s best whitewater rafting adventures.
Take in consideration if you want to do whitewater rafting and also visit the volcano and the ruins will be a better place to stay in the area at least one night.
Tip: We recommend to do the volcano and Guayabo National Monument the first day, then stay in Turrialba and do whitewater rafting the next day.
But if you are looking for more like a one day tour that you can do easily from San Jose, you can do what we did.
1. General Information:
The land is under the protection of SINAC, same institution that managed the National Parks in Costa Rica. The primary difference lies National monuments have objects of historical, cultural, and/or scientific interest.
- Schedule: They open daily (including holidays) from 8:00 am until 3:30 pm
- Cost: $5 per person Foreign Adults and kids + Tour Guide service cost (Depends on the number of people)
- Access: The monument is located 30 minutes from Turrialba Downtown (around 10 miles away). However, we came from another route that has a road paved for most of it and gets unpaved for a small sections, we always prefer recommend a 4×4 to be safe.
- Parking Lot: They don’t have one. We have to leave the car outside on the street in front of the entrance and a “wachiman” like we call the guys that help to park and take care of the cars will help you to park in exchange of few coins at the end.
2. Visiting in the morning or afternoon?
Since we visited during January that is dry season we took the chance to do it during the afternoon and prefer to hike near the volcano in the morning.
Since the hike at Guayabo Monument is easier even if it’s raining in the afternoon is better than do the hiking at Turrialba Volcano when its raining.
3. Should you hire a tour guide?
It’s a very personal decision.
However, we read reviews from other people that was worth it since is place with a lot of history.
The tour guide went beyond our expectations. Martin Umaña was his name and let me tell you he has a heart of anthropologist that really take you back 3000 years ago and just make your visit very special.
On top of that, we love to support the local association of guides since we know they make a leaving from visitors.
We would have never learned all this information without one.
They have a office next to the window ticket where you pay your entrance. Also you can learn more about them here: Link
The trail that we did was around 1.6 kilometers (less than a mile).
It’s pretty easy to walk. It will take around 1 hour and a half.
There is a small hill to get to the Lookout point but nothing too strenuous.
The trail is like a loop and pretty easy to follow.
Top Tips for visiting
Where to eat?
Picnic areas or just a couple local restaurants before
What to wear?
- Comfortable clothes,
- Closed shoes
- Rain Jacket/ umbrella
- Insect repellent
- Bottle of water
- Cap/ sunblock
- Walking stick *Optional
Our Visit to Guayabo National Monument
Preparing for our visit
- Wake up early:
Since we didn’t planned to stay overnight, we wanted to kick to spots in one day.
We arranged with Hacienda La Central to take the 9:00 am hike and explore the Turrialba Volcano area.
So we left San Jose around 6: 15 am and got to Hacienda La Central around 8:00 am and was perfect to have some extra time to get breakfast.
Our hike there finish around 11:30 am and rush it a little bit and just grabbing a sandwich to have lunch on the way because we need to be at Guayabo National Monument before 1:30 pm.
After hiking Turrialba Volcano at Hacienda La Central, we took the route and drive for around hour and a half down to the town Santa Cruz de Turrialba and then we got to the Guayabo National Monument.
From Hacienda La Central to Guayabo National Monument was around 1 hour and 15 minutes.
- Booking uSure in advanced
We contacted the local Association of Tour Guides uSure and made the reservation to took the tour with a Tour Guide and settle our approx arriving time at 1:30 pm.
Take in consideration that Guayabo close at 3:30 pm so the latest tour will be around 2:00 pm, if you get late they will do a shorter trail of 800 meters.
If you have Whatsapp it’s easier to do the reservation or send a email to them.
As locals, they required a wire transfer of the entrance into their bank account in advanced but we saw people just walk in and were able to pay as they walk in.
However, they highly recommend if you want the tour in English to book with at least 8 days in advance.
Exploring the monument:
After we bought our entrance across the street we saw a little grocery store, use the restrooms and also families were having lunch in the picnic area.
We hear that you can camp there, if you are interested I am sure the uSureCR the local association can help you with more information.
So our tour guide, Martin Umaña was there waiting for us and we started the tour talking about the wildlife of the area.
We did spot wildlife like the Toucans, white-faced monkeys and we are sure that in the 573 acres of land that belongs to the monument there is a lot of wildlife protected.
Then we got the explanation of the artistic manifestations found in the area like the monolith (rock) with the shape of Jaguar and snake.
The tombs, the aqueduct, the mounds and just learning more about pre-columbian history the time went fast.
We left the place with a lot of new information about our ancestors surrounded by a nice atmosphere and the view of the Turrialba Volcano at the back.
Guayabo National Monument, definitely is a nice historical spot of Costa Rica. That you can do in a short visit in the middle of the nice countryside. Good for a day trip including other spots around!