This conservation area in northwestern Costa Rica contains a mosaic of diverse ecosystems: from the shore of the Pacific to the lowland rain forests in the Caribbean basin. It is comprised of four contiguous protected areas, containing important terrestrial and marine-coastal environments and key habitats for endangered or rare plant and animal species.
The Area de Conservación Guanacaste (ACG) in northwestern Costa Rica contains important terrestrial and marine-coastal environments, including the best dry forest habitats from Central America to northern Mexico and key habitats for endangered or rare plant and animal species.
ACG is an administrative area which is managed by the Sistema Nacional de Areas de Conservación (SINAC) for the purposes of conservation in the northwestern part of Costa Rica. The area contains the Area de Conservación Guanacaste World Heritage Site and comprises 147,000 ha (363,000 acres) of land and sea in northwestern Costa Rica, comprised of contiguous protected areas which have expanded over time:
Santa Rosa National Park, the first national park established in Costa Rica, was created in 1971. The park covers an area of approximately 495 sq km (191 sq mi). Santa Rosa was originally a farm located in the north-western Guanacaste Province. Today an old hacienda building, "La Casona," functions as the monument commemorating the fallen heroes of the different battles that took place here. Ten unique natural habitats are within in the park. They include savannas, deciduous forest, marshlands, and mangrove woodlands. Fauna includes coyotes, peccaries, white-nosed coatis, Baird's tapirs, sea turtles, and terrestrial turtles. The three species of monkey are Geoffroy's spider monkey, mantled howler and white-headed capuchin. Several cat species are also present: jaguarundi, ocelot, cougar and jaguar, though they are rarely seen.
Guanacaste National Park covers an area of approximately 340 sq km (130 sq mi), from the slopes of the Orosí and Cacao volcanoes west to the Interamerican Highway. The park is home to 140 species of mammals, over 300 birds, 100 amphibians and& reptiles, and over 10,000 species of insects that have been identified. It was this high density of bio-diversity that encouraged the Costa Rican government to protect this area. The Guanacaste National Park weaves the neighboring Santa Rosa National Park with the high altitude forests of the two volcanoes, Orosi and Cacao, and the rain forest of the Caribbean in the country's north. The Tempisque River flows through the park's lowland areas. There are dry forests at lower elevations and cloud forests at higher elevations. The trail leading to the Orosi Volcano has pre-Columbian petroglyphs near the plain at El Pedregal.
Rincón de la Vieja Volcano National Park spans over 34,000 acres (12,759 ha) and helps protect both montane forests and dwarf cloud forests. The Rincón de la Vieja Volcano, an active andesitic complex volcano is set within the park and is one of six active Costa Rican volcanoes. There are a large number of hot pools and areas of bubbling mud in two areas on the slopes of the volcano, indicating substantial reserves of geothermal energy. Trails extend from the Santa Maria ranger station and wind through the park, passing hot springs and waterfalls along the way. Mammals within the park include sloths, tapirs, kinkajous, pumas, jaguar, and both howler and spider monkeys.
Junquillal Bay Wildlife Refuge is a 4.38 sq km (1.69 sq mi) wildlife refuge in Guanacaste Province of northwestern Costa Rica. It protects areas of tropical dry forest and coastal mangroves. The crystal clear turquoise waters and sugar-sand beaches stretch for 2 kilometers. The water conditions make it a great place to snorkel and swim. Scuba diving, fishing and boating are also popular here. The shore is a nesting site for the Olive Ridley sea turtles. Green Turtles and Hawksbill turtles nest along the shore as well.
The property is a mosaic of diverse ecosystems from the shore of the Pacific to the lowland rain forests in the Caribbean basin. Along the way, the gradient passes a varied coastline, the Pacific coastal lowlands and much of the western side of the Guanacaste Range peaking at Rincón de la Vieja.
The many forest types comprise a large tract of tropical dry forest, an often overlooked, highly vulnerable global conservation priority. Furthermore, there are extensive wetlands, numerous water courses, as well as oak forests and savannahs.
The largely intact coastal-marine interface features estuaries, rocks, sandy and cobble beaches rimming the 43,000 hectares of marine area with its various, mostly uninhabited near-shore islands and islets. Major nutrient-rich cold upwelling currents offshore result in an exceptionally high productivity of this part of the Pacific.
The visually dramatic landscape mosaic is home to an extraordinary variety of life forms. Next to the approximately 7,000 plant species, more than 900 vertebrate species have been confirmed.
A striking feature of Area de Conservación Guanacaste is the wealth of ecosystem and habitat diversity, all connected through an uninterrupted gradient from the Pacific Ocean across the highest peaks to the lowlands on the Caribbean side.
Beyond the distinction into land and sea, the many landscape and forest types comprise mangroves, lowland rain forest, premontane and montane humid forest, cloud forest, as well as oak forests and savannahs with evergreen gallery forests along the many water courses. Along the extraordinary transect the property allows migration, genetic exchange and complex ecological processes and interactions at all levels of biodiversity, including between land and sea.
The vast dry forest is a rare feature of enormous conservation value, as most dry forests elsewhere in the region are fragmented remnants only. Conservation has permitted the natural restoration of the previously degraded forest ecosystem, today serving again as a safe haven for the many species depending on this acutely threatened ecosystem.
Major nutrient-rich cold upwelling currents offshore result in a high marine productivity and are the foundation of a diverse coastal-marine ecosystem containing important coral reefs, algal beds, estuaries, mangroves, sandy and cobble beaches, shore dunes and wetlands.
The formal conservation history goes back to 1971 when Santa Rosa National Park was created to conserve a stretch of land and sea of high conservation valuable. Over the years new national parks, a wildlife refuge and an Experimental Forest Station were established and added.