The Guanacaste Conservation Area in northwestern Costa Rica contains a mosaic of diverse ecosystems, from the Pacific shores to lowland Caribbean rainforests. It comprises four contiguous protected areas containing critical terrestrial and marine-coastal environments and key habitats.
Guanacaste Conservation Area
The Guanacaste Conservation Area (Área de Conservación Guanacaste—ACG) in northwestern Costa Rica is a network of protected areas in Guanacaste Province, in northwest Costa Rica.
ACG is one of eleven Conservation Areas that comprise the National System of Conservation Areas (Sistema Nacional de Áreas de Conservación—SINAC) of Costa Rica for conservation in the northwestern part of Costa Rica.
The Guanacaste Conservation Area comprises three National Parks: Santa Rosa, Guanacaste and Rincón de la Vieja, and the Horizontes Forestry Station and Bahía Junquillal Wildlife Refuge.
The protected areas contain critical 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.
Area de Conservación Guanacaste World Heritage Site
The area contains the Area de Conservación Guanacaste World Heritage Site. It comprises 147,000 ha (363,000 acres) of land and sea in northwestern Costa Rica, comprised of four contiguous protected areas which have expanded over time:
Junquillal Bay Wildlife Refuge is a 4.38 sq km (1.69 sq mi) wildlife refuge in the 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 km (1.25 mi). 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 coast as well.
The World Heritage property is a mosaic of diverse ecosystems from the Pacific shore to the Caribbean basin's lowland rain forests. 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, extensive wetlands, numerous watercourses, oak forests and savannahs exist.
The largely intact coastal-marine interface features estuaries, large rocks, and sandy and cobble beaches rimming the 43,000 ha (106,000 acres) of the marine area and mostly uninhabited near-shore islands and islets. Major nutrient-rich cold upwelling currents offshore result in exceptionally high productivity in 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 ACG 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 landscapes and forest types comprise mangroves, lowland rainforests, premontane and montane humid forests, cloud forests, oak forests and savannahs with evergreen gallery forests, along with the many watercourses.
Along the extraordinary transect, the property allows migration, genetic exchange, 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 haven for the many species depending on this acutely threatened ecosystem.
Major nutrient-rich cold upwelling currents offshore result in high marine productivity and are the foundation of a diverse coastal-marine ecosystem containing essential 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 value. Over the years, new national parks, a wildlife refuge and an Experimental Forest Station were established and added.