Guayabo National Monument


Guayabo is the largest and most important archeological site discovered to date in Costa Rica having an extension of 217 Hectares.

It appears that human occupation of the area goes back as far as 500 B.C., although it was from 800-1400 A.D. when the chiefdom truly flourished and when the stone structures that can be seen today were built.

Guayabo held an important political and religious position and its influence was spread over a large area. It is thought that the center of the chiefdom was surrounded by a number of small villages with a rural population of between 1,500 to 2,000 people who served as a source of labor and revenue. Judging by the handsome pottery and finely wrought gold and stone artifacts, it would seem that the inhabitants enjoyed an elevated cultural status. The rise of Guayabo was also due to its strategic location as a transition point between the Atlantic lowlands and the high central plateau.

The main architectural structures that remain, of which over 50 have been excavated to date, consist of cobble-paved causeways and streets, tiers and steps to negotiate the differences in height from the causeways to the mounds, retaining walls, bridges, mounds (used as stone house foundations), open and walled-in aqueducts many of which are still in use, and water tanks, rectangular structures used for collecting water from the aqueducts. The architectural structures vary greatly in shape and size. The most prevalent shapes are the circle, rectangle and ellipse, although some of the mounds have an irregular shape. With regard to size, the area where the mounds have been located varies from 4 to 700 square meters, and the largest structure is a square that measures 888 square meters. The building materials used were round stones of about 40-50 cm. in diameter that were placed in rows, sometimes very close together and with the flattest side face-up, and slabs of different lengths, some up to 5 meters long.

The stone objects that most attract the visitor's notice are the monoliths and petroglyphs. One of the most interesting monoliths discovered is a wedge-shaped boulder, 1.4 meters long by 0.56 meters wide, which displays a quadruped on one side, a lizard, and on the other an animal with a rounded head and a long, spindle-shaped body, a jaguar. Petroglyphs can be found everywhere. Some represent animals such as birds and felines while others seem to have no meaning at all. Golden bells have also been found in the area, together with a gold and copper frog, an obsidian arrowhead, a fragment of a carved wooden staff, monolithic tables, a sacrificial stone, a platter, pottery, ashes and roasted corn kernels. One of the most extraordinary artifacts that has been excavated is a tablet made of a single block of stone that measures 186 cm. long, 60 cm. wide, and 5 cm. thick. The edges of the entire tablet are carved with animal figures. Today this work of art is housed in the National Museum.

One of the awe-inspiring things about Guayabo is the ingenious way in which its inhabitants were able to build on different levels, using the irregular terrain of the area to their advantage.
In the Guayabo River Canyon, not far from the archeological site, is a tall evergreen forest which is typical of the region. The predominant species here are the elm (Ulmus mexicana). Spanish cedar (Cedrela odorata), manni (Symphonia globulifera), and talauma (Talauma gloriensis). Wildlife is scarce due to the small size of the monument. The most visible animals are birds (the most numerous being toucans and Montezuma oropendolas). insects, lizards, frogs, toads and some small mammals.

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Stone road in Guayabo
Stone road leading to Guayabo

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