UNESCO World Heritage Sites
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Sites are selected for their unique cultural, historical, or natural significance to the heritage of humanity. Costa Rica’s vast natural resources are prime candidates for such prestigious nominations, and three of the country’s parks have been declared World Heritage Sites. These three important sites offer exciting explorations into some of the world’s most fascinating ecosystems.
Cocos Island National Park
Cocos Island, located 340 miles off Costa Rica’s south Pacific coast, is known for its roaring waterfalls, lush rainforest and sparkling beaches. In addition to being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it was nominated as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World and designated a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention. The gorgeous island has been called “the most beautiful island in the world” by Jacques Cousteau and served as inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s "Treasure Island."
In 1978 Cocos Island was designated a Costa Rican national park, and it is home to one of the largest scalloped hammerhead cleaning stations in the world, which attracts these prehistoric creatures by the hundreds. The island is a crucial habitat for other large pelagic species like dolphins, giant manta rays and at least eight types of sharks. The waters surrounding the island are the first point of contact for the northern equatorial counter-current, making it an important site for the study of marine biodiversity and ecosystems.
Guanacaste Conservation Area
Located in northwestern Costa Rica, the Guanacaste Conservation Area is comprised of several parks and refuges, including Guanacaste National Park, Rincon de la Vieja National Park, and Santa Rosa National Park. The area was declared a World Heritage Site in 1999, due to diversity of natural ecological processes both on land and under the sea, earning it a spot in both the World Heritage Marine Program and the World Heritage Forest Program.
Guanacaste National Park is an 80,306-acre reserve best known for its lowland savannahs and tropical dry forest, as well as the towering Cacao and Orosi Volcanoes. Rincon de la Vieja National Park boasts dry forest and rainforest, as well as the active Rincon de la Vieja Volcano, steaming fumaroles, bubbling mud pots and spectacular hiking trails. Santa Rosa National Park, the oldest in Costa Rica, protects much of the country’s remaining dry forest, as well as important habitats for several marine turtle species. Together, these parks are considered some of the best dry forests in Central America, as well as crucial habitats for rare and endangered flora and fauna.
La Amistad International Park
La Amistad International Park, or Friendship International Park, spans the Costa Rica-Panama border and was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. It is mostly tropical lowland rainforest, and occupies 479,000 acres in Costa Rica and 511,000 acres in Panama – encompassing the largest single forest in Central America.
The park is mostly unexplored, though several unmarked hiking paths are available to adventurous souls. Scientists began exploring La Amistad in 2003, and are currently working to create a baseline for the rainforest’s biodiversity. The park is an outstanding example of biological evolution; an estimated 600 bird species as well as ocelots, jaguars, and tapirs inhabit the land. In addition to it’s crucial habitats, four indigenous tribes live within the boundaries of La Amistad. For the most part, these groups are closed to tourism.