Costa Rica



General Information:

Climate: Like the province of Alajuela, Heredia includes a portion of the Central Valley and the Central Volcanic Cordillera, but the majority of its territory lies in the northern lowlands, south of Nicaragua. The geographical variation contained within this province (the smallest of Costa Rica's seven) gives it as wide a range of climatic conditions as any of the provinces, from warm and humid lowlands, to cool and damp highlands, to the mild but seasonally wet and dry Central Valley.

History: Within less than a decade after the founding of the Spanish settlement in the Valley of Cartago, other areas in the Central Valley also began to be colonized. Among the first of these areas was the village of Barva -- less than three kilometers north of what is now the city of Heredia.

The construction of churches so that the populace could comply with its religious obligations and ceremonies including weddings, baptisms, and funerals was an important criteria in the development of communities during colonial times (in modern times, soccer fields seem to have replaced this function). In 1706, the first parish church in this region was erected in Lagunilla, near the village of El Barreal, but in 1717 was moved several kilometers to the north to the site that would become the city of Heredia. It is reported that houses in outlying areas were even burned so that their occupants would move closer to the center of the developing town. Variously known throughout the colonial period as Villa Vieja or Cubujuquí, the name Heredia comes from the man who managed to obtain the title of "villa" for the newly formed settlement, don Gonzalo Fernández de Heredia. The present day church in the center of Heredia is one of the oldest in Costa Rica, dating back to 1797.

With the introduction of coffee to Costa Rica, the fertile southern slopes of Barva Volcano became populated with plantations of this crop. The steep and very rainy northern slope did not become populated until much more recently. The Sarapiquí River, which is navigable upstream from the San Juan River (which flows into the Caribbean) as far inland as Puerto Viejo (Old Port) de Sarapiquí at the volcano's base on the northern side, was an important transportation route for those few hardy settlers who first moved into this region. Although as recently as 1953, a mere three thatched-roof houses were all that comprised the village of Puerto Viejo.


National Parks:

1) Braulio Carrillo National Park (Barva Volcano sector)

2) Barra Colorado National Wildlife Refuge


Other Points of Interest:

1) Sarapiquí River: This scenic tropical river has its origins high on the northern slopes of Barva and Poás Volcanoes, but by the time it reaches the San Juan River on the border with Nicaragua, it has received water from as far away as Irazú Volcano via the Sucio River. With so much water flowing into it, the Sarapiquí is navigable downstream from the town of Puerto Viejo, where a number of passenger and local cargo vessels can now be found at the village dock. Wildlife viewing trips for tourists can be arranged using these boats (if you're staying in one of the area hotels, it's easiest to let them set things up). These excursions take you slowly downstream to the confluence of the Sucio River (about 10 km.), before turning around. The trip normally takes between two and three hours (depending on water levels and how much you're seeing). Commonly observed wildlife includes: both Three-toed and Two-toed Sloths, Mantled Howler Monkeys, Southern River Otters, Black River Turtles, American Crocodiles, and a wide variety of birds.

Continuing upstream from Puerto Viejo, the river picks up gradient and becomes one of the country's finest rivers for kayaking and whitewater rafting. The further upstream you go, the more challenging the rapids become. Above the town of San Miguel it becomes suicidal to attempt to run, but from there down to La Virgen it makes an intense Class IV-V run in a kayak. Downstream from the bridge at La Virgen, the river is suitable for inflatable rafts and provides an exciting Class III-IV paddle with plenty of lush tropical scenery to about the village of Chilamate.

2) La Selva Biological Station: One of the premier neotropical sites for biological studies, La Selva is a Mecca not only for scientists, but also hard-core birders and serious naturalists. The state-of-the-art laboratory facilities on the edge of the rain forest have allowed researchers at La Selva the opportunity to make many exciting new discoveries about the workings of this most incredibly complex and biologically diverse of all the planet's ecosystems. The more than 60 kilometers of well-maintained trails that crisscross the 1,536 hectare property allow excellent access to the forest.

La Selva is one of three biological stations in Costa Rica owned and operated by the Organization for Tropical Studies (O.T.S.), a consortium of some 50 U.S. and Costa Rican universities dedicated to furthering tropical research endeavors.

Christmas Bird Counts have been conducted annually at La Selva since 1985 and have produced a total of more than 420 species within a 14.5-kilometer radius that includes the lower portion of the Braulio Carrillo National Park extension as well as lowland areas surrounding the station property. Additionally, within the boundaries of the station, 25 species of lizards, 44 species of frogs and toads, 56 species of snakes, and 114 species of mammals (in large part, bats) have been reported, not to mention a staggering variety of plant and insect life. Some of the more commonly seen organisms include: Poison-dart Frogs, Green Iguanas, Giant Tropical Ants, Central American Agoutis, and the highly venomous Fer-de-lance.

Admission policy: Both day visits and overnight stays are possible, however, prior authorization is required. For overnight stays, contact the O.T.S. office in Moravia at 240-6696. Day visits can be arranged directly with the station at 766-6565. All daily visitors are accompanied by a local naturalist, whose fee is not included in the individual entrance fee.

Getting there: From San José, take the Limón highway through Braulio Carrillo National Park and upon reaching the lowlands take the first left turn, towards Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí. About 28 km. down this road, look for a covered bus stop on the left with the OET logo (Spanish for O.T.S.) around the sides of the roof. Turn left on the gravel road beside the bus stop and follow the road for about half a kilometer to the La Selva gate. (If you come to the bridge over the Sarapiquí River, you've gone too far.)

Public buses to Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí from San José will let you off by the bus stop, but make sure the bus goes via the new highway and not the old route through Heredia and Vara Blanca.

Climate: Very warm year-round, the temperatures are tempered by the amount of cloud cover that affects the area and also brings an average four meters of rainfall. The rains are spread throughout the year, but the rainiest periods are June - August and November - January.

History: The original 587 hectares that comprised La Selva were purchased in 1968 from tropical forester Dr. Leslie Holdridge, who had owned the property since 1953 and used it for experimentation with timber trees and crops such as cacao and peach palm. Even in 1968 access was an adventure consisting of a tortuous 4-hour drive through the mountains followed by a 4-kilometer ride in a dugout canoe to reach the site of the main building that had minimal creature comforts (but lots of creatures!) and no electricity or phone.

The importance of the site as a place for conducting tropical research inside a rain forest, combined with the urgency to understand these ecosystems caused by their greatly accelerated destruction during the 1970's and '80's, led to the transformation from those rustic beginnings to the modern facility that La Selva Biological Station is today.

The size of the property has tripled since 1968 with the acquisition of eight adjoining parcels throughout the years. Additionally, the creation of the Braulio Carrillo National Park extension in 1986 effectively connects La Selva with a forested elevational transect that stretches right to the top of Barva Volcano. Nevertheless, with rapid colonization of the Sarapiquí lowlands since the 1970's, conversion of rain forests to agricultural land has turned La Selva into a forested peninsula when not long ago it was part of a vast forested region.



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Richard Garrigues Ó 1996