Santa Rosa

My recent field research has focused on primates in the Área de Conservación Guanacaste (ACG), an extraordinarily biodiverse Unesco World Heritage site in northwestern Costa Rica. The conservation area comprises several different sectors that extend from the Pacific Ocean over a chain of dormant volcanos to the Atlantic slope. Santa Rosa is a sector of primarily tropical dry forest, and it is the original core of the present-day ACG.

The volcanos of the Cordillera de Guanacaste form a lovely backdrop to Sector Santa Rosa. Here is Volcán Orosí, the northernmost volcano in the chain.

This region of Costa Rica experiences extreme rainfall seasonality. During the 6-month-long dry season, nearly all sources of surface water dry up.

Peak dry season in Santa Rosa, during which most trees lose their leaves completely.

Santa Rosa is not a pristine wilderness. In fact, it had been a functioning cattle ranch for centuries before the establishment of a national park in the 1970s.

This legacy is still visible today in the Casona and in the active ranches along the park's periphery.

Large brush fires set by landowners routinely swept through the park throughout the 70s and early 80s. Today, a skilled fire-control team battles to keep these wildfires from causing extensive damage.

Over the years, as pastures regenerate into secondary forest, these efforts have produced one of the world's most successful large-scale habitat restoration projects in the tropics. The ACG's story has been profiled in popular science books including Green Phoenix by William Allen and Our Once and Future Planet by Paddy Woodworth.

Intermediate-stage secondary forest in Santa Rosa.

Late-stage secondary forest in Santa Rosa.

The western part of Sector Santa Rosa becomes progressively drier and more savanna-like. Also visible here are three additional volcanoes of the Cordillera de Guanacaste: Volcán Cacao at left, Rincón de la Vieja at right, and Volcán Miravalles in the distance, with a halo of clouds and just peeking over Rincón´s right flank.

To the west are the rugged hills of Sector Santa Elena.

In the southern part of Sector Santa Rosa, steep valleys descend 300m, draining the plateau into the Pacific Ocean.

At the bottom of these valleys are the beautiful beaches Playa Naranjo and Playa Nancite.