It’s not surprising that Costa Rica is considered to be one of the world’s most beautiful countries. This has been asserted for many reasons including the country’s cultural heritage, intangible heritage, and natural sites, which have been declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.

In regards to Costa Rica, you’ve likely heard more than once about the Stones Spheres of the Diquís, or La Amistad International Park. Did you know that they were on the important list of World Heritage Sites?

If you haven’t seen a full list of the country’s heritage sites, this is your opportunity to learn about them, as we will share the names and important details about each one of these Costa Rican locations that stand out globally. After reading this article, you’ll surely want to pack your bags and take a trip to the World Heritage Sites in Costa Rica that are not to be missed.

World Heritage Sites in Costa Rica

1. Talamanca Range Reserve – La Amistad National Park 

This natural wonder was declared a World Heritage Site in Costa Rica 30 years ago in 1983. Collaborating with neighbouring country Panama is necessary for its conservation, representing one of the first attempts at creating and maintaining internationally protected areas. The park spans across the provinces of San Jose, Cartago, Limon and Puntarenas.

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The La Amistad Park stands out as being one of the largest and most remote parks. When visiting it, one has the opportunity to admire this tropical rain forest and its immense biodiversity. In this area, more than 10,000 plants with flowers, 215 mammal species, 600 birds, 250 species of reptiles and amphibians, and 115 kinds of freshwater fish have been registered.

2. Cocos Island National Park

Cocos Island is an area with very rich landscapes, that is to say, it’s a lush paradise in the middle of the ocean. In 1997 it was declared a World Heritage Site, due to the protection this provides for the vital habitats of marine wildlife, including large deep-sea species, especially sharks.  

Due to this protection, the sea beds around this incredible spot are the best in the world for observing large, fantastic inhabitants of the ocean, such as sharks, manta rays, and dolphins. This World Heritage Site spans across 2,400 land hectares and 97,235 marine hectares. Here, there’s an abundance of ferns, bromeliads, rivers, streams, and waterfalls; there are also valleys, cliffs, and islets frequented by countless marine birds, and it’s a nesting spot for seagulls and tropical birds.

The coast is very sinuous, with cliffs up to 183 meters high and countless underwater caves. The extraordinarily clear, turquoise ocean waters will leave you impressed.

3. Guanacaste Conservation Area

The Guanacaste Conservation Area was declared a World Heritage Site in 1999 and was subsequently broadened in 2004 to include the Santa Elena area. The main reason why this is important for nature is that it preserves biological diversity. Included in this area are the main tropical dry forest habitats in the region extending from Central America to the north of Mexico, which are essential for the conservation of rare animal and plant species, and those that are at risk of extinction.

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This World Heritage Site allows highly important ecological processes to take place on land, along the coast, and in the ocean. Another impressive fact is that an incredible amount of invertebrates can be found here,
including: more than 20,000 beetle species, 13,000 ant, bee and wasp species, and 8,000 butterfly and moth species. All insect eaters can also be found here.

4. The Oxherding and Oxcart tradition 

In 2005 the practice of oxherding, and of course the manufacturing and decoration of oxcarts, was declared World Cultural Heritage by UNESCO. This recognition wasn’t only bestowed on the oxcart as a physical object, but also on oxherding (the act of herding oxen) which is the most important part, as we can see the human side to this activity that is carried out mainly by Costa Rican farmers.

Experts say that the oxcart tradition in Costa Rica started at the beginning of the 19th century, when oxcarts were used as a mode of transportation and a means of subsistence for many Costa Rican families. Farmers transported not only coffee, but also basic grains in oxcarts. Families would go out in oxcarts on Sundays, and they were also used at weddings, baptisms, and funerals. When the automotive transportation system was developed and railways were created at the end of the 19th century, the oxcart took on a more symbolic and artistic meaning.

5. Pre-Columbian Chiefdom Settlements with Stone Spheres of the Diquís

The term Stone Spheres of the Diquís refers to four locations that have recently stood out worldwide as archaeological heritage sites in Costa Rica. These sites are: Finca 6, Batambal, El Silencio, and Grijalba-2, all of which are located on the Diquís Delta in the Osa canton, and were declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO in 2014.

These impressive spheres are a product of pre-Columbian indigenous peoples, their experiences, their work ethic, and their innovative thinking. It is believed that they were created using tools made of stone, and maybe tools made of wood and other hard materials.

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The spheres have great value as they were created under technological and social conditions that would be considered very difficult today. In spite of this, indigenous peoples made hundreds of nearly perfectly shaped spheres, often with fine finishes, ranging in size from a few centimetres to 2.6 metres in diameter.

These places sound amazing, don’t they? In each location one can find the true essence of Costa Rica, where there’s an effort to restore spaces and traditions, not only for Costa Rican citizens but for the entire world. A visit to one of these sites is not to be missed.