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Why the dry tropical forest in Rincon de la Vieja is unique

Going for a walk in the woods in Costa Rica isn’t always in the rainforest. Find out why the Guanacaste dry tropical forest is so unique.

Dry tropical forest in Guanacaste Costa Rica at Hacienda Guachipelin
Horseback riding in the dry tropical forest at Hacienda Guachipelin by the Rincon de la Vieja Volcano in Guanacaste, Costa Rica.

Article by Shannon Farley

All forest in tropical places like Costa Rica is rainforest, right?

Wrong.

Most people are surprised when visiting Costa Rica’s northwestern province of Guanacaste to encounter dry tropical forest, which looks nothing like the rainforest.

One of the rarest ecosystems in the Americas, Seasonally Dry Tropical Forest is found from Mexico to Argentina, and throughout the Caribbean islands.

Also known as semi-deciduous tropical dry broadleaf forest, this delicate life system survives in arid areas with much less water than in the rainforest. With a dry season that lasts approximately eight months, plants and animals have adapted to fit these conditions. Predominantly deciduous trees shed their leaves during the dry season to conserve essential water; and animals require large territories for food supply.

However, despite restrictions in water and resources, the dry tropical forest has the greatest biodiversity after the rainforest and is full of a splendid variety of plants, trees and wildlife.

dry tropical forest Rincon de la Vieja Volcano in Guanacaste Costa Rica
The Rincon de la Vieja Volcano and National Park is an excellent place to experience the unique dry tropical forest.

Guanacaste in Costa Rica has one of the largest dry tropical forests in Central America, especially in the area of the Rincon de la Vieja National Park. Its unique landscapes, climate, and wildlife make a trip to this region anything but boring.

Trees you will see include Costa Rica’s national tree, the Guanacaste (Enterolobium cyclocarpum), along with dry season flowering trees like the Cortés Amarillo (Tabebuia ochracea) that sports yellow trumpet flowers, and the Malinche Tree (Delonix regia) featuring reddish-orange flowers. Other main dry forest trees include Pochote (Bombacopsis quinata), Guapinol (Hymenaea courbaril), “Indio Desnudo” (Bursera simaruba), and Caoba (Swietenia macrophylla).

Cortes Amarillo tree in Costa Rica
The Cortés Amarillo Tree (Tabebuia ochracea) is common in Costa Rica’s dry tropical forest.

Wildlife is plentiful. Rincon de la Vieja is home to 300 bird species, including the White-throated Magpie-Jay (Calocitta formosa), Violaceous Trogon (Trogon violaceus), Collared Aracari (Pteroglossus torquatus), and the Turquoise-browed Motmot (Eumomota superciliosa), as well as a host of parrots, parakeets and hummingbirds.

Mammals here include collared peccaries, agoutis, nine-banded armadillos, white-nosed coatis, raccoons, white-tailed deer, pumas, and three species of monkeys (white-faced capuchin, howler and spider).

Rincon de la Vieja National Park Costa Rica wildlife
It is common to spot white-faced capuchin monkeys in the Rincon de la Vieja National Park in Costa Rica.

The Rincon de la Vieja National Park surrounds the Rincon de la Vieja Volcano, one of six active volcanoes in Costa Rica (along with another 61 that are dormant or extinct). The giant, 600,000-year-old volcano soars 6,286 feet (1,916 meters) high and its caldera is nine miles (15 km) wide, bridging the Continental Divide.

Hiking in the Rincon de la Vieja National Park on the Las Pailas (“The Cauldrons”) loop trail takes you 2.5 miles (3.5 km) through exotic dry tropical forest. The route also shows off the awesome power of the live volcano with steaming fumaroles, mini-geysers, bubbling volcanic mud pits, and sulfur-smelling hot springs.

Costa Rica national park Rincon de la Vieja
Hiking the Las Pailas trail in the Rincon de la Vieja National Park gives visitors an exciting experience of both volcanic activity, like this boiling sulfur pond, and the dry tropical forest.

You can easily visit the dry tropical forest and Rincon de la Vieja National Park when you stay at Hotel Hacienda Guachipelin. The award-winning eco-hotel is located minutes from the Las Pailas entrance to the national park, and offers guided tours in the park.