Climate: The weather throughout the province of Guanacaste is characterized by being hot with well-defined wet and dry seasons. The one exception is the highland portion of the province which consists of the upper Pacific-facing slopes of the volcanoes in the Guanacaste Cordillera and the northern half of the Tilarán Cordillera. The cool, moist conditions along these ridges support luxuriant cloud forests. Elsewhere, the natural vegetation type originally found in Guanacaste is (was) tropical dry forest.
This kind of forest extends from parts of Mexico down the western side of Central America to Costa Rica, where it reaches its southern limit in the general area of the Carara Biological Reserve. Due to the pronounced dry season that affects this habitat type for at least six months out of every year, fire works very well as a land clearing tool, and hence, most of the original forests have long since been removed for agricultural activities, principally cattle ranching. Thus, the noted tropical biologist, Dr. Daniel Janzen has described the Mesoamerican dry forests as "an endangered habitat." The parks and reserves in Guanacaste protect much of the remaining examples of tropical dry forest in the entire region.
The annual dry season is caused by the effects of the northeast trade winds that blow in off the Caribbean from November through March. This humid air loses its moisture as it crosses the Caribbean lowlands and the cordilleras. Given that the Guanacaste Cordillera is both the lowest and narrowest in the country, there is little to block the passage of the arid air that comes gusting down the western slopes drying out everything in its path, as well as preventing any breezes from bringing in moist air from the Pacific Ocean during these months.
When the trade winds shift northward, air currents once again bring humidity and life-giving rains in from the Pacific Ocean. It is remarkable to observe how quickly the parched and brown countryside regains its verdant appearance after the first showers of each new rainy season. In Guanacaste, these afternoon showers usually return by mid-May and continue until about mid-November.
History: The pre-Columbian inhabitants of Guanacaste are noted for the fine quality pottery that they produced. The variety of ceramic vessels found at archeological sites has led investigators to theorize the existence of a well-developed system of agriculture, and specifically grain production. The fact that as yet no evidence of hunter-gather societies has been unearthed in the region, has been a motive for speculating that the first humans to settle here already possessed a working knowledge of agriculture.
Indeed, the native peoples living in the area at the time of the Spaniards' arrival in 1519, the Chorotega tribe, were a group whose ancestors had emigrated south from Mexico. When Hernán Ponce de León and Juan de Castañeda sailed into what is now known as the Gulf of Nicoya on the last leg of their exploratory voyage from Panama, the name of the regional chieftan was Nicoya. Thus, the origin of the name of both the gulf and the peninsula.
During the first two decades of the Spanish Conquest in this region, the invaders established a lucrative trade: the sale of human slaves to Panama and Peru. This activity, together with untold deaths resulting from disease, decimated the local population.
Spanish settlement of Guanacaste was slow since most of the colonization from 1563 onwards was concentrated in the Central Valley and there was very little native labor force left in the lowlands to be employed in farming activities. The Spaniards brought in zambos, a mixed race of escaped black slaves and indigenous people from eastern Nicaragua and Honduras, to help work the haciendas in Guanacaste, but even so the population was too low to sustain much agricultural production. And so, cattle ranching developed as the most common activity in the region due to the low manpower requirements.
In the 1500's and 1600's, the primary revenue from cattle ranching was the sale of leather and fat to merchants in Panama. By the 18th century, a market for beef existed in Guatemala, but this meant a long and difficult cattle drive from the faraway ranches in Costa Rica. Nevertheless, ranching has persisted to the present day and was given a real economic boost in the 1950's and '60's with the development of the "hamburger connection" and North America's increased demand for cheap beef.
The other agricultural products of relative importance in the province are sugar cane and cotton, and since the late 1980's, with the creation of a large-scale irrigation program (the water comes from Lake Arenal after passing through several power generating stations), rice has become a prominent crop. Tourism, of course, is currently the region's most lucrative activity since Guanacaste is blessed by having many of the country's most beautiful beaches and its sun-drenched dry season coincides with the winter months in northern latitudes.
During colonial times, Guanacaste did not actually form part of the province of Costa Rica, but instead pertained to Nicaragua. Shortly after the nations in the region gained their independence from Spain in 1821, the residents of the communities of Nicoya, Santa Cruz, and Cañas decided that they preferred to become part of Costa Rica and announced their annexation on July 25, 1825. This date is commemorated by a government holiday, even though it was not until 1858 that the change in boundary lines was officially recognized and agreed upon by the two countries involved.