The Profound Significance of the Térraba-Sierpe Wetlands

May 12, 2023 in Discover Costa Ballena, Discover Costa Rica

We have a great diversity of ecosystems that benefit our Costa Ballena region, one of which is the Terraba-Sierpe Wetlands. Our world’s wetlands are the most threatened ecosystems worldwide, even in environmentally-concerned Costa Rica. Excessive use of agrochemicals, the expansion of pineapple, rice and banana crops, forest fires, hotel construction, and climate change are this ecosystem’s main threats. Therefore, we wanted to put a highlight on this fantastic environment in our abundant South Pacific region of Costa Rica and everything that it offers to our everyday lives.


Ecological Significance


The Wetlands of Térraba-Sierpe are a protected wild area of Costa Rica’s national system of conservation areas. It is an area of high strategic ecological importance. It is the largest estuarine wetland in all of Costa Rica, containing mangrove ecosystems and other types of associated wetlands. It serves as one of the most critical blue carbon sinks in our South Pacific coastal zone. And it also acts as a natural barrier to meteorological events like storms and hurricanes.


The Térraba-Sierpe delta region is home to red, black and tea mangrove species. These mangroves play host to wide biodiversity, providing habitats for several species that hold high ecological value, including nine threatened or endangered species of fauna like the puma and jaguar. There is a plethora of birdlife, especially water birds such as herons, egrets, and cormorants. And the river’s murky waters are inhabited by fish, crustaceans, and reptiles like crocodiles, caimans, and boas. Exploring this watery landscape by boat offers an intimate perspective of this very special and fragile ecosystem, where wildlife sightings are plentiful.


Historical Significance


The Térraba-Sierpe Wetlands are part of the Delta del Diquis cultural landscape. This region has been declared a world heritage site recognizing the uniqueness of the pre-Columbian archaeology found here. It is considered one of the most important pre-Columbian occupation centers in Latin America with a distinctive culture. It contains the mega-site of Palmar Sur-Sierpe that is characterized by the presence of large mounds with stone walls, housing foundations, cobbled roads, cemeteries with rich offerings, and dense ceramic and lithic deposits distributed across almost 900 hectares.


The Diquis people inhabited the area up to around 500 years ago. They were one of the most advanced civilizations in pre-Colombian Costa Rica. They chose the alluvial plain between the Terraba and Sierpe rivers for their settlement because of its fertile, nutrient-rich soil. Many pre-Colombian indigenous groups occupied this region over time, attracted to the sedimentation that is deposited by the extensive mangrove waterways. And the mountainous rows that surround the plain provide villagers with complementary resources like hardwood and freshwater.


The Terraba river has always been the natural communication route for the region. Along this large river and its tributaries is a chain of major settlements that begin in the highlands of Rivas near San Isidro and end at the delta in Cortes, about 20 minutes drive south of Ojochal. All over this area are sites of archaeological interest that date back as early as one millennium ago. Stone-carved spheres of more than two meters in diameter, ceramics, and other items of archaeological wealth are found scattered in and among these settlements.


Social Significance


Today, more than forty socially vulnerable communities in Sierpe, Cortés, and Coronado depend on the Térraba-Sierpe wetlands. In 2017, the estimated monetary value of the wetland ecosystem exceeding $380 million in direct benefit of these communities and the entire country.




This area has abundant biological variety and an incalculable cultural heritage that takes advantage of this special forest ecosystem. Booking a tour of this spectacular region of Costa Rica directly helps the local communities and gives the Costa Rican government more reason to protect this precious ecological zone for many more years to come. We are incredibly lucky to be so closely located to this abundant food production and ecological zone, reaping the benefits of the Térraba-Sierpe Wetlands' fertile soils all throughout the food chain.


If you’re interested in learning more about this region of Costa Rica, or to find out how you can relocate to this nation of spectacular biodiversity, contact our Costa Ballena real estate office. We are not environmental experts but we have a deep love for this land and a passion to share our great experiences of living in Costa Rica with those who are interested. If that’s you and you are looking for an expert agent in the area, contact our highly-successful real estate team here sales@osatropicalproperties.com and sign up to our weekly newsletter below for regular updates about this region.


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