Groups Aim to Tap Roots of Santa Cruz

January 21, 2005

DESPITE its title as the “NationalFolkloric City,” an immediate glancearound the historic town of Santa Cruz, inthe northwestern province of Guanacaste,reveals few things folkloric or historic.In the center of town, an impressivecolonial-age clock tower glows above apark featuring stone folkloric statues. Butbeyond these, to the untrained eye, SantaCruz can seem like any other modern townin a country not known for either history orculture.A project by local cultural and tourismgroups aims to amend this, and developSanta Cruz into something that merits itsepithet. A closer look at the communityreveals snapshots of an under-appreciatedpast, local historians say.The Guanacaste Chamber of Tourism(CATURGUA), Santa Cruz CulturalCommission and Municipality of SantaCruz have dived into a six-year endeavorfor cultural rescue and tourism developmentin Santa Cruz.“Of course Costa Rica offers nature,but we should think about what Costa Ricacan offer in terms of culture,” said GreitDepypere, who heads CATURGUA’s culturalcommission.COSTA Rica is hardly known totourists for its culture, particularly juxtaposedagainst historic masterpieces such asGranada in neighboring Nicaragua.However, if it exists anywhere, it exists inGuanacaste, and the region shares somecommon history with its northern neighbor,according to Luis Sánchez, presidentof the Santa Cruz Cultural Association.During colonial times, Guanacaste wasactually part of Nicaragua. Spanish settlementof Guanacaste was limited, and shortlyafter independence from Spain came in1821, residents decided they wanted to bepart of Costa Rica. The new boundaries werenot recognized until years later, in 1858.THE region’s most well-known pre-Columbian indigenous tribe, the Chorotega,emigrated from Mexico. The traditionalhand-painted glazed pottery of theChorotega has recently made a comebackin the area, and already draws tourists toSanta Cruz and surrounding villages.Coordinators hope the comeback ofpottery is just the beginning.“We are rescuing the roots,” saidCATURGUA’s Jorge Pizarro.“There are the interests for savingSanta Cruz of us hotel owners, for tourism.But there are also reasons for saving thecity as something within itself,” agreedDepypere, part-owner of Cala Luna Hotelin nearby Tamarindo.Not only is the project aimed at recoveringand preserving history and culturaltraditions, it is also meant to inspire creativity.This effort can already be seen in anannual, week-long celebration of local andinternational culture, which has been heldfor the past 23 years and this year endedlast week.“Many kids participate and learn thevalue of culture,” Sánchez said.ON an economic level, coordinatorshope the cultural recovery project will generateemployment and small businessesdirected toward tourism. Residents will beoffered financing help and business developmentadvice to open restaurants andhandicraft shops, Depypere said.As it is, historic tours are last on the todolist of international visitors inGuanacaste. In a poll last year at the DanielOduber International Airport in theprovince’s capital, Liberia, only 9% oftourists said they visit historic places,while 82% visit beaches. However, 53% dovisit towns and cities.As a whole, most foreign visitors toGuanacaste do not place high value on culture in their visit.According to the poll,22% of tourists saidthey most value culturalrichness in theplaces they visit. Incomparison, 38% mostvalue the environment,36% most value cleanlinessand 6% mostvalue infrastructure.PROJECT coordinatorshave spentthe first 18 months ofthe project takinginventory of what cultureexists in the area.They have compiledand analyzed fortourism value the city’shistoric buildings andhouses; parks, plazasand monuments; popular fiestas and celebrations;and gastronomic traditions.Through the help of the Institute forHousing and Urbanization, the project hasidentified a number of historic homes thatmerit protection, Sánchez said. His associationis working to restore a 1920-eraschool, partially destroyed by a fire in1993, which will be home to the Casa deCultura.Renowned Chilean architect BrunoStagno, who works in Costa Rica, is helpingto create an urban design for SantaCruz, which would establish design rulesfor new construction.The project also aims to create museumsand increase cultural events, on both amonthly and annual basis.Before marketing the area to tourists,coordinators plan to first finance and executethe preservation of historic and culturalattractions.Project coordinators hope the SantaCruz model could be replicated in otherGuanacaste communities.Beyond promoting Santa Cruz andother areas as historic cities, CATURGUAis working to create a Guanacaste brand asa whole that can be sold to tourists. Thiseffort will include creating a GuanacasteWeb site, logo, guidebook and map, andbuilding a tourist information booth at theLiberia airport.“This was the idea from the beginning(of CATURGUA): to unite Guanacaste,and not just for tourism but for farmers, forthe people who live here,” said the organization’spresident, Hubert Gysemans.

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