Reserva indígena Maleku Reserve, Costa Rica

Visit the incredible Maleku Reserve and discover this Costa Rican tribe’s curious way of life

Reserva indígena Maleku Reserve, Costa Rica
Reserva indígena Maleku Reserve
© Stevenj

The Reserva indígena Maleku (Maleku Reserve) is located just 6 miles away from the north of Venado and 31 miles away from the north of La Fortuna de San Carlos. It is inside the municipal borders of a small town called San Rafael de Guatuso.

Is in this reservation where the 460 members of the Maleku (also known as Guatuso) tribe inhabit. The Maleku is a Costa Rican Amerindian tribe. They divide themselves into three different clans or communities: Palenque Margarita, El Sol, and Palenque Tonjibe. They still preserve their language, the Maleku, which is used on the radio, taught at schools and is spoken by 70 % of the Maleku population. In this bilingual place, Spanish is as relevant and prestigious as Maleku.

Reserva indígena Maleku, Alajuela
Handcrafted Maleku Objects
© Helder Dias

Do not expect to see anyone in San Ramon wearing the traditional tribal clothes, since the city is culturally occidental and they dress like any other Costa Rican. They do not have any physical feature different from the rest of the county’s inhabitants, but it is possible to find shops where unique handcrafted Maleku objects are sold, specially snakeskin engraved-wood drums.

Once you are in the reservoir, located in a bucolic and rural setting, you will be able to observe and feel the purest traditional indigenous culture. Tourists are welcomed with open arms and guided tours ($35) are offered: professional guides will explain to you everything about medicinal plants, religious believes, and burial rites. It is also possible to go hiking through paths that go deep into the tropical forests, try the local cuisine, and attend to Maleku dance performances or to the small and humble Arts and Crafts Museum that they have.

In some archaeological excavations on the Guatuso cemeteries, ceramic and jade items have been found; these objects are now exhibited at the San Jose National Museum.

Undoubtedly, this would be one of the most touching experiences of your trip to Costa Rica because you will have the chance to discover the rituals and the way of life of one of the country’s oldest tribes and, at the same time, observe by yourself how Costa Rica used to be before the implantation of the modern civilization and the creation of big cities.

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San Rafael de Guatuso, Alajuela, Costa Rica.


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