The Rock Garden at Piedra Colorada – Montezuma, Costa Rica - Atlas Obscura

The Rock Garden at Piedra Colorada

Montezuma, Costa Rica

Balanced rock sculptures pay tribute to a murdered conservationist and his pioneer wife. 


Years ago, a man named Jake made a daily pilgrimage to the Piedra Colorada area of the Southern Nicoya Peninsula to build balanced rock statues along the shore. He would rebuild the sculptures that were knocked over by the tide and create new statues to add to the remaining collection every day.

When he moved away, travelers continued the tradition to ensure the beach would be continually marked with the delicate and often perplexing balanced rock statues called cairns. The quietude of the cairns surrounds the final resting place for Nicolas Wessberg. With his wife, Karen Mogensen, Wessberg convinced the Costa Rican government to create its first protected nature reserve. They established the nearby Cabo Blanco in the early 1970s, and today, the two trails that travel through the preserve are called the Swede’s path and Dane’s trail, after their respective home countries.

Many environmentalists from around the world followed their lead, buying acres of Costa Rican land to ensure that no development would mar the complex ecosystem that is Costa Rica. Today, its the home of two UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Conservation was not a popular idea just a few decades, ago, though.  In 1975, Mogensen found her husband’s bones near Corcovado, where he was focusing his last protective efforts. While never proven, the commonly held belief is that he was assassinated by those that wished to exploit that land. A plaque honoring the duo’s efforts, perseverance, and vision now stands amidst the fitting tribute of the cairns.

Know Before You Go

Today, visitors can journey past the turtle conservation along the beach to add to the sculpture garden. To get there, it's a 20-minute walk north from the town center along the Gulf of Nicoya. Walk along the sea or on the partially shaded nature trail. If you are standing in the water, facing the cairns, you'll see a stream behind them to the left. It's a great place for kids to play as it's shallow, or you can walk further along it to see a lovely small waterfall. There is nowhere around there to buy water or food, so come prepared. 

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