Outside the town of Sierpe in Costa Rica, a group of mysterious stone spheres were discovered when the United Fruit Company cleared the area to start a banana plantation. Since the first discovery of spheres more have been found in the Osa Peninsula area, ranging from 7cm to 2.5m in diameter. The stone spheres are suspected to have been created by pre-Columbian native tribes, who were sophisticated enough to craft the spheres and move them around. Today the site is a UNESCO world heritage site known as Finca 6 archaeological site, or more casually as the Sierpe spheres museum.
History of the Stone Spheres
Concealed since before Columbus arrived, the spheres were unearthed when clearing land for a United Fruit Company banana plantation. Workers at Finca 6 (Farm 6) were surprised to discover they had to contend with stone spheres to make room for banana trees. This lead to spheres being moved or damaged, but then the scientists showed up and made them stop tearing up one of Costa Rica’s most important archaeological sites.
Subsequent research determined that an advanced (long gone) civilization that lived in the area over 400 years ago created the stone spheres, which likely had special significance. Made from river stones, the spheres were expertly crafted and transported to different villages (nobody knows how. Maybe they were rolled?).
The Sierpe spheres aren’t all identical – sizes vary, some are smoother than others, and several have designs caved on their surfaces. The suspected uses for the spheres are diverse – some ancient people had a stone sphere outside their house (maybe because they were important people), and some spheres seem to mark territorial boundaries.
Today, the stone spheres at Finca 6 archaeological site are preserved for researchers and visitors to learn about the spheres and the ancient civilization that created them. Because of the significance of the spheres to ancient Costa Rican people, Finca 6 and several other nearby sites where spheres were discovered have been bestowed a UNESCO world heritage status as of 2014.
Two groups of stone spheres at Finca 6 have a special significance – they’ve been left in their original positions, seemingly arranged for a purpose. The meaning of their alignment is a puzzle researches are trying to solve to this day.
Visiting the Finca 6 Sierpe Spheres Museum
The Spheres Museum is an easy day-trip from Sierpe, and gives visitors a chance to learn about Costa Rican history before seeing the real thing up close. The Sierpe spheres museum is closed on Mondays, and opens at 8am the other six days of the week. Be aware that during low season (May to November) hours can vary.
Entering the old banana plantation on a dirt road, it’s tough to miss the modern museum building. Someone certainly had a budget when the museum was conceived – the white building has an elegant, modern design, and looks surreal standing alone surrounded by banana trees.
Admission to the Spheres Museum costs $6USD per adult payable in cash, VISA, or Mastercard (paying in colones is no problem). Fill out a visitors log with your name, age, and where you’re from to receive your ticket.
Note: We were told we needed our passports to enter the museum, but when we pulled them out the attendant waved us off (apparently it was so obvious we’re from Canada he didn’t need to see proof?).
After taking your ticket, the attendant leads you into the museum to watch a video about the spheres. The short movie explains the origin of the spheres and their discovery in modern times, along with conservation efforts and research at Finca 6 and other sphere sites. The video is in Spanish with English subtitles.
After the video, you’re free to tour the museum. The wall panels all have Spanish and English, and lead you through the history and significance of the spheres from ancient times up until today. Unfortunately the statues and other artifacts on display are labelled only in Spanish.
One of the last displays in the museum is a diorama showing the spheres of Finca 6 as they might have looked when they were first laid in a village (long before the United Fruit Company arrived to plant bananas).
Touring the Grounds at Finca 6
After exiting the museum, it’s on to see the spheres themselves. The archaeological site is spread over the old banana plantation, follow signs with arrows through the thick growth of banana trees to where spheres were found (or moved).
Interpretive panels in Spanish and English explain the significance of the spheres at each location.
The spheres sitting in their original alignment – one of the reasons for UNESCO status – are actually the most boring in the Sierpe spheres museum. Because they haven’t been disturbed, 99% of each sphere buried underground with just the top bump visible above the soil. Use your imagination and think back to the diorama in the museum to picture the spheres displayed in all their glory in an ancient village rather than underground in an empty field.
The largest grouping of spheres is located close to the museum, and unfortunately isn’t where they were discovered – they were moved. Around 15 spheres are positioned together, with different sizes and states of deterioration (erosion is a big problem for the spheres due to the tropical rain, sun, and rapid plant growth).
Finca 6 is interesting to walk around not just because of the spheres, but because you can totally tell it was a banana plantation. Especially because a cable trolley for bananas is still standing in the paths between the sphere sites, and banana trees still grow in abundance.
Do it – If you’re in the Sierpe/Palmar area the Sierpe spheres museum at Finca 6 is worth visiting, but it’s not a Costa Rica must-do. The museum displays are excellent and bring the site to life.
Note: If you’re short on your dough (or time) you can see a collection of spheres in the “Parque de las Esferas” in Palmar Sur for free. The green park is off highway 223 and has benches and a group of spheres for you to enjoy.
How long you need – It won’t take longer than 2 hours to go through the whole site. It took us 1 ½ to see everything, and we didn’t rush.
Important – Don’t miss the museum! Take your time to learn about the spheres and their history, which will make the site make much more sense.
Driving: Head south on highway 223 from Palmar towards Sierpe. Approximately 7km from Palmar, turn left onto the dirt road at the sign for Finca 6. There is no parking lot, just pull over to the right and park in front of the museum.
Bus: From Sierpe catch the local bus outside the Super Combo grocery store, and have 250 colones ready. Mention “Finca 6” and the driver will let you off at the dirt road that leads to the site. The dirt road is just after the first bridge after leaving Sierpe, you’ll be able to see the back side of the sign that says “Finca 6”.
Buses leave Sierpe at the following times:
AM – 5:30, 7:15, 9:00, 10:30
PM – 1:30, 4:00, 6:00
To get back, you can try flagging down the local bus, or hitching a ride. Otherwise, it’s the shoe-leather express for 6km back to town.