La Amistad International Park is the largest and most remote National Park in Costa Rica. This 194000ha (479000 acre) park area represents a dual effort from Costa Rica and Panama, which is equally split between them. Is the largest nature reserve in Central America and together with a 15 km buffer zone, it represents a major biodiversity resource at a regional (20% of the regions species diversity) and global level. The name of this vast area translates as the International Friendship Park and derives from the fact that it extends into Panama. Together with a number of other parks, reserves and Indian reservations, it forms the 600,000ha (1,482,000 acres) La Amistad Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Much of the park is unexplored, and has more virgin forest than all of the other parks. La Amistad International Park has eight different life zones from tropical lowland rainforest to cloud forest and the tundra-like páramo. The park is surrounded by other parks and reserves for the indigenous peoples like Chirripó, Talamanca, Tayni, Ujarrás, Telire, Abagra and Salitre.
Because of the remote and virgin landscape, the wildlife statistics (mostly “estimated”) are incredible. In fact it is thought that up to two-thirds of all Costa Rica’s species are found at La Amistad, including a large number of its endangered species and many endemics. This makes for hikers and backpackers a hugely rewarded experience with all six neotropical cats, like the Jaguar, Jaguarundi, Ocelot, Puma, Oncilla and Margay, along with the rare Baird’s Tapir, monkeys, Giant Anteaters and Coatis.
More than 600 species of birds have been identified, including the country’s largest number of Resplendent Quetzals, the amazing Three-wattled Bellbird and the rare Umbrellabird. This may also be the last stronghold of the Harpy Eagle, although many ornithologists consider that it may extinct in Costa Rica. There are also 115 species of fish, 300 reptiles and amphibians and over 900 flowering plant species – and more are being discovered all the time. In La Amistad you can find approximately 1,000 fern species, 500 tree species and 130 different types of orchids. Compared to other parks and reserves of similar size around the world, the diversity found here is unequaled.
The park covers much of the Talamanca mountain range, rising from 150m (490ft) on the Caribbean side to 3550m (11,660ft) at the highest point. There are a few trails, but they are often overgrown and poorly marked. It would be foolhardy to venture far into the park without a guide.
Tres Colinas Sector
Visitors require excellent physical condition, as the travel time is 6 days with cold and rainy weather. There are local guides, private transportation services and camping areas. The community of Tres Colinas offers cabins to stay.
Getting to Tres Colinas Sector:
From Buenos Aires, follow the route to San Vito, take the exit in Paso Real and continue for 6 km. Take the exit to the community of Potrero Grande, where you take the road to Tres Colinas, approximately at 23km. Travelers will need a four-wheel drive vehicle, because it is a gravel path to Coto Brus. From Buenos Aires the whole trip takes about 2 hours.
It has natural trails for adventure hiking and wildlife watching, as well as camping areas. The travel time is approximately 4 hours. This sector has research facilities.
Getting to Pittier Sector:
Take the Pan-American Highway south to Paso Real, where you must be diverted to San Vito and then continue 45 km to the Pittier Biological Station. At the end of the path you will need a four wheel drive vehicle becuase of the road conditions. There is no bus service to here so it is necessary that visitors bring their own vehicle, or take a taxi for your transportation.
It has guides for entrance to Sabanas Esperanza and Valle del Silencio. For Valle del Silencio travel a good physycal condition is required as it takes about 8 hours to get (13 km). This site features a rustic lodge equipped with a living room, kitchen area, bathroom and beds. It is an excellent place for bird watching as well as tapir and jaguar tracks. This site provides facilities for research.
To enter to Sabanas Esperanza visitors requires the accompaniment of a local guide. The Los Gigantes del Bosque trail is located near the Altamira Biological Station, PILA administrative campus.
Getting to Biolley Sector:
Take the Pan-American South road and take the exit at km #221, in a place called Paso Real, and then continue for 15 km on the road to San Vito, up to the community of Las Tablas de Potrero Grande, where you take another turn and continue along a gravel path for 20 km. This road is passable all year round in four-wheel drive vehicle and in dry season any vehicle can make it. From the community of Altamira, you can only use a four wheel drive vehicle due to the characteristics of the access road to the Altamira Biological Station. From Perez Zeledon it takes about 3 hours.
Santa Maria Sector
Visitors will need the company of a local guide to enter this sector of the park, which leads to a hill covered by moors over 3000m in elevation. The way from Santa Maria takes about 5 hours, but the Chamber of Tourism of the community has a very rustic lodge near the boundaries of the park where you can stay. During the tour you can observe the Caño Island, the middle basin of the Térraba River and a wide variety of birds, among which highlights the quetzal.
Getting to Santa Maria Sector:
Take the Pan-American Highway South from San Isidro de Perez Zeledon to Buenos Aires until you reach the town of Santa Marta de Brunka located in km #184, then turn north on a gravel road until you reach the community of Santa Maria, located 15 km from Santa Marta. Access can be done in four-wheel drive vehicle all year.
Getting to La Amistad International Park in Costa Rica:
Take the Pan American Highway East out of San José to Cartago, go over Cerro de la Muerte until you reach San Isidro del General after a total of 153 km (92 miles) approx. 3 1/2 hours. From here on La Amistad is on your left 15 miles (25 km) southeast away until you reach the Panamanian border. There are several entrance stations.
There are no paved roads into the park. Access is generally by horse or foot from one of the four entrance stations (4WD required to reach each of them). Altimira Station is the park headquarters, and is located 12 miles (20 km) north of Guácimo. Other entrances are from Tres Colinas Station at Helechales, and in the Las Tablas region, Pittier Station at Progresso, and La Escuadra Station northeast of Santa Elena.
Take a bus from the route San Jose – San Isidro de El General and Chirripó National Park, which takes 3.5 hours (MUSOC, 2222-2422). We recommend buying the ticket a day earlier to be sure your seat is saved.
You can also take a bus San Jose – Quepos which takes 3.5 hours (Transportes Delio Morales, 2223-5567) and then take another bus Quepos – Buenos Aires (Gafeso).
You can also take a flight from the Juan Santamaria Airport to the Quepos airport, either with Sansa, TravelAir or Nature Air airlines, both with daily flights. From here you can rent a car and drive or take taxi to La Amistad International Park, passing through Dominical and San Isidro del Genereal, which is about 1.5 hours.
Location: Talamanca Cordillera, extending over the border into Panama.
GPS Coordinates: 9.324061-83.21025 (9°19’26.62″N, 83°12’36.90″W)
Size: 194000 ha (479,000 acres)
Altitude: 150m (430ft) rising to 3554m (11,660ft)
La Amistad International Park Telephone: +(506) 2200-5355 / 2730-0846 / 2742-8090
Caribbean La Amistad Conservation Area (ACLA-C) Telephone: +(506) 2795-1446
Pacific La Amistad Conservation Area (ACLA-P) Telephoe: +(506) 2771-4836 / 2771-3155
INFOTUR Tourist Information: 1192