La Amistad International Park
Last Updated: Jun 16, 2015
The largest national park in Costa Rica, La Amistad is actually one-half of the greater La Amistad International Park, a joint effort between Costa Rica and its southern neighbor, Panama. Home to premontane and montane rainforest, the park is extremely secluded and not often visited -- the perfect destination for expeditions into some of the world's most rugged terrain.
Location : 5 miles from San Vito
Altitude : 5,085 feet above sea level
Area : 479,208 acres in Costa Rica
La Amistad, which means friendship, is surrounded by seven indigenous reserves: Chirripo, Tayni, Telire and Talamanca on the Caribbean slope, and Ujarras, Salitre and Abagra along the Talamanca Mountain Range. When the Spanish conquistadors arrived in Costa Rica, many indigenous groups fled to the interior, as its steep mountains and dense forest were difficult for the Spanish to penetrate. As a result, this region is now home to Costa Rica’s largest and most diverse concentration of indigenous groups.
La Amistad National Park is truly wild and secluded – the densely-forested landscape is suitable for only the most experienced hikers, and guides are highly recommended. The park’s three ranger stations – Altamira, Progreso, and Santa Maria Pittier – are open intermittently, as there are just two rangers to service the park’s entire southern region. Trails are unmarked and do not cater to day-trippers.
There is essentially no dry season at La Amistad National Park. However, the months of December through March are slightly drier along the park’s Pacific slope.
Hiking and wildlife watching are the park’s main activities. La Amistad’s three ranger stations branch out onto unmarked trails that receive very little maintenance and may be challenging for even serious hikers. Local guides are strongly recommended and may be contacted through the Talamanca Conservation Association (Tel: 2750-0191 or 2750-0398).
Camping within the park is permitted, but there are no facilities. At higher altitudes, nighttime temperatures dip, so a medium-weight sleeping bag and thermal underwear are recommended.
Flora & Fauna:
La Amistad National Park is mostly unexplored, and scientists have only scratched the surface of its ecological potential. To date at least 263 amphibian and reptile species, 400 bird species, and a variety of mammals have been observed within the park. Sightings include salamanders, lizards, anurans, resplendent quetzals, sooty-capped bush tanagers, ocelots, tapirs, pumas, jaguars and anteaters.
The park’s verdant terrain also hosts a range of plant life, including the Lomaria fern – a six-foot high frond – as well as poor man's umbrella, bromeliads and the esfagno sphagnum. The most common trees are oaks, cedars, ira, and cypress.
There are three ranger stations within La Amistad National Park: Altamira, Santa Maria Pittier, and Progreso. Access may be difficult due to rough roads that are often impassable during the drier season (December-March) and dangerous during the rainy season.
The park’s unmarked trails receive very little maintenance, so they may be muddy, slippery, and even washed out during the rainy season. The 43-mile Transcontinental Trail begins at the Ujarras-Salitre-Cabagra Indigenous Reservation and winds through La Amistad and then up to Cerro Abolado Mountain before descending the Caribbean slope into the Cabecar Indigenous Reserve. The trail is extremely rugged and dangerous in spots, and maps do not accurately represent that route. A guide is highly recommended for any trek through La Amistad National Park.
The park is 85 miles from San Isidro del General. Getting to La Amistad’s ranger stations can be an adventure in itself. The best way to enter the park is via San Vito de Coto Brus, although even this route is very rough with plenty of potholes and natural obstacles. In San Vito, be sure to ask about current road conditions and which ranger stations are open. The Progreso Ranger Station is the most easily accessed via San Vito: take the eastern road five miles to the town of Sabalito and then transition to the 11-mile gravel road toward La Lucha. From La Lucha, a three-mile horse trail leads to Progreso.