La Amistad International Park is the postcard picture of Costa Rica and Panama; a breathtaking rainforest spanning 3,540 square miles (5,700 km) across the Talamanca Mountain Range, with territory in both Costa Rica and Panama. Aptly named for a cross-border park, “La Amistad” means Friendship. The park is the largest and most remote nature reserve […]
La Amistad International Park is the postcard picture of Costa Rica and Panama; a breathtaking rainforest spanning 3,540 square miles (5,700 km) across the Talamanca Mountain Range, with territory in both Costa Rica and Panama. Aptly named for a cross-border park, “La Amistad” means Friendship.
The park is the largest and most remote nature reserve in Central America and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 due to its incredible biodiversity. Most of the park remains untouched by humans.
For travelers, La Amistad International Park offers a once-in-a-lifetime jungle adventure with hiking trails, fantastic birdwatching, and even cultural immersion in indigenous communities.
We recommend visiting the park for at least a day during Panama’s dry season (January to April) to hike its trails and spot the incredible wildlife which lives there. If you have the time, you can extend your trip to spend two or three days in the park, exploring all it has to offer and staying with an indigenous community.
Here, you’ll learn more about the park and essential travel information such as how to get there, what to do, and where to stay to make the most of your trip.
This area is part of the prehistoric land bridge which merged North and South America millions of years ago, which partly accounts for its plethora of animals and plants, as species from both North and South met. So far, scientists have recorded the following species:
Many of these species are unique to this zone which makes it a must-visit attraction for wildlife enthusiasts. Here, you’ll have the chance to spot a variety of big cat species (puma, jaguars, margays, and ocelots) as well as sloths, monkeys, tapirs, and anteaters to name but a few. For avid birders, the area is home to over 500 exotic species including quetzals and the endangered harpy eagle.
Plant life in the park is also incredibly diverse; the area is especially well known for the many species of orchid. Finca Dracula, while technically not within the park grounds, is a carefully cultivated garden showcasing the many exotic species of orchid found in the area. You can find it at Cerro Punta in Panama.
La Amistad Weather
The park is made up of many different ecosystems which vary due to the array of microclimates and altitudes. This includes tropical lowland rainforest, montane forest, cloud forest, and oak forest as well as high-altitude bogs and Isthmus Paramo – a rare tropical alpine grassland.
The temperatures in Cerro Punta, near the Las Nubes park entrance, range from 49°F to 70°F (9°C to 21°C), with significant rain throughout the year. Those perfect hiking temperatures are due to Cerro Punta’s higher altitude, at 6,500 feet (2,000 m). On the other hand, Changuinola, near the Weckso park entrance, has temperatures between 70°F and 87°F (21°C and 31°C), also with considerable rain.
La Amistad is truly off-the-beaten-path; there are no roads into the park and it is only accessible by foot or horseback. There are two official entrances to the park in Panama, from both the northern Caribbean side and the southern Pacific side. Entrance to the park is $5.00 USD per person.
The most popular route into the park from Panama is via Las Nubes, a small town located in the Chiriqui region, near Bajo Grande and Cerro Punta. This is on the Pacific side of the park and is easily reached by car and bus from David.
On the Caribbean side, you can enter from Weckso in the Bocas del Toro region. In order to get there, you must first travel to Changuinola.
If you hire a rental car, it is possible to make your own way to either Cerro Punta or Changuinola.
From David to Cerro Punta, it is a 45-mile (73-km) drive and takes approximately 1.5 hours. The drive is pretty simple and takes only three roads:
From Boquete to Cerro Punta, you can cut out David and drive around the base of Volcan Baru to the west which is a 60-mile (96-km) drive. Just follow Route 105 and 103 which will join you with Route 43, just before Volcán.
You can reach Changuinola by car from David:
Once in Changuinola, make your way to El Silencio (there are also buses and taxis available if you want to leave your car in Changuinola). From there, you need to take a boat down the River Teribe to reach Weckso. It’s essential to book your transportation and plan your lodging ahead before going to Weckso.
Panama regional buses leave from David bound for Cerro Punta and cost $2-4 USD for the 2-hour journey.
To get to Changuinola, you can take a bus from David or Panama City. From Panama City the cost is around $28 USD one-way; from David, it is $7 – $10 one-way.
There are flights from Panama City to both David and Changuinola which will shave hours off your journey if you don’t have much time. One-way prices are about $98 USD from Panama City to David and $105 USD for Panama City to Changuinola.
The most popular hiking trails are El Retono and La Cascada, both of which start and end near the Las Nubes ranger station. While you can do both of these hikes on your own, we recommend going with a local guide specialized in birdwatching and who knows the area well. Your guide will be able to point out birds and wildlife you may have missed otherwise.
Time: 1.5 – 2 hours
Distance: 1.2 miles (2 km)
This route is a loop starting and ending at the ranger station. On this trail, you’ll pass through the dense forest, crossing over wooden bridges by tranquil streams. The trail is well marked.
Time: 1.5 – 2 hours
Distance: 2.1 miles (3.7 km)
This route passes through the lush cloud forest and ascends up to La Cascada del Pila, a beautiful waterfall. Thanks to the remoteness of the park you can enjoy this natural wonder free of crowds.
What to Bring on Your Hike
There are three indigenous groups in La Amistad International Park: the Naso, Bribri, and Ngöbe, all of which lead traditional ways of life within the park. The Naso and Ngöbe people live on the Caribbean side of the park, while the Bribri live on both sides of the park in Costa Rica. Check out our other blog post to learn more about indigenous groups in Panama.
Members of the Naso community receive travelers to show them the beautiful tropical rainforest that they call home, as well as their traditional culture and way of life. You can visit a Naso community on a day tour or even stay overnight. You’ll stay in a basic cabin or you can camp in the jungle.
La Amistad is one of the most remote and protected natural reserves. As such, there are no accommodations or amenities within its boundaries. That said, if you want to spend a few days in the area, here are your options:
This is your only option within the park boundaries and is a truly authentic way to experience the rainforest. We strongly recommend camping with a guide for safety. If you camp on a tour with equipment provided, you can enjoy a hassle-free, unique stay within the rainforest.
Cerro Punta Hotels
Just outside of the park, you’ll be able to find lodgings in nearby towns. There are many options around Cerro Punta and in the nearby area of Volcan. We recommend:
Accommodations are more limited at this entrance to the park. If you are entering the park from this side, we recommend enjoying the hospitality of the indigenous communities and staying with them for a wonderful and authentic experience. Other lodging options in Changuinola include:
If you’re traveling to western Panama, add La Amistad International Park to your list of places to see. As you go off the beaten path to this remote nature reserve, you can to spot unique wildlife, explore pristine rainforest, and experience the lifestyle of the indigenous people who call the park home.