Costa Rica

La Amistad/Talamanca Highlands

The Talamanca mountain range contains the largest tracts of virgin rainforest in Costa Rica. In addition, 90% of Costa Rica's known plant species are found in this region — 30% of which are endemic to the area. A majority of Costa Rica's animal species are located in this region the Talamanca Lowlands are also an important flyway for migrating raptors.

Why the Conservancy Selected This Site

Not only do the La Amistad/Talamanca Highlands support a majority of Costa Rica's plant and animal species but due to its remoteness and inaccessibility the area remains one of the largest, least disturbed areas of tropical forest in Central America.

La Amistad International Park (PILA), is the core component of the Amistad Biosphere bi-national World Heritage Site located in the Talamanca highlands of Costa Rica and Panama that protects the largest area of undisturbed highland watersheds and forests in southern Central America, recognized worldwide for its biological diversity. These watersheds provide important freshwater sources for communities in the lowland areas of Talamanca and Bocas del Toro. 

Poor rural communities depend on watershed generated services bringing out social equity considerations that justify government investment in the protection of the resources.

Indigenous Communities

In addition to its biological diversity, Costa Rica's largest population of indigenous communities (Cabecar, Bribris, Naso Teribe and Ngobes) inhabits the Talamanca highlands. These indigenous territories in the highlands make up a large portion of the buffer zone of the Amistad International Park in both Costa Rica and Panama.


This area, renowned for its biodiversity, contains at least 90% of Costa Rica's known plant species.


These diverse habitats also provide shelter for numerous species of wildlife, including the ocelot, the black-handled spider monkey, the Baird's tapie and the giant anteater.

It is also home to over 350 species of birds such as the Great Green Macaw, Osprey, Harpy Eagle, and Muscovy Duck. Several altitudinal migratory birds (birds that migrate between different altitudes on the same mountain) such as the Resplendent Quetzal and the umbrella bird have been identified as important conservation targets. At least a third of the bird species are North American migrants such as the Wood Thrush, Prothonotary Warbler and the Magnolia Warbler.

Despite the region’s remoteness and small human population, many of its biological riches are in jeopardy. Overfishing, unregulated tourism, development, colonization, logging and clearing of land for subsistence farms, banana plantations and cattle are contributing to water pollution, sedimentation, die-off of coral reefs and the depletion of marine catch. A series of hydroelectric dams, power plants and roads planned for the area also threaten to jeopardize the region’s rivers and forests.

What the Conservancy Is Doing

The Talamanca Highlands and La Amistad International Park were selected for inclusion in the Conservancy’s celebrated Parks in Peril program as its first bi-national site. The Conservancy is working with local groups and government agencies to strengthen cross-boundary conservation efforts in the region.

Several key initiatives and activities being pursued include the development of a bi-national management plan, the creation of conservation finance mechanisms such as water-use fees and establishment of a “Seas to Summits” corridor linking conservation projects in the upper watersheds with coastal waters.

This latter initiative also seeks to protect species such as the Three-wattled Bellbird, the Resplendent Quetzal and Bare-necked Umbrella Bird that conduct altitudinal migrations. Instead of moving laterally over vast expanses of land, these birds take a vertical route, moving from the lowlands to the highlands and vice versa to feed, mate and nest. The habitat for these animals at all stages of their life must be protected, and for this reason, the Conservancy and its partners are working on consolidating a biological corridor that will incorporate these ecosystems in the Costa Rican-Panamanian La Amistad International Park.

Additionally, by promoting a participatory management approach, the Conservacy aims to empower local people by building their capacity to participate in the conservation process, so poor and isolated indigenous communities become shareholders in managing resources, both within the protected area and in the buffer areas of La Amistad. By creating the structures necessary for communities to be involved in managing resources appropriately, not only will they assure themselves of the long-term benefits that this will provide (e.g. freshwater sources), but their communities can develop and be shaped by the benefits of conservation.

Creating Sustainable Tourism Networks and providing payments for environmental services

The Conservancy is working closely with communities to help them create alternative means of livelihood. It has empowered these communities by helping them create networks towards a common vision, sharing risks and opportunities. These community networks are actively involved in tourism and park management activities in partnership with local governments.

In the Caribbean sector of the park, 17 community groups from the Talamanca Indigenous Reserve in La Amistad have formed the Indigenous Tourism Network, known in Spanish as Red Indígena de Turismo. On the Pacific side of Amistad, four local communities organized themselves under the Quercus Network, known in Spanish as Red Quercus. 

Indigenous communities in La Amistad find ecotourism to be an attractive development alternative because it allows them to use the region’s natural resources without outright exploitation and destruction. These communities are those most directly affected by the establishment of parks and protected areas, and they also stand to profit the most by their conservation if equipped with the means to engage.  The Conservancy is working closely with these networks to establish community businesses, provide tourism training and develop compatible economic activities such as handicraft production and tour guiding. 

The Conservancy is also working to develop payments for environmental services by creating water use fees, where private sector industries dependent on the region’s watersheds make “environmental services payments” that support community development and natural resources management.


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