The location of this unique transboundary site in Central America, where Quaternary glaciers have left their mark, has allowed the fauna and flora of North and South America to interbreed. Four different Indian tribes inhabit this area, which benefits from close cooperation between Costa Rica and Panama.
The Talamanca Range-La Amistad Reserves / La Amistad International Park extends along the border between Panama and Costa Rica. The transboundary property covers large tracts of the highest and wildest non-volcanic mountain range in Central America and is one of that region's outstanding conservation areas.
The Talamanca Mountains contain one of the major remaining blocks of natural forest in Central America with no other protected area complex in Central America containing a comparable altitudinal variation. The property has many peaks exceeding 3,000 m.a.s.l. (9,842 f.a.s.l.) on both sides of the border, including Cerro Chirripo, the highest elevation in Costa Rica and all of southern Central America at 3,819 m.a.s.l. (12,530 f.a.s.l.)
The surface area of the property 570,045 ha (1,408,612 acres), of which 221,000 ha (546,103 acres) are on the Panamanian side. The beautiful and rugged mountain landscape harbors extraordinary biological and cultural diversity.
Pre-ceramic archaeological sites indicate that the Talamanca Range has a history of many millennia of human occupation. There are several indigenous peoples on both sides of the border within and near the property. In terms of biological diversity, there is a wide range of ecosystems, an unusual richness of species per area unit and an extraordinary degree of endemism.
The scenic mountains and foothills contain impressive footprints of Quaternary glaciation, such as glacial cirques, lakes and valleys shaped by glaciers, phenomena not found elsewhere in the region. The property is a large and mostly intact part of the land-bridge where the faunas and floras of North and South America have met. The enormous variety of environmental conditions, such as microclimate and altitude leads to an impressive spectrum of ecosystems.
The many forest types include tropical lowland rainforest, montane forest, cloud forest and oak forest. Other particularities of major conservation value include high altitude bogs and Isthmus Paramo in the highest elevations, a rare tropical alpine grassland. Longstanding isolation of what can be described as an archipelago of mountain islands has favored remarkable speciation and endemism.
Some 10,000 flowering plants have been recorded. Many of the region's large mammals have important populations within the property, overall 215 species of mammals have been recorded. Around 600 species of birds have been documented, as well as some 250 species of reptiles and amphibians and 115 species of freshwater fish. Most taxonomic groups show a high degree of endemism.
The large extension and the transboundary conservation approach entail a great potential for the management and conservation of an extraordinary large-scale mountain ecosystem shared by Costa Rica and Panama.
La Amistad Biosphere Reserve (The Friendship Biosphere Reserve) lies in the foothills and mountains of the Cordillera de Talamanca, between the mountain ranges of Panama and Costa Rica. The Cordillera de Talamanca is the highest and wildest non-volcanic mountain range in Central America, formed by the orogenic activity, which created the land dividing the Pacific and Caribbean Oceans.
This biosphere reserve is situated in the northwest of Panama, bordering Costa Rica and the Caribbean Sea. It comprises a variety of different habitats, ranging from low humid mountain forest to mangrove forest and coral reefs.
This site forms part of La Amistad International Park, shared between Panama and Costa Rica. The La Amistad International Park, formerly the La Amistad National Park, is a Transboundary Protected Area in Latin America, management of which is shared between Costa Rica (Caribbean La Amistad and Pacific La Amistad Conservation Areas) and Panama.
Of the 20 life zones of Costa Rica, at least eight occur in the park, which includes lowland tropical wet rainforest to cloud and paramo forests. Most of the main crest lays within the montane rainforest life zone, characterized by mixed oak forest, the largest tracts of virgin forest in Costa Rica.
In the highlands some important lagoons, have international recognition under the Ramsar Convention as habitats for migratory bird species. It’s also an endemic area of mammals, reptiles amphibious and fish. The unique volcano of Panama, Baru, is also situated in the area.
On high peaks along the ridge over 3,000 m (9,842 ft) above sea level, there are frequent stands of paramo, swamps and cold marshes. The paramo on Mt. Kamuk contains the richest and most variated vegetation in the entire Talamanca Range.
Signs of tapirs (Tapirus terrestris), possibly of a species as yet unrecorded for Costa Rica are abundant near the Panamanian border. Puma (Felis concolor), ocelot (F. pardalis), jaguar (F. yagouaroundi), Central American squirrel monkey (Saimiri oerstedii) and Geoffroy's spider monkey (Ateles geoffroyi) are found within the biosphere reserve.
Over 150,000 people live in the buffer zone and the transition area (1998). They live from agriculture, cattle raising, forestry, fisheries and ecotourism. Some indigenous ethnic groups as Ngóbe, Teribe, Buglé and Bribri live in the buffer area. They have conserved their language, cultures, traditions and religions. They also practice traditional forms of agriculture and subsistence hunting.