Los Katíos National Park (Colombia)

Los Katíos National Park (Colombia)

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Los Katíos National Park, located in northwest Colombia, has great biological wealth and holds a privileged role in the South American continent's biogeographical history. An exceptional biological diversity is found in the park, home to many threatened animal species and endemic plants.

Los Katíos National Park

Los Katíos National Park is a protected wildlife sanctuary located in northwest Colombia near the border with Panama. The National Park covers approximately 72,000 ha (178,000 acres) and encompasses significant wetland areas, including the extensive Ciénagas de Tumaradó. The elevation ranges between 50 and 600 m (160 and 1,970 ft) and

Los Katíos, designated as a World Heritage Site in 1994, is contiguous to the much larger Darién National Park of Panama, also a World Heritage Site. These two areas together protect a representative sample of one of the world's most species-rich areas of moist lowland and highland rainforest, containing exceptional endemism.

Los Katíos National Park is part of the Darién Gap, a densely forested area shared by Panama and Colombia. The topography is diverse, with low hills, forests and wet plains throughout the total area.

Within the park are hills of up to 250 m (820 ft) in elevation and others that are 600 m (2,000 ft) high. Swampy marshes spread over nearly half of the park's total area. There is an estimated 1,500 - 1,900 mm (59 - 74 in) of rainfall per year in this region of Colombia.

The two most significant parts of Los Katíos National Park are the Serranía del Darién mountains, which lie to the west, and the Atrato River floodplains in the east. The floodplains hold exceptionally fertile soil and consist of alluvial plains of two types: one consisting of low-lying terraces that flood often and the other with high terraces that seldom flood.

The wetlands of the Atrato floodplain are unique. Cativo, one of the indigenous species, can grow to a height of 50 m (160 ft). It lends its name to a formation called 'catival,' found only in Colombia, southern Central America, and Jamaica.

Los Katíos National Park also protects notable landscape features such as the 25 m (82 ft) Tendal waterfall, the 100 m (328 ft) Tilupo waterfall, and the Tumaradó swamps.

Flora and Fauna

Los Katíos National Park contains over 25% of the bird species reported for Colombia in less than 1% of the total national territory. The park is home to around 450 species of birds, some 25% and 50% of the avifaunas of Colombia and Panama.

Los Katíos is the only place in South America where many Central American mammal species occur, including threatened species such as the American Crocodile, Giant Anteater, and Central American Tapir.

Its location in northern Colombia made it a filter or barrier to the interchange of fauna between the Americas during the Tertiary. It is considered the site of a Pleistocene refuge, a hypothesis supported by the high proportion of endemic plants.


The region was initially inhabited by the Kuna, an indigenous group who, after internal fighting, had to surrender the Choc region to the Katío-Embera and emigrated to Panama.

The Darién region, to which Los Katíos belongs, was historically significant for the first settlers who used the land bridge from North to South America some 20,000 years ago.

In the post-Columbian period, the Spanish conquistadors Rodrigo de Bastidas, Alonso de Ojeda and Vasco Núñez de Balboa were the first to discover this region in 1501.

More recently, about one percent of the park in the Sautatá area was agriculturally developed and used primarily to cultivate sugar cane.

After the park was established in 1974, approximately 150 local families were gradually relocated to the nearby towns of Unguía, Puente América, Tumaradó and Cacarica.