Parque Internacional La Amistad
The enormous and magnificent Parque Internacional la Amistad (PILA), which lies along the Talamanca mountain range, was established in September 1988 and declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1990 due to the great importance it has for the preservation of biodiversity in Panama and the American continent. Here you can find the largest number of species of large animals, among which is the jaguar. It also has a great variety of birds including the Quetzal. It is a humid tropical forest and probably one of the last remaining primary forests of Central America with 7 of the 12 life zones necessary to sustain the principal land ecosystems. It is “international” in that a little less than half of it is in Costa Rica. That leaves 207,000 hectares on the Panama side. Nearly all of this land is in the province of Bocas del Toro, but the 3 percent of it that pokes into Chiriquí province is far more accessible.
The park’s plant and animal life are among the most diverse in Panama. The forests vary from lowland tropical to sub alpine, and much of the vegetation is virgin. Five of the six species of Central American felines—the jaguar, puma, ocelot, jaguarundi, and margay—are still hanging on here, as is the also-endangered Baird’s tapir. Among the nearly 600 types of birds identified in the area are such spectacular species as the resplendent quetzal, the three-wattled bellbird, and the rarely seen bare-necked umbrella bird.
All that said, you may not see much wildlife other than birds on a day hike near Cerro Punta. But the park is well worth a visit even if you’re not a birding fanatic. The forests are dense and varied and there are several kilometers of well-maintained trails near town.
The main entrance to the park is at Las Nubes, about seven kilometers west of Cerro Punta. There’s an ANAM ranger station on the right at the end of the road, where the trails start. Pay the entrance fee here ($3) and get trail maps from the friendly staff. There’s also a small display on the park and a few of its denizens.
The Las Nubes entrance to PILA is about a 10-minute drive from Cerro Punta. If you’re heading up to Cerro Punta from the south, look for the sign indicating a left turn off the main road just before one enters “downtown.” Make another left at the Las Nubes sign. The road gets a bit rough, but a four-wheel drive is not essential to get to the first gate. The short uphill drive past the gate to the ANAM ranger station and trailheads does require a four-wheel drive. Round-trip taxi fare from Cerro Punta is $5–7. The station is open from about 8 or 8:30 a.m.–4 p.m. every day. Entrance is $3. For information, call the ANAM regional office in David, tel. 775-3163 or 775-2055 (there’s a radio but no phone at the station itself).