From the World Heritage inscription:
The park lies in the foothills and mountains of Cordillera de Talamanca between the mountain ranges of Las Vueltas, Cartago and Echandi on the Panamanian/Costa Rican border.
The Cordillera de Talamanca is the highest and wildest non-volcanic mountain range in Central America. It was formed by the folding of the Earth’s crust and uplifting activity that created the land dividing the Pacific from the Caribbean. A long period of marine deposition in the shallow surrounding seas up until the Middle Miocene was followed by a period of marine volcanism, which included the uplifting of the whole area to some 4,000 m above sea level. Subsequent erosion due to heavy rainfall has created a rugged topography. During the Quaternary period, glaciers carved cirque lakes and steep valleys on the slopes of Chirripo National Park, the only area in Central America to show signs of glaciation.
Tropical rainforests have covered most of the area since at least the last glaciations, about 25,000 years ago. The park includes lowland tropical rainforest and cloudforest, as well as four communities not found elsewhere in Central America: subalpine paramo forests, pure oak stands, lakes of glacial origin and high-altitude bogs. The area also contains all five altitudinal zones found in the tropics. Most of the main crest lies within montane rainforest, characterized by mixed oak forest. Below 2,500 m lower montane rainforest occurs and the forest is generally more mixed. The Talamanca Mountains contain the largest tracts of virgin forest in Costa Rica. On high points along the ridge, at elevations above 2,900-3,100 m, frequent stands of paramo, swamps, cold marshes occur. The paramo located on Mount Kamuk contains the richest and most varied vegetation (after Chirripo) in the entire Talamanca Range and is the only one in Costa Rica that shows no signs of human intervention. Species diversity is perhaps unequalled in any other reserve of equivalent size in the world, due to the convergence of the floras of North and South America and varied climatic and edaphic (soil-related) factors.
This World Heritage Site comprises an enormous part of Costa Rica and comprises many separate national parks, preserves and forests:
- La Amistad International Peace Park
- Tapantí-Macizo de la Muerte National Park
- Chirripó National Park
- Barbilla National Park
- Hitoy-Cerere Wildlife Refuge
- Las Tablas Conservation Area
- Río Macho Forest Preserve
Despite its size, finding a way to visit one of the parks was far more difficult than I thought it would be. The Amistad Park is all wilderness and the only way in is to backpack several days. The other parks are also not really designed for large scale tourism.
I found easiest way to visit the site was via Tapanti National Park in the Orosi Valley, which is only an hour outside of San Jose. From there you can easily arrange day trips into the park or dive there if you have a car. While the park is accessible, there are only a small number of hiking trails available.