Three kilometers southeast of the bridge over the Río Térraba, a dirt road off Highway 237 leads north five kilometers to Potrero Grande and thence 12 kilometers to Helechales and the Estación Tres Colinas ranger station for La Amistad International Park—4WD required. Tough going!
Another rough dirt road begins at Guácimo (also known as Las Tablas) on Highway 237 about three kilometers north of Jabillo and about 18 kilometers southeast of the Térraba River; it leads 21 kilometers via the communities of El Carmén and Altamira to the La Amistad International Park headquarters at Estación Altamira (tel. 506/2730-9846, $10 adults, $1 children), on the edge of the cloud forest. This is the main access point to the park.
Neither the road nor Altamira are marked on most road maps (turn left about three kilometers above El Carmén; it’s easy going to Altamira, beyond which it’s signed via a steep and rugged two-kilometer 4WD climb). The Altamira ranger station has a small ecology museum. Trails include Sendero Valle del Silencio, a six-hour, 20-kilometer hike into the cloud forest good for spotting quetzals.
The dirt road that begins at Guácimo divides after three kilometers: take the right fork for El Carmén; the left fork leads 14 kilometers to the village of Biolley (again, 4WD is essential), a center of coffee production (in winter picking season, Guaymí laborers flock in from Panamá, brightening the scene with their gaily colored dresses).
Two trails into La Amistad Park begin about two kilometers above Biolley, where Finca Palo Alto (tel. 506/2743-1063, www.hotelfincapaloalto.com ) is a farm with cattle, horses, and goats. The charming owner hosts educational day visits and leads guided horseback and hiking trips to high-altitude waterfalls.
To learn about (and sample) coffees from around the world, stop in at Finca Coffea Diversa (www.coffeadiversa.net ), just below the Estación Altamira ranger station. It claims to be the largest varietal coffee farm in the world, with more than 200 coffee species amid flowering shrubs. It’s still a work in progress.
The Asociación de Productores Orgánicos La Amistad (Assocation of Organic Producers, at Altamira, tel. 506/2743-1184) and the Asociación de Mujeres de Biolley (Women’s Association of Biolley) operate guide services.
Estación Altamira has a camping area with toilets and showers, drinking water, and a picnic area for $6 per person (you’ll need to bring stoves and food). Plus, there’s a basic three-room dorm ($6 pp); reservations are required. There’s even a TV lounge with sofas.
In El Carmén, Marialeno Garbanzo Camacho is the gracious owner of Soda y Cabinas La Amistad (tel. 506/2743-1080, $12 pp), next to the police station. She has eight simple, clean rooms with fans and shared outside bathrooms with hot water. The soda (6 A.M.–9 P.M. daily) serves filling casados (set lunches).
At Biolley, Finca Palo Alto (tel. 506/2743-1063, www.hotelfincapaloalto.com , $6 pp dorm, $25–30 pp room, including all meals) has six basically furnished wooden cabins with modern bathrooms and TV. It also has male and female dorms with narrow bunks for 26 people. This place has a real campesino ambience, and filling meals are served in the country-style outdoor restaurant.