Forming a bridge between the two continents of the New World, Darien National Park contains an exceptional variety of habitats – sandy beaches, rocky coasts, mangroves, swamps, and lowland and upland tropical forests containing remarkable wildlife. Two Indian tribes live in the park.
Darien National Park is located in the Province of Darien to the east of Santa Fe and the Gulf of San Miguel. It extends along about 80% of the Colombian border and includes part of the Pacific coast. The Darién, Sapo, Jungurudo and Pirre mountain ranges are found within the site as well as the Jurado mountain chain and basins of the Tuira, Balsas, Sambu, Jaqué rivers and part of the Chucunaque River. Access is by river and heavy truck.
The area has been under protection since 1972, with the establishment of Alto Darién Protection Forest and was declared a national park on 1980. This park is in a unique geographical position, as it forms a land-bridge between the Central and South American continents. It has emerged from below sea level on several occasions, the most recent being in the early Pleistocene. The Pacific tides influence the Chucunaque and Tuira rivers for many kilometres inland. Natural erosion has resulted in numerous landslides with deep cuts and gorges.
Darién contains a wide range of habitats: sandy beaches, rocky coasts, mangroves, freshwater marshes, palm forest swamps and lowland and upland moist tropical forest. The eroded landslides and associated gorges have given rise to successional plant communities, with major tracts of primary and secondary forests covering most of the terrain. The average height of the monsoon forest is approximately 40 m with occasional dominant trees reaching 50 m. The most abundant species in the area is cuipo. Premontane and montane forests occur above 200 m, with several types of botanically interesting ecosystem including cloud forest and the elfin forest of Cerro Pirre. Wetland forest along the Chucunaque and Tuira rivers is often covered by pure stands of cativo, this species being the most utilized timber tree in the region, and mangroves along the Pacific coast.
There have been few studies of the fauna. Mammals include bush dog, giant anteater, jaguar, ocelot, capybara, douroucoulis, howler monkey, brown-headed spider monkey, Baird's tapir, agoutis and white-lipped peccary. Harpy eagle also occurs in the park, as do Cayman crocodile and American crocodile.
The area is both anthropologically and historically rich, with two major indigenous groups: Chocó and Kuna Indians and a number of smaller groups still living by traditional practices. The area was visited by Spanish conquistadors and the coast was explored by Christopher Columbus in 1502. In 1510, the town of Santa Maria la Antigua del Darién was established probably somewhere within the park boundaries. As a result of the Spanish presence and mistreatment, many of the Indians moved away. Today, conservation of the Indian's culture is included as a management objective. There are a number of archaeological sites.
Two Indian tribes live in the park along the edges of the rivers: approximately 1,000 Chocó and 200 Kuna Indians. These groups have maintained their subsistence agricultural systems through centuries of European contact. On the western boundary of the park are a number of small farming plots whose owners have no title deeds. Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC