The Reserva Indígena Talamanca-Bribrí and Reserva Indígena Talamanca-Cabecar are incorporated into La Amistad International Peace Park , on the slopes of the Talamanca mountains.
The parks were established to protect the traditional lifestyle of the indigenous people, though the communities and their land remain under constant threat from loggers and squatters.
The Cabecar native peoples have no villages, as they prefer to live apart. Though the people speak Spanish and wear Western clothing, their philosophy that all living things are the work of Sibo, their god of creation, has traditionally pitted the native peoples against pioneers.
Government proposals to build a trans-Talamanca highway and a hydroelectric dam are being fought by the local tribes. The communities supplement their income by selling crafts and organically grown cacao.
The “capital” of the Talamanca-Bribrí reserve is the hamlet of Shiroles, setting for Finca Educativa Indígena (tel. 506/8373-4181, www.sitiviajes.com/red_talamana.html ), an administrative center for the Bribrí people.
The Cabecar are now turning to ecotourism as a means of preserving their culture. Amubri, eight kilometers west of Bratsi, is the “capital” and gateway to the reserve. If you go, enter with a sense of humility and respect. Do not treat the community members as a tourist oddity: You have as much to learn from the indigenous communities as to share.
Beyond Bribrí, a moderate 30-minute hike off the Bratsi road leads to the 20-meter Volio waterfall, popular with local tour guides; it has a pool good for swimming.
The Reserva Indígena Yorkin (tel. 506/8375-3372) welcomes tourists and leads hikes. Artisans of the Estibrawpa Women’s Group display their traditional (rather crude) crafts. The reserve is accessed by canoe up the Río Yorkin from Bambú. The two-day, one-night trip includes lodging, transport, and meals ($60 pp, $25 extra day).
However, it is extremely basic (no towels, nor even toilet paper); choose to sleep either in simple bedrooms with basic private bathrooms, or upstairs on a platform with mats beneath mosquito-net tents. Solar panels feed electricity in the common areas. Reports of the experience are mixed.
The Costa Rican Association of Community-Based Rural Tourism (ACTUAR, tel. 506/2248-9470, www.actuarcostarica.com ) and Simbiosis Tours (tel. 506/2290-8646, info [at] turismoruralcr [dot] com) offer tours.