SummaryA conventional conservation strategy is establishing protected areas to help combat anthropogenic and climate change impacts on tropical ecosystems, but the effectiveness of these measures is often hampered in upland areas by resource conflicts among armed groups, citizens and government institutions. Improved governance and community participation are key to effectively conserving these areas, yet little is known regarding citizen perceptions in such places. Here, a representative protected area in Colombia is used in order to analyse rural and urban citizen perceptions regarding conservation, conflicts with guerrilla groups and nature's contributions to people (NCPs) around Chingaza National Natural Park. We used on-site, semi-structured in-person surveys, geospatial data and statistics to understand these perceptions and the roles of armed conflict and deforestation. Perceptions on ecosystem degradation were correlated with deforestation and past guerrilla attacks. Age and place of residence were influential pro-conservation factors, while younger respondents were most willing to invest time in conservation activities. Air purification and water supply and quality were the most identified NCPs and citizens differentiated conservation-related recreation activities from natural resource extraction. We suggest that the legacy of past armed conflict still affects conservation strategies and communities living near tropical highland protected areas.