... Parque Nacional Chirripó (Chirripó National Park) ...
by Harry Pariser
Author of Explore Costa Rica

This 105,000-acre (42,500-ha) park is a hiker’s paradise, one best explored during a two- or three-day hike combining stays in mountain shelters with ones in the comfortable new lodge. Established in 1975, it includes 12,530-ft. (3,819-m) Cerro Chirripó, the nation’s highest point, as well as two other peaks over 12,500 ft. (3800 m). The area is famed for its páramo— a high, tundra-like zone which often frosts (but never snows) over.

getting there and PRACTICALITIES: Take a bus from San Isidro de El General at 5 AM and 2 PM (be sure to take the bus to San Gerardo de Rivas) or charter a taxi (around US$15); it’s a beautiful two-hour ride up to the San Gerardo entrance. Here you check in at the ranger station where it’s possible to camp; there’s a steep shortcut up to the park from here which can cut an hour from your time (see below).

If you’re planning to make it up to the mountain hut in one day (a rough trip with an altitude gain of 6,900 ft., 2,100 m), it’s better to stay put for the day. In town you may rent out a room at the low-budget Soda and Cabinas Chirripó at the low-budget Soda El Decanso, at the low-budget Cabinas Marín, at the low-budget Albergue Turístico Chirripó (which sits atop a gigantic boulder overlooking the river), or at the low-budget Roco Dara which has baths with hot water and cheap meals. Elimar is more expensive because the rooms have private baths; it also has a bar/restaurant.

The 10-unit Cabinas y Restaurante El Descanso (% 771-1866) has rooms with board for around US$15/person. It is 200 m from the park office.


During the rainy season, it rains daily, generally in the afternoon, so you’ll have to get an early start. There are three mountain huts where you can stay.

tours Ocarina Expeditions (tel. 253-4579; Apdo. 1265-2050, San José) offers trips to Chirripó and Corcovado.



OUTLYING ACCOMMODATION: Albergue de Montaña Río Chirripó Pacifico (% 771-6096, 771-4582, fax 771-2003, 771-1903; Apdo. 517-8000 Costa Rica), is an eight-room mountain lodge near Rivas. It offers restaurant, hiking trails, and horseback riding. It charges around US$50 d with continental breakfast. It is 17 km from San Isidro (around 50 min. on a gravel road).


El Pelicano Mountain Lodge offers rooms with shared baths for around US$25. Owner Rafael Elisondo has a gallery here with his “root” art sculptures.


tours: Jungle Trails (% 255-3486) offers tours, and Costa Rica Expeditions (% 257-0776, 222-0333, fax 257-1665; costa-rica@expeditions.co.cr; www.expeditions.co.cr) can tailor a tour for you.

flora, fauna, and topography: Páramo covers 65 sq. k). The edge of the páramo extends from around 10,826 ft. (3,300 m) and above. This often-thick, stunted vegetation rarely tops 12 ft. (four m). Surrounded by a cloud forest the “savanna” itself is treeless. Six different types of páramo vegetation, including a species of dwarf bamboo, cover it. The most common tree is the evergreen oak. The lakes at the peak—unique in Central America—were formed by glaciation more than 25,000 years ago during the Pleistocene Era. Situated at 10,170 ft. (3,100 m), the Sabana de los Leones (Savanna of the Lion) is so named because “lions” (pumas) and cougars are frequently spotted here.

There are 73 species of birds; variety diminishes as the altitude increases. Quetzals are abundant. Another feature of the higher cloud forest, the jilguero (black faced solitaire) cries out from the treetops.

entering the park: The best way is via the “Thermometre,” which was once a shortcut and is now the main route. From the ranger station turn L and walk through the village. Going R at the first fork, descend and cross a bridge, then continue on to another river and bridge; get water here. After a few houses, you’ll see a sign marked “Cerro Chirripo”; walk through the pasture. Keeping about 300-600 ft. (1-200 m) away from the forest on your R, head up until you come to a wired enclosure with a gate to its R. Enter and head R, following a path which ends suddenly; then follow the ridge on your L up to a wire fence crossed by a set of stone steps. You are now on the main trail, Fila Cemeterio de Maquina, which follows the ridge.

The park boundary is about one or two hours farther, and the first camping spot (Llano Bonita: a flat, grassy area) is two or three hrs. after that. Signs are placed every two km (or so) along the way. To get water follow the trail another 20-30 min. to find a fork on the L marked “Agua Potable 200 m.” There’s a rough shelter here (not a place you would choose to sleep in) and a steep path behind it takes you down to a small stream.

Continuing through a steep, once burned-out area (La Cuesta del Angel) for another three to four hours, you enter Monte Sin Fé and then reach a small stream with a large cave (refugio natural) to the L, about 1.5 hrs. from the huts below, where you can sleep if necessary.

Next you must climb La Cuesta de los Arrependitos (“Hill of the Repentants”) where the trail circumnavigates the side of a mountain. The first proper shelter is another hour or so away; you’ll pass a “Valle de Leones” sign about 20 min. before it, and the shelters lie in the valley below the accordion-folded sharp peaks of Los Crestones. The two dorm-style cabins at Refugios Base Crestones sleep up to 40. Both have kitchens with potable water and cooking utensils. Flies can be horrific.

Depending upon your physical condition, it will have taken you eight to 16 hrs. to reach the first hut and ranger station.

nearby hiking: Surrounded by rocky peaks and mountain passes, sandy Valle de Los Conejos (Rabbit Valley), from which all the rabbits beat a hasty retreat after the 1976 fire, is covered with dwarf bamboo. Cerro Crestón borders it on the SE, and its pinnacles rise towards the N and W.

Lakes are found at the base of the Valle de los Morrelas and Valle de Lagos (Moraine and Lake Valleys). These crystal-clear cold lakes, which measure up to an acre and sometimes freeze over, are popular bathing spots with tapirs, and the entire animal community—from large cats to brocket deer to rabbits— arrives and drinks their fill on occasion. (Stay in Valle de los Morrelas at the hut; obtain keys from the San Gerardo ranger station). From here, you can climb Cerro Urán and head along the Camino de los Indios; you should hire a local to show you the way.

other approaches: You may also begin from Canaán, a village a few km further into the valley. This is a bit longer but avoids the steep beginning. Stay here in the low-budget Cabinas Navarro (% 771-0433, ext. 101) which are next to the soda. An entirely different, only recently opened route commences at Herradura and extends over Cerro Urán and Chirripó; it necessitates hiring a guide which may be arranged through Parques Nacionales. Stay at the low-budget cabinas in Herradura

mountain climbing: Chirripó is not as difficult to climb as it appears. On a clear day, it’s possible to see the Valle de General, parts of the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts, the Turrialba and Irazú volanoes, and several other peaks. Continue on to the second hut and follow the sign; it’s about an hour to the base of Chirripó Grande and then another half hour to the top; the Lago San Juan (chilly swimming) is on the way. Start before dawn from the second hut to get the best views.

There’s also a trail from here to Cerro Terbí (12,352 ft., 3,765 m), a peak which, unlike Chirripó, can be seen from the first hut. From the top of this peak, you can see well down into Panama. Los Crestones, a series of steep, needlelike rock pinnacles are nearby; they can also be reached from the first hut in about an hour.

From the first hut, there’s a rough trail down to Sabana Chirripó, a large, light-brown marsh. From the top of Cerro Terbi, it’s possible to continue on to Pico Sureste (12,247 ft., 3,733 m), Pico Noreste (12,283 ft., 3,744 m), and Cerro Pirámide (12,490 ft., 3,807 m). Other peaks that may be climbed include Cerro Páramo (12,136 ft., 3,699 m), Cerro Ventisqueros (12,506 ft., 3,812m), Cerro Uran (10,935 ft., 3,333 m), Loma Larga (12,254 ft., 3,735 m), Cerro Truncado (12,680 ft., 3,865 m), and Cerro Laguna (12,300 ft., 3,749 m).

The new lodge houses up to 60 hikers at four to a room, baths with cold showers, communal kitchen (with meal preparation being planned), and socializing space. No aesthetic charmer but surely an improvement on what came before, the lodge necessitated some 4,000 two-way trips up and down the mountain on the part of hundreds of laborers. The US$800,000 donated for its construction came from the United Nations. It costs US$6 pn to stay here, and camping is prohibited unless you are on the three-night Chirripó loop for which a guide is required (% 771-1199 to reserve one).

vicinity of chirripó: There are a set of hot springs in the vicinity of Herradura. to get here continue up the road for a km or so until you see a brown house to your L; turn R and head up a steep trail for 15 min.; you may need to pay a small fee at the brown house.

About three hours on foot from the village of Herradura, three km from San Gerardo de Rivas, is low-budget Pensíon Quetzal Dorado (% 771-0433, ext. 109). It’s another good place from which to explore Chirripó and Cerro Urán.

At Rivas-Perez Zeledón, Talari Mountain Resort (% 771-3102, %/fax 777-0341) has eight cabins, pool, fruit tree orchard, restaurant, and horseback riding. It’s from US$40 d plus tax on up including continental breakfast. A free shuttle service will be provided from San José if advance notice is given.


FROM CHIRRIP0: Buses depart from San Gerardo for San Isidro at 7 AM and 4 PM. Francisco Elizondo of Posada El Descanso offers transport to San Isidro by arrangement.


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