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Costa Rica Travel >>natural areas>>Chirripó

Chirripó National Park
"Place of Enchanted Waters"

National Park Costa Rica
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This is one of Costa Rica's wilder parks, but relatively accessible by foot. Much of the rugged terrain has been protected from development and exploitation by its inaccessibility. Besides the challenge of climbing Costa Rica's highest peak (Cerro Chirripó) there are miles of trails that wind through more ecological zones than you will find in most entire countries.

The Crestones seen from near the refugios in the valley of the rabbits near the peak of Chirripo Grande (photo © Ray Krueger-Koplin)
The Crestones seen from near the refugios in the valley of the rabbits near the peak of Chirripó Grande (photo © Ray Krueger-Koplin)

Attractions
Cerro Chirripó Grande: The number one attraction in Chirripó national park is climbing Cerro Chirripó, the highest peak in Costa Rica. The views are spectacular, on a clear day, you can see the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean sea simultaneously.

It is long -11 miles (18 km), steep- nearly 10,000 feet (3,000 meters) of elevation gain, and strenuous climb, but there are two huts where you can spend the night so you don't have to carry a tent. The first is at Llano Bonito, about half way up. This is a small open sided, tin roofed platform that you should probably only consider as an emergency shelter. The refugios about half a kilometer from the peak have walls and bunk bed type sleeping racks.

If you want to attempt the climb, be prepared. Carry lots of water, and a system for purifying more. You will need a sleeping bag (it snowed lightly on us New Years Eve on the peak), food, and a cook stove for the night in the refugio. And please go heavy on the sunscreen! This close to the equator, at this altitude, you can get so badly burned you end up in the hospital. You will also need to make a reservation through the park system. If you call the ranger station, you may be told that there is a long waiting list. If you stop by the ranger station and ask for a permit it may be issued on the spot.

looking up throug the oak forest on the slopes of Chirripo
Massive oak branches covered with epiphytes (photo © Ray Krueger-Koplin)

The forests: While many visitors are attracted by the challenge of conquering Cerro Chirripó Grande, the forests in the park are amazing. The diversity as you climb from the pastures at 1,000 meters (3,300 feet) elevation near San Gerardo de Rivas, to the paramo (tundra) ecosystem near the peak at 3,819 meters (12,530 feet) keeps small armies of biologists fascinated for their entire careers.

epiphytes and dead leaf (photo © Ray Krueger-Koplin)
epiphytes and dead leaf (photo © Ray Krueger-Koplin)


Above the pastures, you enter the park in tropical evergreen lower montane forest and move upwards into the montane rainforests where you will find giant oak trees 50 meters (165 feet) tall or more. These emergent giants tower over the other trees that average 30 meters (100 feet), and the understory of ferns and bamboo. The trail follows such steep hillsides and valley walls, that often you can look out into the canopy of the trees rooted hundreds of feet downhill. You will have a chance to see the epiphytic ecosystem up close and personal. In some ways it is even better than a canopy tour, because your feet are planted firmly on the ground, you can spend as much time as you want, and it's free.

As you climb higher, the vegetation hugs lower to the ground. If you look down into the crystal water of the streams, you will see trout. Above tree line, you see cactus and scrub. Conditions become harsher and by the time you reach the refugio, you wonder if you are somewhere on the Colorado plateau.

In the region of Chirripo
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In the region
Natural Hot Springs: There is a beautiful thermal spring about a 15 minute walk north of the ranger station in San Gerardo de Rivas off the road to Herradura. Look for a hand painted sign pointing to the right. The pool is on private property, and the farmer or his children may ask for a dollar for its use. The setting is perfect and there is no better way to soak and massage out the aches from hiking (the hot water gushes out of a fire hose size opening and will pound the pain out of your muscles).

Cabinas and Soda El Descanso: Even if you don't stay or eat there, stop in and say hi to Francisco Elizondo at his cabinas in San Gerardo de Rivas. Check out his photo and trophy gallery commemorating his finishes in the annual race up Chirripó. You will be humbled when you see the times for the round trip race.

While you are this far south, think about going a little farther to see the Wilson botanical gardens near San Vito (San Vito is where you will find the best Italian food in Costa Rica as well).

If you're not hiked out, there is a bigger challenge all around you. In La Amistad International Park you can spend a week trekking all the way across the continent! (ok, so it's at a pretty narrow spot, but how else can we say it?)

Sue and her horse pimpinella 24 miles (40 km) south of San Isidro is Rancho Merced National Wildlife refuge. To the right Sue drinking a pipa (the water of an unripe coconut), while her horse Pimpinella watches. Near punta Uvita, in Rancho Merced National Wildlife Refuge. Their guided rides are highly recommended, along with their birding tour.

When to visit Chirripo National ParkCosta Rica
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When to visit:
There are a couple of times that you may want to avoid Chirripó National Park because there are a large number of Tico hikers, and the refugios can fill up (In order to protect the fragile ecosystems camping is not allowed anywhere). Weekends in the heart of the dry season, and especially Easter weekend can be very crowded. Otherwise whenever you are in Costa Rica is a good time to go. Even in the rainy season, it rarely rains before early afternoon, so if you are up with the sun you can be pretty exhausted before you have to duck for cover.

Books and other resources
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Resources
Books

Toucan Ratings Explained | Lowest Available Price
Why Buy from Us?

A Guide to the Birds of Costa RicaA Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica
by F. Gary Stiles, Alexander F. Skutch (Contributor), Dana Gardner (Illustrator), Paperback, Publisher: Cornell Univ. Pr, (1990), ISBN: 0801496004

Birders the world over agree it's a classic in its field. An excellent guide to one of the most diverse bird populations anywhere with 52 beautiful color plates, detailed species accounts, descriptions of birding localities. If you're already hooked on birding you know from your friends that this is the book you need for the avifauna of Costa Rica, and if you're a novice, this is a perfect place to start.
rated 5 toucans by Costa-Rica-guide.com
$US 27.97 from Amazon -or-
Barnes&Noble member price $US 30.36

 

Field Guide to the Wildlife of Costa RicaField Guide to the Wildlife of Costa Rica
by Carrol L. Henderson (Author), Steve Adams (Illustrator), Paperback, 559 pages, Publisher: Univ. of Texas Press; 1st edition, (2002), ISBN: 029273459X

Color photos, species accounts, and distribution maps, for almost three hundred species of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, butterflies, moths, and other invertebrates are complimented by general introductions to each group, the ecology of Costa Rica, and how to travel to see wildlife.
rated five out of five toucans by Costa-Rica-Guide.com
$US 27.97 from Amazon -or-
Barnes&Noble member price $US 30.36

 

Information on the web
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Information on the Web

Costa Rica trekking adventures is an outfitter that organizes treks up Chirripó or other peaks in the park.

 

Map showing the location of Chirripó National Park in Costa Rica
Location: 34 miles (56 km) in a straight line southeast of San José.

Visiting
Getting There:

Driving Directions
Take the Pan American Highway East out of San José, the road curves South and changes designation from Highway 1 to Highway 2, although it's still the Pan American Highway. About 30 miles (50 km) past Cartago you climb over Cerro de la Muerte, which isn't called the mountain of the dead because of all the head on bus collisions there, but it could be (the name actually originated from all of the people who died walking over the pass before the road was much more than a trail). It's not advisable to drive in Costa Rica at night, but especially not here. You will reach San Isidro el General after a total of 92 miles (153 km, approx. 3 1/2 hours), pass through town and turn left 0.6 miles (1 km) south of town towards San Gerardo de Rivas (3.6 miles, 6 km).
Detailed roadmaps
are available in acrobat pdf format or printed on waterproof tear proof plastic.

Bus
Traveling by bus to San Gerardo de Rivas requires a stopover in San Isidro.

100 San Isidro (Chirripó National Park)
Express departures daily from San José, outside Terminal Coca Cola, every hour from 5:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., 3 hours, ~$US 3.85. To get to the entrance of Chirripó National Park, take the bus to San Gerardo de Rivas from the San Isidro terminal at 5:00 a.m., or 2:00 p.m.

Entrance fees:

$US 7, additional fees apply for overnight trips (~ $US 3 per person per night) and reservations are required.

Hours:

The ranger station just south of San Gerardo de Rivas in Canáan is open 5:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and the rangers are a great help if you are a little unsure about your trip.

Amenities:

Hiking trails
Maps and visitors guides are available at the park headquarters a few hundred yards south of San Gerardo de Rivas in Canáan.
Camping
Camping is not allowed, but you can overnight in the refugios described below.
Lodging
Inside the park, there are refugios (climbers huts, reservations required). The first is at Llano Bonito, about half way up. This is a small open sided, tin roofed platform that you should probably only consider as an emergency shelter. The second, and main refugio about half a kilometer from the peak was built in 2000 with river rock walls, a tin roof and bunks for about 50 backpackers. The third refugio is in the Valle de las Morenas a few km north of Chirripó
If you want to attempt the climb, be prepared.
Outside the park there are many budget options (nothing in the luxury/resort category yet) in San Gerardo de Rivas.
Francisco Elizondo and his family (photo © Ray Krueger-Koplin)We highly recommend Francisco Elizondo's cabinas y soda el descanso. It isn't the biggest or fanciest in in San Gerardo de Rivas, but they are the friendliest! Check out his photo and trophy gallery commemorating his performances in the annual running race up and down Chirripó. You will be humbled when you see the times for the round trip race.

Quick Facts
Weather:

The weather ranges widely with elevation. Near the summit winds of nearly 100 mph (165 kph) have been recorded, and nighttime temperatures can drop below freezing. Heat stroke can also be a problem especially with the rapid rates of dehydration in the humidity, the exertion of climbing and the incredible intensity of the sun.

Size:
123,000 acres (50,150 hectares, 192 square miles, 146 times the size of central park NYC, 1/2 the size of Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado)

Elevations:

from 3,000 feet (900 meters) to 12,530 feet (3,819 meters)

Established:
Chirripó takes its name from the Talamanca Indian word meaning "Place of Enchanted Waters"

Habitats:
Tropical lowland wet forest (rain forest), tropical highland forest (cloud forest), subalpine rainy paramo (tundra)

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