Chirripó National Park is located in the heart of the Talamanca Mountain Range. It is approximately 30 km northeast from the city of San Isidro del General, and protects a number of important ecosystems on the Costa Rican Pacific slope.
Chirripó has an extraordinary number of habitats, as a result of the differences in altitude, soil type, climate and topography. It’s home to over 260 species of amphibians and reptiles, about 400 bird species and shelters the largest population of tapir in the country, puma jaguar, peccary, monkeys and many other species of mammals.
This is one of Costa Rica’s wildest parks, relatively accessible by diseño web foot. Much of the rugged terrain has been protected from development and exploitation by its inaccessibility. There are miles of trails that wind through more ecological zones than you will find in most entire countries.
But ‘Chirripó’ refers not only to the name of the national park; it also refers to the name of the highest mountain in Costa Rica.
Cerro Chirripó is a long 11 miles (18 km) elevation, with its highest point at 12,533 feet. It is also the coldest spot in the country, boasting the lowest temperature ever registered in Costa Rica (-9 °C).
The views are spectacular – on a clear day, you can see the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbea nSea simultaneously. Activities in the area include hiking to the summit, as well as bird and wildlife watching.
Tips and Considerations when climbing Cerro Chirripó
Climbing the Chirripó can be an extraordinary experience, qualified by many as ‘beyond the imaginable’. However, if you attempt the climb, make sure you get prepared and bring the following items with you:
Food & cook stove (or make arrangements in advance for meals)
As part of your planning and preparation, we also recommend you to consider the following:
You must be fairly fit to attempt this climb. It is long, in sections steep, and the weather can change drastically between base and peak.
You can explore Chirripó in one day, however most people prefer to spend the night in the dormitory lodge two thirds of the way up, before making an ascent on the peak.
Have a suitable backpack and pack sensibly.
There are well-marked trails leading to the peak. At the base camp, located 8.6 miles from San Gerardo and 3 miles from the summit, are signed trails leading to other peaks, stunning valleys and glacial lakes.
While many visitors are attracted by the challenge of climbing Cerro Chirripó, the forests in the park are also amazing. The natural diversity as you climb from the pastures to the peak, keeps many biologists and nature lovers fascinated.
The trail follows steep hillsides and valley walls that often you can look out into the canopy of the trees rooted many feet downhill. You will get to see different ecosystems up close and personal, as the vegetation hugs lower to the ground when climbing higher.
The ranger station in San Gerardo de Rivas is 13.6 miles northeast of San Isidro, along a rocky and winding road. The station offers information and takes reservations for the Crestones base camp.
Crestones base camp is a rustic lodge with around 60 bunk beds and cold water showers. It’s located 8.6 miles (from 5-10 hours) from the Chirripó trail’s origin and 3 miles (2 hours hiking distance) below the summit. You will need to make a reservation through the park system.
Guides and Porters
An experienced guide can make your hike even more enjoyable and interesting. You can also arrange for a porter to carry your personal belongings ahead of you on your hike. Visit the office of Porters and Guides (Asociacion de Arrieros, Guias y Porteadores Parque Nacional Chirripó) on your right immediately past the bridge on your way into San Gerardo. The porters will transport your gear to and from Cerro Chirripó and have it waiting for you at the Lodge when you arrive. You can also arrange for guides and cooking services through this office.
Chirripó Race and Festival
Once a year, in late February, San Gerardo de Rivas hosts a four day party known as ‘Carrera Internacional Ecológica y Cultural al Cerro Chirripó’ (International Chirripó Marathon).
Hundreds of athletic competitors arrive from all over the world to race 34-km up and down the Cerro Chirripó. Runners leave from Plaza de San Gerardo de Rivas at 7 a.m., heading uphill to the Crestones base camp and down again. The winner usually returns in just over 3 hours.
Other attractions in the Chirripó area
Río Chirripó: The Chirripó River is accessible from many of the hotels in the area and at other points as well. Swimming in fresh, clear waters is one of the delights of San Gerardo.
Natural Hot Springs: A few km north of the ranger station in San Gerardo de Rivas, is a beautiful thermal spring with the perfect setting. The pool is on private property and you may be asked for a dollar for its use.
Horseback Riding in San Gerardo: If you love the idea of enjoying the open mountain air on horseback, San Gerardo has many options for you. Many of the hotels provide horse rental by the hour. You can arrange to have a guide escort you to the best sites and introduce you to the variety of flora and fauna along the way.
Cloudbridge Reserve Self-guided Hikes: High above San Gerardo, Cloudbridge Reserve offers a number of beautiful trails through virgin forests. You’ll get to see stunning waterfalls, lush vegetation as well as birds and bees.
Wilson Botanical Gardens: The Wilson Botanical Gardens in Las Cruces, would be an excellent stop if you’re on a trip in the Chirripó area. There are more than a thousand species of plants on the grounds, and the gardens serve several purposes – they are used as a training ground for scientists and their education programs for the public are excellent as well.
There are also several walks through the garden. You can join a guided walk (make a reservation in advance) or pick up a trail guide that describes what you’re seeing.
La Amistad International Park: The La Amistad International Park is a joint effort of Costa Rica and Panama. Because of its location and variation in altitude, the region contains a great abundance of flora and fauna – including jaguars, peccaries, white-faced monkeys, howler monkeys, tapirs, anteaters, sloths, armadillos, pacas, deer, and agoutis. In addition, there are over 300 species of birds.
If you wish to explore this rugged frontier it is advisable to hire a guide, as many of the trails are unmarked. Camping is allowed in several designated locations within the park, however there is no lodging available. There is an entrance fee of $7.
You can access one of the park entrances from San Isidro del General.
Rancho Merced National Wildlife Refuge: Rancho La Merced National Wildlife Refuge is situated on the Pacific Coast near Punta Uvita and the Ballena Marine National Park. The reserve is comprised of a forest reserve with both, primary and secondary tropical wet forest as well as pasture, mangrove estuary, frontage on the Morete River and beach.
It offers a wide variety of environments and is home to amazing birds, reptiles, insects and mammals. Here you can enjoy hiking around the trails of the reserve, enjoy the tropical rain forest, the mangrove, go horseback riding for pleasure, or visit the Ballena Marine National Park which is located right next to the refuge.
Las Nubes Centre for Neotropical Conservation and Research: This is a research facility located on the southwest corner of the park and managed by York University of Toronto.
When to visit Chirripó National Park & Cerro Chirripó
Whenever you are in Costa Rica is a good time to go. Make sure you make your reservations in advance, especially if you’re travelling during the dry season (December through May), as it can get very crowded and the park only allows 60 visitors on the trail at one time. During the rainy season, it rarely rains before early afternoon.
Take the Interamerican Highway south out of San Jose towards Cartago. The main highway will climb Cerro de la Muerte, and then drop quickly, arriving in San Isidro del General. Turn towards San Gerardo de Rivas, the small town at the base of the park. From here, follow signs to the ranger station.
Admission and Contact Information
Costa Rican Nationals: 4,000 colones per person
International visitors: US$15.00 per person
Lodging: US$10 per night
Tel: (506) -2742-5083
Fax: (506) – 2742-50-85
Crestones Base Camp: (506) 2770-8040
There are many options when planning where to stay in San Gerardo and its surroundings. The following hotels are well maintained, convenient and reasonably priced:
– Los Crestones Hotel: Family owned and operated hotel, located near San Isidro del General town, on the road that goes to Dominical Beach.
– El Descanso Hotel: It is located in San Gerardo de Rivas close to the magical peak of Mount Chirripo.
– El Uran Hotel and Restaurant: A family-built and run hotel closest to the entrance to Chirripo National Park.
– El Pelícano Hotel: This hotel has a friendly atmosphere and is nicely located in the mountains in San Gerardo.
– Rio Chirripó Hotel: A quiet and peaceful hotel, located between the towns of San Gerardo and Canaan.
– Roca Dura Café: This popular hotel is located in San Gerardo’s centre overlooking the plaza.