Visiting Cerro Chirripo
Part of the Talamanca Mountain range, Cerro Chirripo is one of the most exciting tours to do in this country! The diversity and beauty of Chirripo will leave you with a great feeling of pride and achievement. You will find Chirripo by taking the Pan-American Highway East of the Capital of San Jose, 50 km past Cartago. It is one of the more remote national parks in the Talamanca area such as other like La Amistad. Cerro Chirripo is most noted as being the highest mountain in Costa Rica, standing proudly at an elevation of 3,821 meters or 12536.09 feet.
Because of its altitude, the flora and fauna change drastically. If you are hiking during the rainy season, you might even see snow on the summit! On clear days, it is possible to see both oceans, the Pacific, and the Atlantic over Guanacaste and way beyond the Costa Rican Borders. This hike is not for the faint-hearted. Hikers must climb the difficult road with enough clothing and a sleeping bag to protect them from the cold and the rain. Although the hike is well worth it with magnificent views and an abundance of nature and it will be trip to remember!
Climbing Cerro Chirripo
Before climbing you must obtain a permit from the National Park Office in San Gerardo de Rivas. They will also provide you with a guide. You will need to make a reservation beforehand. You can drop by the office or call to make a reservation. The ranger, stationed at the entrance by the ranger station, will likely check for your permit. However, if you call you are more likely to be told that there is a waiting list! The trail of 19,5 kilometers will take you through a biodiversity that changes as you progress to the summit where you will find tundra-like climate.
There are two huts available for staying the night at base camp and one a little further down. Setting up camp is illegal! The climb is rather strenuous and only those who consider themselves fit enough should engage themselves in this adventure. The first hut is at Llano Bonito, roughly half way up. This is more an emergency shelter and if you are up to it keep going! The actual refugees are only 500 meters away from the peak giving you time to climb the last distance in time for sunrise in the morning. Make sure you have plenty of food, snacks, and water supply as well as plenty of sunscreens as the sun is strong at this altitude. Enjoy the beauty of the Cloud and Rain Forest of Costa Rica; trekking the tallest mountain in Costa Rica feel the close contact with nature, it is truly awesome.
The Chirripo National Park
While most people are attracted to the challenging climb, the rain forest of the park is no less amazing. The biodiversity and beauty are unmatched! It’s worth looking into the tours and explorations you can do around the whole region. As you enter the park you find yourself in an evergreen lower mountain forest, making your way into rainforest as you move up. This is where you see the awesome and majestic giant trees, 50 meters high or more, huge plants, ferns, and bamboos. You will also spot various wildlife like many species of birds and perhaps even the Resplendent Quetzal.
As you go higher you begin to look out into the valley all the way down and you can see the canopy of the trees that are just below. The view is comparable to that of a view from a canopy tour! As you keep going the vegetation changes and the leaves become smaller. The crystal-clear water of the stream and freshness of the air is such a contrast to what you experienced a few meters below. By the time you reach the refuge, you may wonder whether you have left the tropics because it gets fairly cold!
Take all necessities: Make sure you bring plenty of water and snacks! This climb is pretty intense and will leave you both hungry and thirsty!
Prepare for any type of weather: The high altitude of the mountain means that you will pass through different kinds of climates. Make sure you prepare for layers. The top can be pretty cold and the jungles below can be very humid and hot.
Bring a sleeping bag: The nights can be very cold indeed! Remember the altitude. Bring a warm sleeping bag.
Book in advance and get a permit: Unlike most of Costa Rica’s volcanos, you can’t just show up at Cerro Chirripo on the same day. Make sure you arrange for your permit and guide up front!
Acclimatize: Depending where you are traveling from, you should acclimatize as much as you can before heading to this altitude. This may sound a little challenging in Costa Rica, but note that San Jose is located at 1.172 meters above sea level. So, if your home is lower than that, consider spending a couple of days in the capital and perhaps taking some walks (a lot of hills in San Jose!).
Cerro Chirripo is located south of San Jose and you can get there by taking the Pan-American Highway East of the Capital of San Jose, 50 km past Cartago. Shuttles as well as rental cars are available for you! Keep in mind that wandering up the mountain on your own. You can only access this reserve with a licensed guide and a permit!
For the actual hike, go shopping in San Jose and bring lots of snacks and water. As an added preparation, you can store up some extra protein and iron to help you on your hike! As it happens, Costa Rica’s national dishes are perfect for this. The Casado for lunch and a Gallo Pinto for breakfast are nutritional bombs! Rice, beans, eggs, salad and a choice of meat will definitely prepare you for your climb. Restaurante Silvestre offers local cuisine with a dash of style. If you prefer some upscale dining with international flavors, how about a power packed pasta? In the classy Santa Ana, you can find exquisite restaurants like Andiamo La for Italian food.
Where to stay
Technically, you will spend the night at the mountain. But it will do you good to stay in San Jose before and after the climb, just so you can rest and possibly acclimatize before your hike. If you want the city right at your doorstep but don’t want the bustle and noise to be heard all the way to your room, stay at the beautiful Victorian Estate Hotel Grano de Oro. If you favor the remote hotels, you can further away from San Jose but close to the mountain. Hotel Quelitales is the perfect location for the nature lover. This authentic, upscale hotel is close to Cartago but surrounded by tranquility rather than a busy town.