Chirripo National Park
Parque National Chirripo is in the Canton of Perez Zeledon, in South Costa Rica.
This National Park contains the highest peak in Costa Rica, Cerro Chirripo at 3,820m (12,533ft). This makes it the highest in the range between Guatemala and the Andes.
Agustin Blessing, a missionary priest, is reported as the first non-local to reach the summit of Cerro Chirripo, in 1904.
Flora and fauna
Chirripo National Park boasts great biodiversity, including Talamanca forest and Costa Rican Páramo forest. Three forest fires have devastated the region in recent years, with the latest being in 2012.
In lower altitudes you will find a dwarf cloudforest habitat. As you ascend, the vegetation changes to higher altitude plants and shrubs as opposed to forest.
The resplendent quetzal may be seen in the lower cloudforest regions, and monkeys, toucanets, trogons and several other species may also be spotted in the lower altitudes.
From January - April generally dry. May - December very humid. On the top it can be extremely cold (down to -9°C), but more typically 5°C with a chilly wind.
From San José, take a bus from the MUSOC terminal to San Isidro de El General. Buses leave every hour on the half hour, beginning at 5:30am, take 3+hours and cost C3250. Beware that these buses frequently sell out, do not turn up half an hour before your desired bus and expect there to be a seat left - it is best to arrive at the MUSOC terminal well in advance.
From San Isidro there are three daily buses to San Gerardo de Rivas, the village at the start of the trail, at 5am, 2pm and another at 6:45pm. The 2pm bus is the most useful as you can connect easily with it on a morning bus from San Jose and it will get you to the park headquarters in time to register with the rangers - the trip takes about 1hour 15minutes, and the road has been paved almost all the way as of December 2014.
To connect with this bus from San Jose it is recommended to take a 9:30am departure (or earlier), as the MUSOC bus terminal in San Isidro is a 10minute walk from the main terminal where you catch the bus to San Gerardo. You MAY make the connection on the 10:30am, but don't count on it.
If for some reason you miss the 2pm bus from San Isidro to San Gerardo, or arrive at another time, you can also take a taxi. It is about a 20km trip, all but a few short stretches are paved and it should take about half an hour.
Beware of touts who may approach you immediately after you disembark your bus, they will have all kinds of stories (lies about the bus to San Gerardo) and offer to take you for the rip-off price of US$25+. Negotiate hard, or just use a regular taxi.
You can also of course drive to the park yourself - no 4WD necessary, the road is in good condition.
The permit system was changed in July 2014. To obtain a permit to climb Chirripó it is now necessary to call the National Park Headquarters in advance at (506) 2742-5083 between 8am-4pm, Monday-Friday (basic Spanish necessary). Try to book at least a few days in advance, there is limited availability. You will be issued with a reservation code and the amount you must pay into the Park's bank account (as of December 2014, this was US$36) - this must be done from a Costa Rican bank, international transfers are not accepted.
Be aware that you may have to queue for an hour or more in your local Banco Nacional to see a teller and pay your entry fees - Costa Rican banks are often extremely busy.
You must then bring your receipt from the bank to the Park Headquarters in San Gerardo de Rivas before 4:30pm on the day before your hike to be issued your permit - it is best to get there by 4pm, as the rangers may close the office early.
If you wish to stay overnight at the Creystones Lodge you will also need to call Chirripó Services (a separate company who run the lodge) on (506) 2742-5097. Again you will be given a bank account number and amount to pay (US$33). If you book less than three days before your climb date it is possible to pay for your accommodation in cash in San Gerardo - this is only possible for your accommodation, you MUST pay your park entry fees in a Costa Rican bank or via a transfer from a Costa Rican bank account prior to registering at the Park Headquarters.
If you are not in Costa Rica you can call ahead to a hotel in San Gerardo, they may be able to help you acquire a permit by transferring the money for you - Casa Mariposa is a good place to start your inquiries.
Hiking is the only form of "transport" in the park, apart from the pack horses that bring supplies up to the Creystones Lodge and return with rubbish, muddying up the lower part of the trail in the process.
The hike itself is moderately challenging, mostly because of its length, rather than its grade or technical difficulty. The trail begins about 1.3km uphill from the bus stop in San Gerardo, opposite Hotel Uran and Casa Mariposa. The starting elevation is 1,520m.
There are kilometre markers from the start up until KM14, which also show your elevation (sometimes incorrectly - KM12 is signposted as 2,513m, when it is actually about 3,120m).
There are no more kilometre markers after Creystones, but there are other signposts with elevation and distance to the Chirripo summit, and directions to other walks and summits.
How long the hike takes obviously depends greatly on the individual - to reach Creystones at approximately 15KM and 3,400m it can take anywhere from 5.5-10+hours - the descent can be done in 3-6+hours. From Creystones to the summit is 5.1km, and between 1:15-3+hours - 1-2+hours for the descent.
The first 5km are treacherously muddy and slippy, partly due to the heavy traffic of horses, but the trail gets firmer after a while. The steepest section is the last couple of hundred metres which requires some scrambling over rocks. Some sections are relativately flat, a welcome break from the normal uphill slog.
The early part of the trail passes through some pretty cloud forest, before opening out into lighter forest, wildflowers and scrub, and some spectacular views of mountains, valleys and distant waterfalls.
An option only for the very fit, and those short on time and/or money, it is possible to hike Chirripo in one (very long and tiring) day. You will save a day's park fees, as well as the cost of a night's stay at Creystones.
Start as early as possible, the weather is generally best in the mornings before deteriorating as the day goes on. Don't expect a clear summit (although you may get one if you are lucky), and expect to get rained on during your descent. It is a 12hour, 40km roundtrip only for the fittest hikers.
Hike up the highest mountain in Costa Rica.
There is a general store in San Gerardo de Rivas, the village at the start of the trail where you can buy food and drinks for your hike.
Crestones Lodge is the only place to purchase food inside the park. They serve breakfast (5:30-8:00, C5000), lunch (12-2:30, C6250) and dinner (6:30-7:00, C6250) - about twice what you would expect to pay for similar quality food at sea level.
There is drinking water at KM7.5 on the trail, just past the emergency shelter, and in the Crestones Lodge at about KM15, so it is no longer necessary to carry enough water for your entire hike, you can refill your containers along the way.
A coffee or tea in Crestones will set you back C1000-1200.
Since it has been taken over by a private company the quality of accommodation has improved dramatically - as has the cost. There is now (dial-up speed) WiFi in the common area, as well as a charging facility for phones, cameras and other devices.
You also no longer need to carry up your own sleeping bag, they provide a light sleeping bag and blanket (you may still be cold at night).
There is.electricity throughout the building from 5:30pm-8pm (lights not needed during daylight hours, and everyone goes to bed early). There are also cold, cold showers (bring your own towel or rent one for C3000).
Tent camping is prohibited in the park - the only option for an overnight stay is the Crestones Lodge.
The weather conditions can create an extreme (and cold) environment on the top of the peak, dress accordingly. Be prepared for rain at any time on any part of the trail.
For most people a guide is totally unnecessary, as the path is well signposted, but for inexperienced hikers having a knowledgeable guide can be an asset. Adventure Life offers guided 3 and 4 day packages with accommodations at Pelicano Lodge before and after the summit.
Buses leave San Gerardo to San Isidro at the rather inconvenient times of 5am and 4pm. If you catch the 4pm bus be prepared to spend a night in San Isidro - the last MUSOC bus to San Jose leaves San Isidro at 5:30pm, and even if you make it on time it may be sold out.