If you ever are in Costa Rica, want to escape from mass tourism and be surrounded by nature, you can either help out in coffee farms, or climb the highest mountain of the country. Today I’ll tell you about the latter where I decided to go for New Year’s eve and day 2013.
It is 3820 meters high (12533 feet) and its name is Cerro (mount) Chirripó (meaning “Place of enchanted waters” in the Talamanca Indian language). From the capital city, San José, you need to reach a town called San Isidro del General which is 3 hours away to the south in the Perez Zeledon region. It’s a nice journey and hopefully you will make it through the beautiful Cerro de la muerte (3491m). Once you are in San Isidro, you need to get to San Gerardo de Rivas (a tiny quiet village I fell in love with as soon as I arrived in the country) some 20km away but it will actually take you an hour and a half since most of the road is a path. Once you are there, I would recommend to stay in one of the hotels situated 2km away from the village, so that you feel even more disconnected. Besides they are right next to the entrance of the National Park, which saves you a 2km walk uphill for the big day.
Practical detail (and my only complain about Costa Rica): you need to be a little organized. Since a maximum of 40 persons per day are allowed in the (huge) park, you need to get a permit to enter it and stay at the base camp. One day in the park will cost you 15$, add to that 10$ for a bed at the Crestones base camp, which you might consider unless walking 40km up and down in a day is an option for you. If you are Costa Rican though, the trip will be a lot cheaper, like any hike in any park in the country. I have been asking many people why such a big difference, and even though everybody will tell you it is unfair, they will also tell you it has always been like that, and it will probably not change by fear of a general rise.
The surrounding nature is stunning. It changes at almost every kilometer. At the beginning of the trail, you walk through tropical rainforest, then cloud forest and then it turns to dry tundra where the sun shines hard since you are not protected by the trees or the clouds anymore.
I won’t describe the hike in details but I can tell you why I enjoyed this hike so much. Even though it is well marked (every kilometer is given a name according to the surrounding landscape), it was quite challenging. On the first day, most people walk 2/3 of the hike to get to the base camp, that is to say 15 km uphill, the first 5 km and the last 2 km being the steepest thus toughest part. You walk from 1500m to more than 3000m, and you definitely feel the altitude oppressing your lungs. The morning after, it’s a 5 km hike to the summit and then many trails around to discover.