Chirripo National Park
Last Updated: Jun 16, 2015
Chirripo National Park is home to Costa Rica's tallest peak at 12,533 feet above sea level; the park also hosts the world's northernmost mountain paramo life zone -- a Costa Rican version of the Chilean Andes. Chirripo witnesses major temperature fluctuations, so while the mercury may rise to a pleasant 75° F during the day, it can cool to below freezing at night; the lowest temperature ever registered in the park -- and the country -- was a bone chilling 16° F.
Location : 16 miles from San Isidro del General
Altitude : 12,533 feet above sea level
Area : 123,873 acres
Hours : 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday
Telephone : 2771-3155 or 2771-3155
Entrance Fee : $10.00
Thanks to differences in altitude, climate and topography, the park offers visitors a variety of habitats, gorgeous hiking trails and excellent bird and wildlife watching. High-altitude microclimates include mountain paramo, which consists of wind-stunted shrubs, grasslands and perennial herbaceous plants, as well as marshlands and fern groves. The lower slopes are home to montane and pre-montane rainforest, as well as larger trees such as oak, sweet cedar and elm. In these lush forests, mosses and bromeliads thrive on every inch of available space.
At Chirripo National Park, the wildlife is just as diverse as the scenery. Up to 60% of the country’s fauna live within the park's boundaries. White-faced monkeys, peccaries and the resplendent quetzal all call the slopes of Chirripo their home.
Well-groomed hiking trails are challenging and ascend past ancient glacial features to the mountain’s summit. Small U-shaped glacial valleys, moraine deposits and lakes bear testament to the movement of ice masses through the area 30,000 years ago. Note that every year, the park is closed for two weeks during May and the whole month of October. Call the ranger station to verify dates before planning a trip.
Chirripo National Park receives on average 195 inches of rainfall every year. There is a short, drier season between January and March. Daytime temperatures hover around 68° F, but often fall to freezing at night.
Hiking and wildlife watching are the two most popular activities. A difficult three-day trek traverses almost 14 miles to the mountain’s summit; a base station is located at mile 10. As the first section of trail ascends into misty cloud forest, hikers pass directly through resplendent quetzal territory.
Chirripo is also one of the only places in Costa Rica suitable for technical rock climbing. Several established routes are located near the Crestones base camp, 14 miles up the mountain from San Gerardo de Rivas.
The San Gerardo Ranger Station is located in San Gerardo de Rivas, 13.6 miles northeast of San Isidro along a rocky, winding road. The station offers information and takes reservations for the Crestones base camp, a rustic lodge with 60 bunk beds and cold-water showers. It is located a 5-10 hour (8.6 mile) challenging hike from the trailhead and two hours hiking distance (3 miles) below the summit.
Only 40 people are allowed to enter the national park at a time. Reservations are required, but the ranger station releases ten spots daily for hikers that show up without a prior reservation. The busiest time of year is around Easter week.
Well-marked trails lead from San Gerardo de Rivas to the Crestones base station and then to the peak. The hike from San Gerardo to Rivas to the base camp is slightly less demanding, as it ascends 7,215 feet over ten miles. The second part of the trek, from the Crestones base camp to Chirripo Peak, climbs 8,270 feet in just four miles. From January through March, it’s possible to hire a horse or mule to carry your packs up from San Gerardo de Rivas.
Hikers should budget at least two or three days to enjoy the 14-mile climb, but those with more time should add an extra day or two for explorations. Signed trails off the main path lead to other peaks, stunning valleys and glacial lakes.
From San Jose, take the Interamerican Highway south toward Cartago, following signs to San Isidro del General. Look for signs to San Gerardo de Rivas and Chirripo National Park. The ranger station is located on a signed, rocky road; 4WD is recommended.