Added by Chelsea Hohn
This 12 mile hike leads you through over 6,000 feet of elevation gain and almost every climate Costa Rica has to offer. The hike is best done in two days, and is the ultimate experience in a country overflowing with wildlife and terrain.
It's 4:55 a.m. and the wind is whipping, temperatures hover below freezing, and the sun is just starting to make an appearance on the horizon, above a thick blanket of clouds covering surrounding peaks. This is Cerro Chirripó, the tallest mountain in Costa Rica, and a far cry from the beaches that line the coast of the beautiful country.
The hike to Chirripó is a 12 miles/20km steep, well-marked trail that passes through an array of different environments. The hike itself isn’t particularly difficult or hard to maneuver.
Most people split the hike between two days, staying at the Base Camp Crestones that is located about 14.5 km up the trail, and while it isn’t exactly a warm place to stay, they do provide beds and meals for hikers. There is no camping allowed inside the national park. Doing the entire hike in one day is certainly doable, but for those who would like to take their time, and if you enjoy a good summit sunrise, splitting the hike between two days is a good option.
Where to get started:
To get into the Chirripó National Park, you need to purchase passes for the day(s). It’s recommended that you make reservations well in advance, as there are only a certain amount allotted per day and it can be difficult to get passes. There is no way to get passes by simply walking in, you must reserve space in advance. It’s a complicated process, but it’s worth the effort.
Call the main office at Chirripó National Park – (+506) 2742-5348 and have the date(s) you want to hike, your passport number, and your full name as written in your passport. Reservations can be made Monday-Friday from 8am-12pm, and 1pm to 4pm. You will have to call several times. Get comfortable, because getting a hold of the office is no easy task. Chances are the officer will not speak English, so get your Spanish ready, or have someone who speaks Spanish give you a hand.
Once you’ve made the reservation, the officer should give you three things:
A reservation number that is three numbers and a letter. The routing number for the national park’s bank account, which must be paid through Banco Nacional, a bank in Costa Rica. (100-01-000-041220-5).The amount in colones that should be transferred to the bank account. (₡19,517 for two days as of January 2016) If you are doing the hike over two days, you will need to make a reservation at Base Camp Crestones, which can be done by calling (+506) 2742-5097 or sending an email to email@example.com and providing your reservation number, and the date(s) you will be sleeping there.
They will then give you two things:
The routing number for the base camp’s bank account, which must be paid at a Banco Nacional. (100-01-010-007326-1). The amount in colones to be transferred to the bank account. (₡19,207 for one night as of January 2016).
Make your way to a Banco Nacional with the right amount of cash to be transferred to the two bank accounts. It’s possible to pay with a card, but you will be charged an additional sales tax, and the teller at the bank will most likely send you to the ATM anyways. Have the two bank account numbers ready, with the amount for each one. The teller will give you a receipt for each transaction – make sure to save these. There are several Banco Nacionals in the country, and the closest one to Chirripó is in San Isidro del General, about an hour away from the park. Once you have your receipts, you have to email proof of purchase to both the national park, and the base camp. (Still a lot of work, still worth it). On one receipt, next to “Cliente,” it should say SINAC-FONDO PARQUES NACIONALES, this is your receipt for the national park reservations and this photo should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. The other receipt, next to “Cliente,” should say ASOC CAMARA DE DESARROLLADORE DE TURISMO, this photo should be sent to email@example.com.
The day prior to your hike, you need to check in at the main office in San Gerardo de Rivas to receive your tickets. The bus from San Isidro stops here, and it’s recommended to get off the bus here and then make the trek into town, instead of coming back. You will also need to check in at the office that is in town, next to a soccer field and a school. This is where you’ll get your ticket for the base camp reservation. Once you’ve finally completed these steps, you’re free of the tiring system that is making reservations to hike Chirripó, rest your body for the hike and get yourself ready for a different type of challenge.
And if all of this is entirely too much for you, for good reason, there are several travel agencies that do all the work for you, and aren’t terribly expensive. Costa Rica Rios is a good option, and there are several others.
What to really expect, and how to get there:
It’s not a difficult hike. If you are in good physical shape, you won’t struggle with the way up. Expect pain coming down. Expect to be cranky, tired, hungry and ready to lay down when you reach the bottom of the trail. Expect your calves to be screaming the next day, and your quads to be in a yelling match with the rest of your tired body.
If you’re hiking alone, don’t worry about losing the trail. If you pay attention to where you’re going and don’t wander off the well-marked trail, there’s no way to get lost. If you’re hiking in the dark, make sure to keep an eye out for signs and watch the trail.
If you’re splitting the hike between two days, most people start hiking anywhere between 4:30-6:30 a.m. It’s best to get a head start to get ahead of the heat, and it’s more likely to stay clear of rain in the morning. On the second day, most people start hiking anywhere between 2:30-3:30 a.m., in order to catch the sunrise at the summit.
It’s recommended to take the day you hike down to stay in San Gerardo to rest. You’ll probably need a shower, anyways.
Chirripó National Park is located in San Gerardo de Rivas, getting there is easy from almost anywhere in the country. From San Jose you will need to take a bus to San Isidro del General. There are several other buses that go directly to San Isidro from other parts of the country, as well. From there, take the bus to San Gerardo de Rivas, and get off the bus at the National Park office to check in, and then walk into town.
Expect to be amazed by how vastly different Costa Rica can be. Expect to have an experience that most people don’t think of as being inherently Costa Rican, but absolutely embodies the hard work of the people that live there, and the beautiful land that they work to protect.
- T-Shirt and long sleeve – preferably a quick drying material like merino wool or a synthetic base layer
- Hiking pants, and one extra pair of pants/leggings for sleeping and not hiking in
- Good hiking boots or shoes
- 2 pairs of socks, one for hiking in and a heavier pair for sleeping in
- An insulated jacket (preferably synthetic), a rain jacket and a light sweater or windbreaker
- Warm hat and gloves
- Sunblock – the sun is much stronger at elevation!
- A headlamp + extra batteries
- Small medical kit
- Snacks for along the way and food to make at the base camp (they do have food at the base camp, but at quite a price – $12 for dinner)
- Trekking pole(s) or a good bamboo stick
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