First of all, I would say that this one of my favorite blog posts that I have done up till now.
Why? Well, let me tell you that I waited for 3 years to climb Cerro Chirripo National Park (in April 2017). Even before Ligia and I started this blog, I was waiting for an opportunity to make all the arrangements for this GREAT trip.
Personally, I think every Costa Rican should climb this mountain, which is the highest mountain in Costa Rica. And if a foreigner has the opportunity to visit it, I HIGHLY recommend it. For me, this post is a place to write about what I loved about this trip but also to share the necessary information, tips, photos and videos that everyone needs before visiting this place.
IMPORTANT: This is a chronological guide about what we did from the first moment that we drove from San Jose to San Gerardo de Rivas until the moment when we hiked up Cerro Chirripo and around Chirripo National Park. This is a really long blog, but if you really would like to visit this place, we recommend you read as much as you can about it and get prepared properly. If you have a question, leave it in the comment section at the end of this post or sent us an email at [email protected] or [email protected]
General facts about Cerro Chirripo
Chirripo National Park is located in the Talamanca mountain range. It was set up in 1975 on 50,950 ha (125,900 acres) of land. This park has important geomorphological characteristics, with various examples of intact glacial features such as small U-shaped valleys, terminal moraines, lakes and cirques that formed about 35,000 years ago due to the action of moving ice masses.
The 3,820 meters (12,533 feet) of Chirripo peak in the protected area make it the highest in the country. Also, the upper part of the park contains a series of areas of great scenic beauty and geological and biological importance. These include Sabana de los Leones, Valle de las Morrenas, Cerro Ventisqueros, Valle de los Conejos, and Valle de los Lagos with Lake Chirripo and Los Crestones.
Getting to Cerro Chirripo National Park
There are several options for getting to San Gerardo de Rivas, which is the closest town to Chirripo National Park; by car, by bus or by shared transportation.
By car: San Jose to San Gerardo de Rivas is not a bad drive. It could take around 3.5 hours without traffic, going a reasonable speed. We took a route that goes through Cerro Buenavista, well known as “Cerro de la Muerte.” Depending on the weather conditions, this route can be foggy and rainy or it can be sunny with blue sky, and that can change drastically. So, after passing the Cerro de la Muerte, you will get to Valle del General of Pérez Zeledón. From here, the distance to San Gerardo de Rivas is 20 minutes approximately. For the last part, I suggest you follow Google Maps or Waze. However, if you don’t have the apps installed or if you don’t have any internet connection. You can print this map to use. You can also ask locals for directions 🙂
By bus: The company MUSOC provides different schedules from San Jose to Valle del General of Perez Zeledon. Buses run from 5 am to 6 pm. This company doesn’t have a website, but you can call them at (+506) 2222-2422. The bus ticket costs 3265 colones($6 USD). After the bus arrives at Valle del General of Pérez Zeledón, we recommend taking a taxi to San Gerardo de Rivas, which is about 20 minutes farther. This will cost around 7000 colones ($14 USD). The bus station at San Jose (the capital) is located here:
Staying at San Gerardo de Rivas
As you can see, we chose to stay the night before hiking the Chirripo at the town of San Gerardo de Rivas. When I made the reservation for my group (Ligia and I and our friends Mainor and Jafeth), we could choose between this town and San Jeronimo (which is another way to access Cerro Chirripo National Park).
Read more: How to make reservations for Cerro Chirripó National Park.
We chose San Gerardo de Rivas because it’s located close to Valle del General of Perez Zeledón, which is not far away from San Jose. Also, we were able to find more information about it, and it was more accessible by car.
If you are driving a small car like a Sedan, I would not recommend staying in a hotel near the main entrance of Chirripo National Park. The last 3km of road before getting to the main entrance of the park is incredibly bad. It can be difficult even in a 4WD car, and I can’t imagine how it would be during the rainy season.
Arrangements & personal preparation before hiking Chirripo
After you make your reservation to hike Cerro Chirripo, there are a few things you must consider to prepare for your hike:
Use the bag service
After your reservation is confirmed, you will get an email from Consorcio Aguas Eternas where they remind you to pick your entrance passes for Cerro Chirripo National Park at SINAC’s office in San Gerardo and then to pick your lodging and meal tickets at Consorcio’s office. (If you don’t know what Consorcio Aguas Eternas and SINAC are, check out our blog about how to make reservations for Cerro Chirripó National Park.)
Also, if you are not carrying all your bags to the base camp, it will be necessary to leave them at the Consorcio office. You can pay Consorcio Aguas Eternas for a service where locals from the town will bring your bags to the top for you on horseback. We recommend paying for the service so you don’t have to carry all your extra clothes, food or things that you don’t need for your hike. It’s important to know that there is a FEE for this service (2086 colones each kilo, or around $2USD each pound each way).
The first part of the hike that you will face is 14 km (8.7 miles) up to Crestones Base Camp. So we recommend staying in the Chirripo National Park area the night before your hike. As mentioned before, it will be necessary to pick the entrances and leave your bags the day before your hike. So, you must stay at any hotel in San Gerardo de Rivas or San Jeronimo.
We stayed at Hotel Uran, which is just 500 meters (0.30 miles) away from the entrance of the park. It was a perfect place for our previous night. However, as I mentioned before, if your car is not 4WD, it might suffer a little bit in last part of the route before getting to the hotel.
However, there are other hotels in the area that are recommended, for example:
– Hotel Pelicano
– Hotel Roca Dura
Bring the proper food and equipment
If this is your first time doing this type of hike, here are some tips that we recommend for the night before your hike:
-Eat pasta or any type of carbohydrates that will help your body.
-Prepare your personal bag with some mosquito repellent, sunblock, snacks, candies or chocolates, water, electrolyte pills or any other type of natural energy booster.
-Buy and use some vaseline to prevent blisters in your feet.
-Take pain ointment with you just in case.
-Go bed early at night and wake up really early the next day.
Hiking to Crestones Base Camp
Ready for the hike? That’s what I asked my group as soon as I woke up on the day :). We went bed early (9 pm) the night before the hike, but some of us could not sleep well since we were anxious for the start of the hike.
The next day we woke up at 4 am and had breakfast around 4:30. Getting some good Gallo pinto typical Costa Rican breakfast) with fried plantains, eggs, coffee and some fruits. After that, we left the hotel and started our hike. Don’t ask me if I showered that morning! Hahaha
About the hike, there are many things that you should know (Here are the most important):
Start the hike to the Crestones Base Camp early in morning. We started around 5:30 am. There was some sunlight, but it was not hot yet and not cold at all. So don’t worry about having a sweater or something warm. It won’t be necessary the first day. Basically, you can just use comfortable clothes that are dry fit. Bring a rain jacket with you just in case.
Also, we 100% recommend using a walking stick.
Kilometer #1 and #2
When you start the trail, the first part is an open area where some properties are private and the owners have cattle. Since there are not many trees, there is not much shade to cover from the sun. As soon you get to kilometer number 2, you will notice how the trail gets covered by some trees and shade.
The first two kilometers are really steep. For me and our group, it was really surprising to start the hike like this. We were thinking that the trail would be flat at first and then the steep parts would come later.
So take the first part easy. Don’t rush. Enjoy the view while you are hiking up, especially if you have already eaten your breakfast.
Between kilometer #3 through #6, there is not much to worry about. You will be warm and there will some flat parts on the trail. However, be ready to use your mosquito repellent.
After hiking all this time, the best place where you can get is called “Llano Bonito.” We highly recommend that you REST and HYDRATE there. And remember: take your time.
Actually, this is half way up to Crestones’ Base Camp. Some people are not conscious about what’s coming next after this stop. We noticed that some people didn’t stop and just continued hiking. They were probably in better condition than we were (we are not professionals on this yet 😉 ), so we preferred to stay at Llano Bonito for 30 minutes.
Basically, Llano Bonito has a little cafeteria in the middle of the forest where you can buy cookies, coffee, drinks and much more. The prices are a little bit more expensive compared to the ones you can find in the town, but it makes sense because the administration of Consorcio brings everything up the mountain by horses.
Also, this is a good place to stretch and use pain ointment, if you have some. We brought tomato juice and some “Sal Andrews.” Both are suggested for preventing any muscle aches, so we used both.
This section is called “Cuesta del Agua.” As soon you start this part of the trail, be prepared for going up and up and up without any flat part. If it has been raining in the area, the trail will be muddy and some parts will be slippery. That’s where you really need your hiking boots.
That’s why we really suggest taking your time at Llano Bonito. Cuesta del Agua is a really hard kilometer. It feels eternal. Be slow and constant; this helps a lot. My group and I agreed that this is a difficult part.
Some parts are steep and others are flat. It will be humid, and there is big vegetation as well. Stop and rest when you need it. Drink water and eat snacks or candies or chocolates. That will give you sufficient energy so you can spend it in the next kilometers.
Kilometers #10 , #11 and #12
Here, the forest and altitude start to change completely. This is an open area where the forest has smaller vegetation. Trees are not tall anymore and the shade starts to disappear.
If you start the hike early in the morning, at this point, the local time might be 10 am or 11 am. And, depending on the season of the year, the weather could be really sunny. However, as Costa Ricans, we are used to sunny mornings and rainy afternoons.
Kilometer #12.5, #13
This is “Los Arrepentidos,” the beginning of a really difficult part. At this point, you’ve already hiked 12 kilometers (7.45 miles), so it’s hard to be mentally prepared for walking this really steep part of the trail for 1.5 kilometers (1 mile) more.
Even how that kilometer was named doesn’t give any motivation at all. “Los Arrepentidos” means The Repentants.
When you get to this point, we really recommend that you stop for a while. Actually, me, Ligia, Mainor and Jafeth stayed there for 25 minutes. Mainor felt some pain in his right leg, so he used some ointment for it.
Ligia was in charge of carrying the chocolates, so we ate some and also the granola bars.
After resting all that time, we started slowly and we kept it all the way up to kilometer #13.
After we reached the sign that said that we were at kilometer 13, we kept walking on that steep trail for 200 meters (0.12 miles) more until it became flat. Hiking that flat part of the trail until we reached kilometer #14 sign and Crestones Base Camp was a glorious feeling.
Once you finish the difficult hike, you will get to see Crestones mountain and also the base camp.
Congrats to all those who had made it to the base camp and the best of the luck for those who are going to do it.
Crestones Base Camp: accommodation, food, bathrooms and more
Crestones Base Camp, located at an elevation of 3,400 meters (11,155 feet), is a dormitory-style hotel that accommodates up to 52 guests. It offers beds, bathrooms, showers, a communal dining area, and limited solar-powered electricity.
As soon we got to the base camp, we wanted to eat. We were so HUNGRY! However, we had to register first and pick up our bags that were brought by the horses. Remember? That extra money we paid for the service the day before was well worth it after the 14 km (8.7 miles) hike. Our bag that was brought to the base camp had Ligia’s and my clothes and the weight was 13 kilograms (29 pounds). Also, we carried a bag with our camera and lenses. The weight for that one was 11 kilograms (24 pounds).
Now, let’s talk about the accommodations at Crestones Base Camp:
The rooms are for 4 people with 2 bunk beds. This is a really important detail because if you’re by yourself, you will need to share space with other people. When I made the reservation for my group, I asked for one room for all of us, since there were 4 of us. There aren’t lockers and the rooms are not locked either. People who visit Chirripo are respectful of things that belong to others. However, we always kept our bags closed and into a small closet that it was inside our room.
There aren’t lockers and the rooms are not locked either. People who visit Chirripo National Park are respectful of things that belong to others. However, we always kept our bags closed and inside a small closet that it was inside our room.
When you register at the basecamp, the lady or gentleman at the reception will give you a sleeping bag. Also, each bed has clean blankets and pillow cases already. However, that might not be enough for getting warm from the cold weather. The temperature can get down to -5 Celsius (23 Fahrenheit). So, during the night, most of us wore socks, long-sleeve shirts and more layers.
The only bathrooms in the basecamp are public. There are not rooms with private bathrooms, and the showers are also in the same space. Whenever one of us used the bathroom or the shower, we locked the main door (everyone does). The water is completely cold. The kitchen even has a sign that says “NO ASK FOR HOT WATER.” Lol.
The cold water made everyone think twice about taking a shower. But, what I (Rodrigo) mainly did was shower my legs. After some reading, I found out that this is recommended for blood circulation and to help avoid leg cramps after long hikes.
When you register at the camp, you get a basic menu that shows the schedule for the food that will be served during each day of the week. Most of the food has rice and beans plus something else. Typical Costa Rican food is simple and it has some options like rice with chicken, olla de carne, casado and more.
If you have any dietary restrictions, I will HIGHLY recommend you notify the administration of Cerro Chirripo National Park when you make your reservation. Our friend Jafeth is vegetarian and they served to him really good options.
Hikers use a dining room and some tables that are outside of the base camp. After people return from their hike or after they finish their meal, most of them sit around these areas and talk to each other and meet other visitors from other countries or even from different parts of Costa Rica.
The Internet connection is AWFUL. At the main building, there is a free WIFI connection. However, as I said, this is really slow and bad for downloads, uploads or communicating with somebody.
Also, if you are photographer or love photography, there’s good news for you: just outside of the base camp, it’s possible to photograph the Milky Way. (The best months for this are April and May).
After dinner, the administrator and rangers turn off the electricity of the camp at 8pm. That does not mean you need to go bed. Anyone can stay in the dining room and keep socializing with others.
Keep in mind that you are sleeping in a base camp in Chirripo National Park (in the mountains). The Costa Rican government and SINAC have different regulations for protected areas, and one of the most important is the conservation and preservation of the wildlife and natural resources. That’s why they turn off the electricity every night.
Hiking to Cerro Chirripo Summit, Cerro Terbi and Cerro Crestones in one day
Before all our planning to Cerro Chirripo National Park, one day I (Rodrigo) was talking to my friend Verny who has visited this place several times. His recommendation was simple and easy. He said: “After you get to the base camp, the first day, don’t go anywhere. Just rest and recover for next day for hike the Chirripo Summit and also make sure to visit Cerro Terbi and Crestones in the same day”
I am glad that he shared that with me. It worked well for me and my group.
The hike from Crestones Base Camp to Chirripo Summit is about 5.5 km (3.4 miles). Most hikers wake up early to see the sunrise at the summit, and that’s what we wanted. So, that day, we woke up around 2 am. Everyone was wearing their special clothes for the cold temperature. Actually, the thermometer outside of the building showed that it was around 2 Celsius (35.6 Fahrenheit). That was so cold for us as Costa Ricans.
When we started our hike to the summit, it was still dark, so we brought our headlamps. The first 3km were flat, however, some parts the trail were confusing, so we hiked straight until “Valle Los Conejos,” where there was a sign that indicated to turn left.
Honestly, the last part of the trail was a bit rough. The last 300 meters are more like a climb than a hike. (This is something I want to mention just let you know, not to scare you. We actually encourage you to do this trip.)
As soon we got to the summit, we could not be happier. We had tears in our eyes. It’s this feeling of achieving our goal even when there were difficult circumstances.
There are some feelings that are difficult to describe. Have you experienced that? Well, that’s what I experienced while I sat on a rock and just waited for the sunrise. I had so much joy in my heart. It was almost 5 am and we could see how the sun was coming out slowly. We stayed up there for around 1.5 hours.
We signed the log and took some pictures and admired the beauty of nature. It’s not possible to hike the decline without stopping every 5 steps. We wanted to take pictures of everything.
That day, we had a lunch box with us, plus some snacks and fruits that we brought. Basically, we were eating as much as we needed it. Our lunch box had 2 sandwiches, an orange juice, and fruits. *This is what they gave us the day before at the base camp.
Cerro Terbi & Cerro Crestones
After getting down the mountain, we followed the trail that took us to Cerro Terbi. Again, there were some flat parts in the trail, but as soon as we were getting closer to the top of Cerro Terbi, it was steeper. However, the view, the trail, the vegetation and the weather made us enjoy every moment.
We signed the log and took some pictures as well and continued the hike to Cerro Crestones, which was really visible from Terbi. It took us around 20 minutes to get to Cerro Crestones.
Hiking down to the base camp was pretty simple, however, the rain showed up, so we had to use our rain jackets and ponchos. We got to the base camp around 1:30pm, just in time to take our lunch.
Note:Lunch is served until 2pm
After lunch, we rested all afternoon while it was raining. Coffee and hot chocolate are sold for a reasonable price, so sitting in the common area and talking with other hikers while you enjoy a really good cup of coffee is part of the experience as well.
Hiking to Cerro Ventisqueros Summit and getting back to the beginning
Since we did a long hike of 16 km (10 mi approximately) the day before, all of us were sore. Everything hurt! Lol.
However, Jafeth and I wanted to see the sunrise at Ventiqueros. We heard that it was beautiful, and we did not want to miss it.
So, we woke up around 3:30 am and met with other 3 guys who wanted to go as well.
Cerro Ventisqueros was closer than Chirripo Summit, but it was a difficult trail as well. A good part of the trail was rocky and steep. However, Jafeth and I plus the other 3 guys reached the summit of Ventiqueros just in time to see the sunrise.
After staying up there for a while, we decided to come down. It took us around 1 hour to get to the base camp. It was time for a delicious breakfast with gallo pinto, scrambled eggs, fried plantains, and coffee.The breakfast for CHAMPIONS!!!😀
The trail down
That morning, before we left for Ventisqueros, we put in a specific space the bag with the clothes and things to be taken down from the base camp to the Consorcio office by the horses.
So, as soon we ate our breakfast and as soon my group was ready, we left the base camp and said our last “See you soon” to this magical place.
The trail on the way back to the beginning was really rough for some people. It takes some people 10 to 12 hours to finish the trail.
It took Mainor, Ligia, Jafeth and I around 5 to 8 hours. Jafeth had a pain in his knee, so that made us go slowly, but it was ok. However, when we were in the middle of the trail, it started to rain, and that made the trail really slippery in some parts. So that slowed us down a lot too.
So it took us more time than we thought, but independently of that, I can say that when we finished this hike, we could not be happier.
Finally, we got back to Hotel Uran. It was time to shower, change our clothes, eat a good casado and prepare for our return to the capital (San Jose).
This hike is difficult, and it may not be for everyone. However, the level adrenaline that you get when you are hiking to the summit is amazing. And it’s inspiring to hear the stories of other people who made it. It’s amazing! Hearing those stories makes your adventurous spirit grow up.
We hope you will visit Cerro Chirripo National Park if you get the chance. And we hope this post helps you prepare for a wonderful hike!