Chirripo National Park

Location: 94 miles (151 km) S of San Jose ranger station 9 miles (15 km) NE of San Isidro de El General, through San Gerardo de Rivas.
Size: 123,921 acres (50,150 ha).
Hours: Open daily at 5 a. m., latest departure to Crestones at noon.
Information/Reservations: Telephone hotline 192 (see Appendix A: Parks and Reserves Information), (506) 771-3297, telephonelfax (506) 771-3155.

Geologists, botanists, mountain climbers, biologists, adventure-seekers, and just plain nature lovers make their way to Chirripo National Park. The park contains the country's highest peak (Chirripo Peak at 12,529 feet [3,819m]), glacial lakes, rivers, and habitats ranging from mixed forests, fern groves, and swamps to oak forests and paramo.

On a clear day, visitors can see both oceans from the peak. There are cloudy and clear days throughout the year, but the driest time is February and March. Annual rainfall is between 138 and 197 inches (3,500 and 5,000 mm). Some longtime visitors say they cannot resist trips in rainier times, when the exuberance of the vegetation defies description.

At whatever time of year, take warm clothes. Though maximums in the 80s are possible, count on cold nights. There can be strong winds. Extremes between day and night can vary by 43'F (24'c; lowest temperature recorded is 16'F (-9'c. You may wake up to a frosty world, finding ice on lakes and stream banks.

Trails are marked. A lodge for up to 60 persons offers bunks, a kitchen, and lounge area; bathrooms are close by (cold water showers). bring a warm sleeping bag and carry enough liquids. While ascent to the summit appears daunting, it's not so difficult if taken slowly and carefully. Allow at least 10 hours to get to the top. Tent camping is not allowed unless you are hiking a loop; no open fires.

Endangered species protected at Chirripo include the margay, puma, ocelot, jaguar, tapir, and quetzal. Birds and animals are more abundant in the forest zones, though there are hummingbirds even in the high paramo. Plants seem to cover every inch of trees in the cloud forest: orchids, bromeliads, mosses, and ferns. The way to the summit passes through seven distinct forest types. The higher you climb, the more stunted the vegetation.

Names like Savanna and the Lions, Valley of the Rabbits, and Moraine Valley hint of what early explorers found when they scaled these heights (lions were pumas). Discovery also awaits today's visitor to Chirripo, a place where you can look down on rainbows.

Independent travelers must call the conservation area for information about guides or pack horses and to reserve lodge space. The hardy inhabitants of nearby San Gerardo de Rivas are often sought out as guides-it's rumored that some can run up the mountain.

Getting There

By bus: From San Isidro de El General, take the bus to San Gerardo de Rivas, 6 miles (9 km) from the ranger station. By car: From San Isidro, go to San Gerardo de Rivas and continue on unpaved road to the ranger station.

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