Costa Rica’s tallest mountain, Chirripó, is a major attraction for both locals and tourists alike. It is extremely difficult to get a reservation to hike the park and stay in the lodge, and when you do, it will most likely be for one night only. After trying for more than 2 years to make my way up that magical mountain, I jumped for joy when I finally had permission to spend one night in the Crestones Base Camp of the Chirripó National Park. I made the most of my time there, and here’s how you can make sure you have the ultimate visit as well…
1. Stay in San Gerardo de Rivas the night before your hike and check in at the National Park and Servicio Offices
I took the bus from San Jose to San Isidro, and then caught a bus from San Isidro to San Gerardo de Rivas, in total it cost less than $10. In order to make it there in time, take the 10:30 bus from the MUSOC station in San Jose to be in San Isidro by 1:30, 3 hours later. You will need to walk towards the McDonald’s, then walk up the road about 3 blocks to catch a bus from a different bus station to go to San Isidro, and this bus leaves at 2pm. For this ride, you pay on the bus, and it is typically the last bus in the line. Ask the bus driver to drop you off at the National Park Office, because you need to sign in and get your ticket to enter Chirripó. After this, walk up the road and check in at the Servicios Office by the soccer field and get another ticket for food if you decide to prepay for it. The food up top is a bit expensive, but it is worth it so you don’t have to carry extra weight on your back while walking up, and it is also nice to enjoy a hot and “tipico” meal after your long hikes!
In San Gerardo, there are quite a few places to stay. My personal favorite is the hostel Casa Mariposa, which is the closest place to the entrance of the trail up to Chirripó. Other options are the neighboring, Hotel Uran, and another favorite, El Descanso.
2. Get up early the day of your hiking permit and try to make it to the Crestones Base Camp by noon.
I hit the trail around 4:45 in the morning. It was dark for the first hour of my hike, but if you are armed with a headlamp or flashlight you will be fine. It took me about 7 hours to get up to the Crestones Base Camp, but people’s times range from 5 hours to 12 hours depending on their physical ability and determination to get up there. Be prepared to take frequent stops, as the altitude will affect your breathing capacity, and drink lots of water to stay hydrated! There is a place where you can fill up your water bottle just after kilometer 7. Bring snacks to eat on the trail- you will need some energy to keep yourself going! Also, you may want to use a walking stick. I didn’t opt for this, but it would have been nice to have on my hike back down the mountain. Casa Mariposa lends these out to their guests.
3. Take a little nap once you’re at the Base Camp. Eat lunch. Have a coffee. You will feel like a new person afterwards!
When I finally made it to the Crestones Base Camp, I was tired. It wasn’t quite lunch time yet, so I took a rest in the sun on one of the benches and ended up nodding off for about 30 minutes. When I woke up, it was time for a delicious olla de carne soup (beef and vegetable soup, served with a bowl of rice), and after this I had cafe con leche (coffee with milk). Once I had a little rest, a lot of food and half a tylenol I felt like a new person! I was ready to set out on another hike…
4. Hike Los Ventisqueros
This hike was by far my favorite hike of the trip. Mind you, it is nearly all uphill, and you walk a trail which winds precariously along the mountain tops, but it is beyond breathtaking. I took it easy on my way up, pausing to breath and enjoy the views, and I made it to the trail end in less than 2 hours. It was a cloudy day, but this only made the hike more magical and mysterious, and the different mountain peaks would come in and out of view as the clouds rolled by.
5. Take a shower, watch the sunset, grab dinner and get to bed by 8pm.
Even though the water is ice cold, hop in that shower and let the cool water refresh and revitalize you. Watch the sun set over the Crestones, then grab dinner with your fellow hikers. Make some friends, maybe even find a hiking buddy for the next morning, then get to bed by 8pm when the lights go out. Before dinner is over, make sure to ask the kitchen staff for a “take away breakfast” for the next morning, so you can take it with you on the trail. Breakfast stops by 8AM, and if you just go to Chirripó and back, that is fine, but if you want to make the most of your stay and partake in my recommendations below, you will want to bring some food with you on the trail.
6. Watch the sunrise from the top of Chirripó
Wake up early and hit the trail by 2:30-3:30 depending on your hiking abilities and the time of sunrise. The hike from the Crestones Base Camp to Chirripó typically takes about 2 hours. When I was there, the sun was coming up around 5:45 and I left around 3:30, leaving me a few minutes of darkness at the top of the mountain to fully take in the sunrise. If you’re able to hike with a guide, I would recommend it because the trail isn’t that well defined and it doesn’t get any easier when you try to tackle it in the dark. I didn’t hire a guide personally, but I stumbled upon a few groups with guides while I was hiking up. It is cold on top of that mountain, so make sure you bring gloves and a hat or headband to cover your ears. Also, a wind breaker/raincoat is a good idea, because it is windy up there, and you may be walking through misty clouds. Once you’re on top of the mountain, say hello to the beautiful day that unfolds before you! If it is cloudy, give it a few minutes and maybe the wind will blow the clouds out of your way. Soak in the experience, give yourself a pat on the back, and enjoy the view from the top, whatever it may be.
7. Hike to Laguna Dikevi then take the trail to Cerro Terbi and Los Crestones to make your way back to Base Camp
You may only make it to Chirripó National Park once, so you want to enjoy as many of the trails as possible, right?
Once you’re in Valle Los Conejos, you come upon a sign pointing you in all sorts of directions. I would recommend making your way to Laguna Dikevi to enjoy the beautiful tranquility of the lake. There you can sit in solitude and maybe bust in to your breakfast. It takes a quick 20 minute walk to get to the lake, and the same to get back to Valle Los Conejos, and while en route you pass over several beautifully babbling streams and walk through a majestic and wide open plain.
After Laguna Dikevi, head on over to Cerro Terbi. This hike is another fairly steep climb, but take your time and enjoy the views. You will feel slightly in awe when you look across the expanse of land and recognize the small winding trail up to Chirripó in the distance. When you finally make it to the top, what you see before you will take your breath away.
From the top of Cerro Terbi, continue up and curve left. This part of the trail isn’t very well marked, but whenever you’re in doubt, follow the rock piles which people have made to mark the trails. Shortly after, you will come to the beautiful Crestones. These massive rocks emerge from the mountainside and tower over everything else like skyscrapers with faces. They are extremely impressive. From here, it’s a short and steep walk down back to the Base Camp.
8. Pause for a moment to enjoy the beautiful Talari River below the Base Camp
I came upon this river and it was such a wonderful surprise. It was probably one of the most peaceful and beautiful spots in the whole park, and it was only a five minute walk down the hill from the Base Camp. If you need to unwind, meditate, or search for some inspiration, take a seat on this bridge and let the wind blow your worries away and your eyes delight in the wonders that surround you.
9. Eat lunch before you head back down the mountain.
I timed my second day’s hikes to be done just before lunch, and I repeated my strategy from the day before. I took a short nap, I ate a hearty lunch, and I finished with a coffee before setting off back down the mountain.
10. Enjoy the “ease” of walking downhill
There’s no question that walking downhill is slightly easier than walking uphill, but it isn’t a piece of cake. When you’re in kilometers 14-10, the dry gravel slips beneath your feet, and when you’re back in the woods the ground can be soft, slippery and muddy. These are the only times I wished I had a walking stick to provide some stability. The upside to walking downhill? Breathing gets easier and easier. You’re going to be focusing on the ground a lot to avoid slipping, but don’t forget to look around and enjoy your surroundings. Take delight in various birds swooping through the air or pecking at the trees and suckling nectar from the flowers. Chirripó is beautiful- Soak it in!
11. Rest easy in San Gerardo de Rivas
Make sure you have a place booked in San Gerardo de Rivas for when you get down the mountain. Walking down the mountain should take anywhere from 3-6 hours depending on your pace. If you’re staying at Casa Mariposa, they have a wonderful tub for rent, where you can soak your aching body. Casa Mariposa doesn’t serve food (other than delicious brownies from time to time) but the neighboring Hotel Uran’s restaurant, Los Ventisqueros, has a pretty extensive tipico menu, so take a seat, eat your heart out and marvel at what you have just accomplished!
If you have more time in San Gerardo de Rivas, check out my post on why I think this city is the most magical place in Costa Rica! Take a day or two and get to know it’s wonders- you will be happy you did!