Hammocks and hummingbirds – San Gerardo de Rivas

If you do get stuck waiting to go up Chirripo, or even if you’re not an altitude hunter and never wanted to go up that far anyway, San Gerardo de Rivas is a thoroughly beautiful place to hang out. The village is strung along the road that leads from San Isidro del General and ends up at the Cloudbridge Reserve, leaving the rest of the mountain to undisturbed nature.

The Cloudbridge Reserve is a private project to protect and reforest the lush valleys below Chirripo. Various trails weave through the reserve, passing by waterfalls and at one point giving a vista over two waterfalls in the valley below, surrounded by green. You could easily spend a day wandering the beautiful paths, but beware that it rains a lot here – more than at the top of Chirripo, which often has its head above the clouds. Visit http://www.cloudbridge.org.

Hot springs are the other attraction, but you´ll be more in need of a cold shower after walking up the insane incline to get to the pools. If you’ve already been to Arenal and spent enough money to eat for a week on the entrance to Tabacón, you might be disappointed. There are two small man-made pools set into the rocks, and one of them could be better described as tepid than hot. It is a great place to meet locals though, as it is often packed with Ticos who bring picnic feasts for a family day out, especially at weekends and on holidays.

But one of the best thing to do in San Gerardo is relax on a balcony or in a hammock, watch the many species of colourful birds darting around the flowers that cover everyone’s gardens, have a pizza on a balcony overhanging the valley, and appreciate one of Costa Rica’s most attractive and authentic little towns.

Places to stay:

Casa Mariposa

This is a hummingbird and hammock-filled chill-out house, built next to a valley that drops down to a little stream, and only a few yards from the trailhead. The dorm room’s walls are half carved out of the rocks of the mountain, with beds resting on natural ledges, and a massive boulder almost obstructing the way to the bathroom opposite. Meals can be cooked in the homely kitchen, where there is a communal food basket to rummage through before you set off on the hike. Guests often cook together, as the cosy hostel is perfect for getting to know other people of all ages and nationalities. Everyone usually congregates in the kitchen and lounge, where there are several comfy sofas, and books to exchange or read. The real bonus, though, is the hammock garden. Just uphill from the dorms, three hammocks and various chairs are set under a small roof, with a sweeping view of the valley below. Hummingbird feeders ensure that the little birds are fluttering around you all the time, with the occasional visit from an emerald toucanet, and plenty of butterflies. Greenery and flowers are abundant, and friendly owner John is now working on a project to clean up the stream bed that is near the hostel, and make a waterfall that falls from a cave into a peaceful, natural place for his guests to visit. Telephone: 2816-7573.

El Descanso

If you’re trying to get away from the gringo crowd for a while, this is a very Tico place to stay. It’s much closer to the park admin office too, which makes it more convenient if you need to be down there by 6.30 a.m. to make a reservation. The best thing about it, however, is the homage to Chirripó’s biggest annual event – the Cerro Chirripó race. One day a year, usually in March, a bunch of crazy people get together and run from San Gerardo de Rivas’ football pitch to the refuge and back. Considering it took me 6 hours to get up there and 5 down – and I ached afterwards – I can’t help but respect the balls of these people, some of whom do the distance in less than 3.5 hours. Pictures from twenty years of racing are hung all over El Descanso’s dining room. Owner Francisco Elizondo used to win the race every year, but now that he’s past seventy he falls into the veterans category. He still wins that category. Apparently there is also a crazy gringo with an enormous white beard who runs the thing in cut off denims and bare feet. He, predictably, is usually the last down the mountain. If you arrive at El Descanso and it looks shut, just holler a bit and you will be attended to. Phone: 2369-0067.