Climbing Cerro Chirripo

Scroll down for info on reservations, transport, and why Chirripo is a public health risk

Hikers who drag themselves out of their sleeping bags in the early hours of the morning, don their woolly hats and strike out towards the summit in the dark can have sunrise at the highest point in Costa Rica all to themselves.

After a groggy two-hour walk and a final scramble up to the peak of Cerro Chirripó, the intrepid walker sits 3,820 meters above sea level (about 12,533 feet), with valleys, lakes, and blankets of calm, white clouds spread out below. There is no sound except the wind and an occasional bird, a world void of human presence. It is rumoured that on clear days, you can see both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts simultaneously.

Costa Ricans take great pride in the activity of hiking the 20 kilometres (about 12 miles) from the little village of San Gerardo de Rivas to the stark peak that provides such a sharp contrast to the beaches and rainforests of the rest of the country.

Some even claim, wrongly, that it is the highest point in Central America – that title is claimed by Volcan Tajamulco in Guatemala, which reaches an impressive 4,211 metres of altitude, easily outstripping Cerro Chirripo.

Foreigners who are not in the know can find it hard to get into the national park. This isn´t the kind of mountain you can just turn up at and expect to climb – oh no, it´s far more executive than that. Ticos make reservations months in advance to ensure their space in the Los Crestones refuge that lies a few hundred metres below the peak.

Backpackers have been known to camp outside the park office gates in San Gerardo de Rivas from 3 a.m. in the morning to be the first in the queue for the ten places that officers say they always have free for the following day.

The walk is worth the difficulty in securing tickets, largely because it provides such a refreshing change to the rest of the country. Instead of packing your bikini and flip-flops, you´ll be needing a scarf, hat, sturdy hiking boots, a portable stove and all the food you want to eat during the time that you´re in the park

The hike technically starts out four kilometres (2.5 miles) outside Chirripó national park and winds its way up through ever-changing vegetation on obvious paths. It´s a friendly mountain, and you won´t need a guide. Cloud forest surrounds the trail for the first few kilometers, and birdlife is plentiful. Among the more interesting species is the emerald toucanet, a bird that is slightly smaller than a regular toucan, with green feathers and a long yellow and black bill.

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