Costa Rica, Cerro Chirripo, 3820 meters (12,533 ft.)
Notes on climbing this peak from a trip in November 2004.
By Richard L. Carey
Cerro Chirripo is the highest peak in Costa Rica and is located about 83 km (50 miles) southeast of the capitol San Jose. The peak is in a national park and there is a good, well-marked trail all the way to the summit. Also, there is a large hut on the mountain at 3392 meters (11,130 ft.) elevation with beds for 60 and good water and some equipment rental. I climbed this peak on November 25 -27, 2004 and here are some notes that may be helpful for those wanting to do this peak.
Guide Books - There are numerous books on Costa Rica. One of the better ones with the most information on Chirripo is called "The New Key to Costa Rica", 16th ed., by Ulysses Press. Guidebooks by Lonely Planet and Moon also feature some information on the mountain.
Maps - A good map of the country is by National Geographic ($8.95) available in the U.S. I am not sure that you can get this in Costa Rica. There are some 1:50,000 scale topographic maps of the mountain available in bookstores in San Jose. You don't really need these to do the peak. The park office in San Gerardo de Rivas will sell you a simple map that shows the trails. They do not have the topographic maps. The topo maps are by the Instituto Geografico Nacional.
Season - We were at the end of the rainy season which is from about May to November. We managed to avoid any heavy rains, but it did rain very hard at night while we were at the hut. It would be better to go in the dry season from December to April, but avoid Christmas and Easter. The summit register showed that many do the summit in the rainy season. There were lots of sign-ins during September and October.
Transportation - You can do this peak quite well using public transportation. You will mostly likely fly to the International airport north of San Jose. There are flights from Los Angeles, Dallas, Washington D.C., Mexico City and possibly other cities. Take a taxi into San Jose, which will cost about US $15.00 and ask to be taken to the Musoc bus terminal for buses heading south to San Isidro. This is on Calle Central, Avenida 22 across from Maternidad Carit. An alternative is to go with the Tuasur bus line that leaves from the Coca Cola bus station. There are nine buses a day leaving from the Musoc terminal and five from the Coca Cola station. The one-way cost was 1380 colones ($3.00). The bus makes a rest stop about halfway where food and toilets are available. The journey takes about three hours to San Isidro. Bus schedules.
San Isidro - If you arrive in time you can take a bus from San Isidro to the mountain town of San Gerardo de Rivas. There are two buses a day, one at 5:00 a.m. from the west side of the Central Park and one at 2:00 p.m. departing from the south side of the market. Refer to the town map in the guidebook. If you are in a hurry or miss the buses you can get a taxi to take you for about 8000 colones ($17.70). This is much faster than the bus and well worth it. The guidebook lists about four hotels in town and several restaurants. We stayed at the Hotel Iguazu after coming down from the mountain and this was fine with large rooms with three single beds.
San Gerardo de Rivas - You will probably want to stay the night here before starting up the mountain. There are a number of lodges. We stayed at the Roca Dura, which is right by the bus stop and soccer field. This lodge has good food and rooms and will hold your bags for free while you are on the mountain. The Albergue Uran is recommended by the guidebook and is the highest lodge close to the trailhead. A bridge leading to this lodge was under construction at the time and you can walk across it, but a taxi will not be able to take you to the lodge. There are several other places to stay listed in the guidebook.
Permits - You will need a permit for the park, which you can get at the Parque Nacional office in San Gerardo de Rivas. The park also has an office in San Isidro, but it is not necessary to stop there. The fee is $15.00 for two days plus $10.00 per night per person to stay at the hut. Unless you are a really fast and strong hiker I suggest staying two nights at the hut. The park office is open from 5:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. each day. There is no remote camping allowed in the park so you must stay at the main hut.
The Trail - The trailhead is marked by a large sign and is a short distance past the Albergue Uran. It is 14.5 km (8.7 miles) from this point to the Crestones hut (official name is Centro Ambientalista el Paramo) and the net elevation gain is about 2100 meters (6900 ft.) If you are starting from the Roca Dura lodge it will be about 16 km (9.6 miles) and 2225 meters (7300 ft.) This is a long climb and takes most people from 7 to 9 hours. I made it in 8 hours 10 minutes. Two young fellows we met did it in five hours, but this is unusually fast. Be sure to get an early start, 8:00 a.m. at the latest. Start with two liters of water since there is no water until the first hut at 7.5 km.
The trail is wide and easy to follow with signs every kilometer showing the elevation. At 4 km you will reach the park boundary and at about 7.5 km there is the Llano Bonito shelter that has potable water. The trail can be very muddy and slippery so I suggest trekking poles.
Crestones Hut - This is a modern two-level hut with fifteen rooms with four beds in each room. There is a hut keeper who will check your permit. You can rent a stove and blankets and there is good water. The bunks have foam pads so you don't need to bring a pad. They do sell soda, but otherwise you need to bring your own food. We did see people ordering meals, but I think they may serve meals only on weekends. The meals looked good, but still you should have your own food in case they can't serve you. I would avoid Friday and Saturday nights when the hut can be crowded. There are solar-powered lights in each room that are on from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. each night. Since it is over 3400 meters (11,130 ft.) it can get cold so bring a sleeping bag good to freezing (0 deg. C).
I used a 20 deg. F rated down bag and was actually a bit too warm the first night. It seemed OK the second night. There are showers, but only with cold water, which is not very inviting! I didn't see anyone using them.
Trail to the Summit - From the hut it is 5 km (3 miles) with a gain of 440 meters (1450 ft.) to the top. The trail is well marked. Go left at the junction in the Valle de Conjeos and then after crossing a pass go descend slightly to another pass with a sign. Go left here and climb the last steep ridge to the top. There is a sign and register box on top. If the weather is good you can see the Caribbean and the Pacific. I made it in 2 hours and 10 minutes. On our summit day it was cold with a strong wind on the final exposed ridge so a warm jacket, hat and gloves were needed.
Hike Down - This is tough on the knees and slippery too. This would be really nasty if you had to descend during a heavy rain. I made it down from the hut to the Roca Dura lodge in six hours in dry conditions. If you started in time you can make the 4:00 p.m. bus to San Isidro. We happened to see a red taxi and took that down after repacking our bags and having lunch at the restaurant. The veggie burger washed down with a Pilsen is really good! Hope you have a good trip!!
Here is a GPS route file from San Gerardo de Rivas to the summit for Garmin receivers.