Visiting Chirripó National Park, Costa Rica

Chirripó National Park was founded in 1975 and today spans 50,510 hectares (195 square miles) and protects pristine cloud forests, premontane forests, watersheds, and diverse flora and fauna. The 20-kilometer (12.4-mile) trail inside of Chirripó National Park leads hikers through a series of distinct terrains, ecosystems and elevations. Some of the landscapes are so unique that you won’t find anything like them anywhere else in the country.

Those who successfully complete the challenging trail and epic climb to the summit are rewarded with a genuine sense of accomplishment and, depending on weather, unparalleled views. On a clear day, both the Caribbean and Pacific oceans can be seen from the peak.

Mount Chirripo: View from top
View from the top of Mount Chirripo

How to Get to Chirripó National Park?

From the capital of San José it is about a 3.5-hour drive heading southwest to San Gerardo de Rivas, the main starting point near the entrance of Chirripó National Park.

How High is Cerro (Mount) Chirripó?

At 3,20 meters (12,533 feet) above sea level, Cerro Chirripó is the highest point in Costa Rica and the second highest in Central America. It is the crown jewel of the Talamanca mountain range, the geologic backbone of the country.

Hiking to Costa Rica’s Highest Peak

Visitors should know that Chirripó is no walk in the park. The hike is long and strenuous. Most visitors plan for at least two nights and three days to complete the experience from start to finish, including an overnight stay in the village of San Gerardo de Rivas and a second overnight stay at the Crestones base camp. If it is your first time, going on a group tour with a pre-planned itinerary and a knowledgeable guide is paramount for safety and maximum enjoyment.

Hiking Signs at Mount Chirripo
Hiking Signs at Mount Chirripo

It is highly recommended to train beforehand. Your health, medical background, weather conditions, and altitude can affect your ability to safely and successfully complete the hike. You should be in good physical condition and follow a packing list that includes adequate clothing, food, water, gear, first aid kit, and supplies. Make sure to wear sturdy, comfortable hiking shoes, layers of clothing, a hat, gloves, raingear, and have enough warm clothes for very cold temperatures, which have been known to drop below freezing.

Your guide can make sure you are prepared with proper supplies, and also take care of the schedule, logistics, reservations, and payments. Entrance to the park is limited and tickets for the national park and base camp must be paid for in advance. You can pay local porters by the kilo to carry items such as extra clothes, sleeping bag, food, etc…which will lighten your load.

Most groups depart from San Gerardo de Rivas before dawn in order to make it to Crestones base camp at a comfortable pace while there is still daylight. The base camp provides rustic dormitories, restrooms, cold showers and eating area. Simple meals of traditional Costa Rican food can be arranged for purchase, or you can bring your own cold food to eat.

What to See in Chirripó National Park

One of the most enjoyable aspects of the hike is the ever-changing series of sights, landmarks, and environments you’ll experience as you ascend. The journey will take you past misty cloud forests, olive green meadows, eerie fire-burnt forests, brightly colored wildflowers, shimmering lakes, and impressive geological formations, which keep the trek interesting and help motivate visitors to reach the next attraction.

Meadow with stream at Mount Chirripo
Meadow with stream at Mount Chirripo

There is also the chance to spot exotic wildlife as the national park is home to hundreds of species of reptiles, amphibians, mammals, and birds, including the iconic quetzal, tapir, and jaguar.

At the summit, you can take the prized photo next to the Costa Rican flag and the official Cerro Chirripó national park sign and elevation marker. From Crestones base camp there are several trail options in addition to the obvious main attraction of Chirripó Peak. Known for its strong winds, Cerro Ventisquero allows for panoramic views of the national park. Sabana de los Leones is Costa Rica’s only highland savanna. The stunning rock formations of Los Crestones have made it a proud symbol of Costa Rica. El Valle de Las Morrenas offers a vista of glacial lakes and moraines, formed by debris carried by ancient glaciers.

Weather in Chirripó National Park

Weather at Chirripó can change quickly and drastically from one minute to the next. Remember that due to the elevation and winds, Chirripó holds the record for the coldest temperatures in the country and can drop below freezing. The sun is particularly strong at this elevation and proximity to the equator, so protection in the form of sunscreen and hat is vital to prevent burns.

The dry season (December to April) is the best time to visit due to both the warmer temperatures and decreased rainfall. During the rainy season (MayNovember) precipitation can take the form of rain, sleet or even hail depending on the temperature. Also keep in mind that heavy rainfall can make the trail muddy and slick, which can increase hiking time.

At the peak, inclement weather and clouds can affect visibility. Although it can be disappointing to summit into a white fog, don’t give up. A strong wind can quickly, albeit momentarily, clear the view. Regardless of the visibility, nothing beats knowing you are literally standing at the top of the highest point in the entire country.

Know the Rules

There are important rules to follow in the national park for your safety and nature conservation, which are good to know in advance. For example, be responsible for your garbage–pack it in, pack it out. Alcohol and drugs are not allowed inside the national park. It is important not to feed the animals and to only eat in designated areas, being careful not to leave any food or waste behind. Pets are also not allowed, nor are fires or camping.

Plan a Trip to Chirripó

For adventurous, rugged travelers who are up for a challenge, Cerro Chirripó is an unforgettable Costa Rican “rite of passage” that will grant you bragging rights for years to come. For a safe, enjoyable and successful Chirripó trek, make sure that you consult with an experienced itinerary design agency like Costa Rica Escapes. Please contact us using the form below to plan a trip to Chirripó!