Chirripó Parque Nacional protects 50,150 hectares of high-elevation
terrain surrounding Cerro Chirripó (3,819 meters),
Central America's highest peak. The park is contiguous
with La Amistad International Peace Park to the south;
together they form the Amistad-Talamanca Regional Conservation
Unit. Much of the area remains terra incognito--a boon
for flora and fauna, which thrive here relatively unmolested
by humans. One remote section of the park is called
Savannah of the Lions, after its large population of
pumas. Tapirs and jaguars are both common, though rarely
seen. And the mountain forests protect several hundred
forest, above 2,500 meters, covers almost half the
park, which features three distinct life zones; the
park is topped off by subalpine rainy páramo,
marked by contorted dwarf trees and marshy grasses
that dry out on the Pacific slopes January-May (presenting
perfect conditions for raging fires fanned by high
winds). Much of this area still bears the scars of
a huge fire that raged across 2,000 hectares in April
1992, causing such devastation that the park was closed
for four months. The region is still trying to recover
from this and even worse fires in 1976 and 1985.
Cerro Chirripó was held sacred by pre-Columbian
peoples. Tribal leaders and shamans performed rituals
atop the lofty shrine; lesser mortals who ventured
up Chirripó were killed. Magnetic fields are
said to swing wildly at the top, particularly near
Los Crestones, huge boulders thought to have been
the most sacred of indigenous sites.
as Hillary climbed Everest "because it was there,"
so Chirripó lures the intrepid who seek the
satisfaction of reaching the summit (the first recorded
climb was made by a priest, Father Agustín
Blessing, in 1904). Many Ticos choose to hike the
mountain during the week preceding Easter, when the
weather is usually dry. Avoid holidays, when the huts
may be full. The hike is no Sunday picnic but requires
no technical expertise. The trails are well marked,
and basic mountain huts are close to the summit. You
must stay overnight in San Gerardo de Rivas, where
you begin your hike early the next day.
wear and tear on the trails led the National Parks
Service to begin phasing in new regulations in 1993.
Only 60 visitors are allowed within the park at any
one time (you may be told there's a waiting list;
experienced hikers recommend showing up anyway as
there are usually lots of no-shows). And nobody is
allowed to hike without a guide. The park service
is pushing the lesser-known Herradura Trail (minimum
three days/two nights), via Paso de los Indios, with
the first night atop Cerro Urán.
The weather is unpredictable and potentially dangerous--dress
accordingly. The hike to the summit from San Gerardo ascends 2,500 meters. When the bitterly cold wind
kicks in, watch out. Winds can approach 160 kph: the
humidity and wind-chill factor can drop temperatures
to -5° C. Rain is always a possibility, even in
"dry season," and a short downpour usually
occurs midafternoon. Fog is almost a daily occurrence
at higher elevations, often forming in midmorning.
And temperatures can fall below freezing at night
(some of the lakes near the summit are a legacy of
the glacial ages). Time your hiking right, however,
and you should be close to shelter when needed. Who
knows, you may have good weather the whole way; February
and March are the driest months.
The park headquarters is in San Gerardo de Rivas (there's
no telephone). It has toilets and a conference room.
It's open 6 a.m.-5 p.m. The park rangers are very
helpful. You can buy a handy Visitors Guide (75 cents)
and a map (75 cents) showing trails and landmarks
to the summit; the station does not sell 1:50,000
topographical survey maps, howev The park is administered
from the La Amistad Biosphere Reserve office in San
Isidro, tel. 771-3155 or 771-4836, fax 771-3297.