Cerro Chirripo Area Travel Guide

If anywhere hasn’t changed in Costa Rica since the first time I visited I would have expected it to be here. Most people visit Costa Rica to sit on beaches, to explore jungles, and to search for birds in the cloud forest. The reality is that the only reason to come to San Isidro to hike Cerro Chirripo.

However, it seems that even places a little bit off beat like this have seen a swell of activity.  The region is especially popular with European hiking groups and trekkers, and the trails are busy basically every day of the year.  Only a limited number of people are allowed to hike the mountain each day so it’s best that you call in advance to make a booking. During the peak season you might need to book a couple month ahead.

The hike is beautiful, and from the top on a clear day you might even have the chance to see both oceans off in separate directions. If you’re into trekking, this is the premier place in all of Central America.

Me at the top of Cerro Chirripo in 2004

General Orientation

If you’re planning on trekking you’ll have no need to stay in the city, which is San Isidro de General.  Instead, you’ll want to catch the bus to San Isidro and then jump in either a taxi or a local bus up to San Gerardo de Rivas.  There are plenty of places to stay in San Gerardo and this is where you’ll find the ranger’s station as well.  If you haven’t made a booking for the trail, you an always go in and check to see if there are any openings as they are made available from time to time.

Where to Stay

Of course, you can stay in San Isidro de General and I have in the past.  I stayed in the Hotel Chirripo which was only about $15 for the night and had warm showers, a tv in the room and a comfy bed.  The place is pretty basic, but if you’re just looking to kick your feet up for the night it is a good place.

In San Gerardo de Rivas the place to stay is the Hotel Roca Dura (literally, Hard Rock Hotel).  The hotel is actually carved right into the stone of the mountain which makes it a really cool place to stay. I paid $15 for a single room when I stayed there 6 years ago but I’m told the price has gone up to about $25.  You can also camp there for about $5 a night.

The city of San Isidro de General

Where to Eat

In San Isirdo there are a number of places to get some grub including a very popular MacDonald’s.  When I passed through this year I stopped in at a place called Kafe de la Casa which was a really nice place to grab some lunch.  Other than that, you’ll find the local favourite is fried chicken.

Up in San Gerardo de Rivas, the food options are much less varied.  I found that most travellers just ate the Hotel Roca Dura which also serves as a restaurant.  There are small grocery stores here, but if you’re wanting to stock up properly for the trek it’s cheaper to do in San Isidro

Climbing Cerro Chirripo

The trek up Cerro Chrirripo (the highest peak in Central America) is a 1-3 days affair, although most people do it in 2 days.

The most common thing to do is to trek from San Gerardo to the Auberge, which is called Crestones Base Lodge, which is only about 14km but a steep ascent.  The lodge is situated at 3400m above sea-level.  The following day, hikers tend to wake up really early and complete the last bit of the trek (6km) which is fairly flat until the summit.  I left at 3am and got to the summit (3820m) in time for sunrise.  If you are really lucky, you can see both oceans from the top.  I wasn’t so lucky.  After the summit most people make their way all the way back to town, although some choose to explore lesser travelled trails and spend another night at the Auberge.

If you’re hiking you’re going to need a sleeping bag, rainproof gear, and a warm sweater.  You’ll also want to bring a flashlight, alarm clock, sunscreen, and a couple pairs of socks.  If you don’t have a sleeping bag you can always rent one in San Gerardo.

The Auberge on the trail

Getting out of Town

San Isidro is quite well served by the bus system.  You can catch near direct buses to San Jose, Golfito and Dominical.  You can also find buses that transfer on to Quepos/Manuel Antonio and David, Panama.

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4 Comments

  1. Hi Brendan, great article on cerro Chirripo. My wife and i are going to do the trek next Feb,’13.
    Question for you. When you overnight at Crestones Base Lodge, what do you need in the way of food and food preparation items. Do we need our own stove, pots etc. Or is supper available there.

    Also,What physical condition do we need to be in. We hike, bike, swim etc on flat land canada and plan to increase conditioning for the hike. We are active at 53.

    Any info would be greatly appreciated.
    Thanks and happy trails.
    Tim, Manitoba, Canada.

    Post a Reply
    • Hi Tim,

      Honestly, I’m the worst at preparing ever. I packed a bunch of food that I didn’t need to cook (canned tuna and bread). They have cooking facilities up there, but they are basic and if I remember correctly you needed your own gas, or at least to pay for it. Regardless, down in town they will be able to tell you. I imagine things have changed a lot since the last time I was up there.

      As for physical condition, you’ll be fine as long as you take it slow. There’s a part called the thermometer which is tough, but it’s not insanely difficult. I hiked up with a machine from Arizona and we made it to base camp in no time and I was in pain… but had we gone slower it would have been fairly easy. If I were you, I’d prepare a little bit by doing some stairmaster stuff, but I’m sure you’ll be fine.

      Anyways, feel free to shoot me a message via my contact form if you want anymore info, I’m glad to help.

      Post a Reply
  2. Hi there..
    I am thinking of climbing Chirripo Mountain in December. I will be living in Costa Rica for the next 3 months and this is my goal at the end of my “adventure”
    However I am a solo traveller and the idea of doing this alone kinda gives me an uneasy feeling. I know there are tours and such with guides but they are fairly expensive. I would like to do this on a budget. Do you have any suggestions for me?

    -Sarah, Canada

    Post a Reply
    • Hey Sarah, You can do it on your own easy… and if you NEED a guide, you can probably just turn up in town and find someone more than willing to hike with you for a small fee (think $25-30 a day). That’s probably your best bet.

      Post a Reply

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