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.
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.
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.
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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