Introducing Parque Nacional Chirripó
Costa Rica’s principal mountain park is named for its highest peak, the majestic Cerro Chirripó. Towering 3820m above sea level, the Chirripó massif is part of the Cordillera de Talamanca, which stretch divides the country northwest to southeast.
While Chirripó is the highest and most famous summit in Costa Rica, it is not unique: two other peaks inside the park top 3800m, and most of its 502 sq km lie above 2000m.
At these highest elevations (especially above 3400m), the landscape is páramo, which is mostly scrubby trees and grasslands. Between January and May, the páramo on the Pacific side is susceptible to forest fires (no smoking on the trails!). Rocky outposts – such as the unmistakable facade of Los Crestones – punctuate the otherwise barren hills. A series of glacial lakes (many of which are visible from the summit) earned the park the name Chirripó, which means ‘eternal waters’ or aguas eternas.
The bare páramo contrasts vividly with the lushness of the cloud forest, which dominates the hillsides between 2500m and 3400m. Oak trees (some more than 50m high) tower over the canopy, which also consists of evergreens, laurels and lots of undergrowth. Epiphytes – the scraggy plants that grow up the trunks of larger trees – thrive in this climate. The low-altitude cloud forest is being encroached by agricultural fields and coffee plantations in the areas near San Gerardo de Rivas.
The varying altitude means an amazing diversity of flora and fauna in Parque Nacional Chirripó. The forests are home to several endangered species, including the harpy eagle and the resplendent quetzal (especially visible between March and May). Even besides these highlights, the birding is phenomenal. If you are not too tired to look up while you are climbing, you might see highland birds like three-wattled bellbird, black guan and tinamou. The Andean-like páramo guarantees volcano junco, sooty robin, slaty finch, large-footed finch and the endemic volcano hummingbird, which is found only in Costa Rica’s highlands. Unusual high-altitude reptiles like green spiny lizard and highland alligator lizard are common. Mammals include spider monkey, capuchin and – at higher elevations – Dice’s rabbit and their predator coyote.
The dry season (from late December to April) is the most popular time to visit Chirripó. February and March are the driest months, though it may still rain. On weekends, and especially during holidays, the park is crowded with Tico hiking groups and the mountaintop hostel is often full. The park is closed in May, but the early months of the rainy season are still good for climbing, as it usually doesn’t rain in the morning.
In any season, temperatures can drop below freezing at night, so warm clothes (including hat and gloves), rainwear and a three-season sleeping bag are necessary. In exposed areas, high winds make it seem even colder. The ranger station in San Gerardo de Rivas is a good place to check weather conditions.
Last updated: Mar 2, 2009
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