Chirripo National Park

Many nature lovers and hikers find a visit of several days to the 50,000 hectare Chirripo National Park the high point of their trip to Costa Rica. The name of the country’s largest national park comes from its main attraction, the 3,819-meter Cerro Chirripo, Costa Rica’s highest mountain.

The entire Chirripo massif is part of the Cordillera de Talamanca, the mountain chain that runs the length of Costa Rica in a northwest to southeast direction. In the east, the national park borders on the 193,000-hectare La Amistad International Park.

Contrasting zones of vegetation are characteristic of Chirripo National Park. Low-lying meadow land gives way to forests with lush ferns and thick groves of bamboo. Other regions of the forest feature hanging moss and epiphytes.

Further up the mountain the slopes are marked by impassable virgin cloud forest, which covers more than half of the park’s total area. Still further up, above the tree line at the sub-alpine paramo level, created millions of years ago, is a unique landscape composed of various alpine grasses, herbs, mosses and low bushes. In this region the rugged scenery is mirrored in the crystal clear, ice-cold water of mountain lakes created by glaciers that formed the land millions of years ago. The landscape reminds some visitors of northern Scotland or the Andes.

Most people visit the Chirripo National Park, with its three more than 3,800meter-high peaks, during the dry season between December and April. It can get crowded during Semarca Santa, the week preceding Easter. Last year a total of 2,000 people visited the park. The best weather is in February and March. On weekends the mountain cabins are usually completely full, occupied by local hiking groups.

Huge forest fires spread by strong sea winds caused great damage in 1976 and again in 1985. In April 1992, another 2,000 hectares of forest went up in flames. Fortunately, the animal world of Cerro Chirripo was largely spared. Several hundred different kinds of birds, including a kind of warbler with a fire red throat, live in the park. In addition, there are tapirs, even jaguars and pumas (especially in the region known as the “Savannah of the Lions.” Small animals like squirrels, blue and green frogs, and white caterpillars also live here.

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