San Isidro de El General
Several kilometers beyond the Hacienda Baru, a paved road leads up to the Valle de El General and the small city of San Isidro. The 40-kilometer-stretch of road, with its sharp curves, runs through the Cordillera de Talamanca and requires a good two hours to complete. It is beautiful, but it is without doubt also a very dangerous road. It is no accident that the Ticos have aptly named it the “Death Stretch.” Road building and deforestation over a period of decades have led to serious problems caused by erosion. It is not unusual that landslides suddenly wipe out the entire road, forcing cars to make a long and arduous detour.
The small town of San Isidro de El General is situated at an altitude of 709 meters above sea level. The town serves as a center for the coffee plantations, cattle ranches and nurseries that employ most of its 40,000 inhabitants. El General refers to the river delta nearby, and San Isidro is the patron saint of the local farmers. For years the campesinos have brought their animals into the town every year on May 15, the feast day of San Isidro. There, amid a festive celebration, the priest blesses the animals assuring them health, and guaranteeing another year of prosperity for the farmers.
San Isidro is fortunate to have a number of interesting attractions. The small Museo Regional del Sur (Cane 1, Avenida 2) has a number of interesting exhibits which vividly represent the social life, history and archeology of the San Isidro area. The Museo Perez 7e1don specializes in historic photographs, and the Centro Cultural, in the same complex of buildings, contains a theater, lecture hall and an art gallery featuring the works of local artists.
The well-groomed Parque Central forms the heart of the city. The banks along its perimeter provide a place to change currency. One block further south, there is a post and telegraph office. The architecture of the modern church is purely functional. It is worth seeing for the bareness of its concrete walls, but it may not be to everyone’s taste. During the day the sunny terrace of the Hotel Chirrip6 is the meeting place for globetrotters and San Isidrans of all ages. Given San Isidro’s average daytime temperature of 22°C throughout the year, the terrace is the ideal place to exchange stories and share travel tips while enjoying a cool drink.
The slow drive on the road from San Isidro de El General, via Rivas and Cancan to San Gerardo de Rivas, is characterized by hairpin curves and spectacular views into deep green valleys and up to the high mountains. Quetzals, an endangered bird species, still inhabit the slopes. In the valley, the Rio Chirrip6 Pacifico tumbles over boulders and rushes down to the Valle de El General.
San Gerardo de Rivas, at 1,350 meters above sea level, enjoys a comfortable climate throughout the year. It is the gateway to the Chirrip6 National Park. The ranger station is one kilometer beyond the sleepy village on the road to San Isidro. From the ranger station it is only possible to continue on foot.
Before visiting the national park, a small excursion to the village of Herradura, three kilometers north of San Gerardo, is recommended. The tiny village features relaxing hot springs. From there it is possible to stop off at the pond of the Rio Blanco or head directly to Cerro Chirripo.