Is it too much of the tropical heat by the beach in Costa Rica? Would you rather spend a few days hiking in some refreshingly cool cloud forests high in the mountains of the Cordillera de Talamanca?
The town of San Gerardo de Rivas is situated in an exceptionally beautiful area with a lot to do around and relax for a couple of days. Either if you came here to climb the Cerro Chirippo, or just want to see how a traditional Tico village looks like in the mountains and spend a day hiking in the spectacular Cloudbridge Nature Reserve, this will be your starting point.
I approached San Gerardo de Rivas by a public bus. I had to leave from San Jose (the capital of Costa Rica) early in the morning and had to change at San Isidro del General. The bus ride from San Jose to San Isidro was a thrilling ride; you can read more about that in my article about traveling in Costa Rica by bus.
A few miles above San Gerardo de Rivas the road splits in two directions, one goes towards the Cloudbridge Nature Reserve, the other one is the start of the Cerro Chirippo National Park’s hiking trail leading up towards the peak.
As there are a lot of people who want conquer Central America’s highest point, the peak of Cerro Chirippo, and there are only a limited number of permits issued by the national park which allows overnight lodging in the base camp which is half way up the trail, it can be difficult to obtain a permit, and unfortunately it is an unnecessarily complex procedure.
Although some say it is possible to reach the top and descend in one day, but that is a really exhausting climb even for experienced hikers/climbers in a good shape, and you wouldn’t have much time to enjoy the view either.
As the summit is a popular activity among local Costa Ricans also, often the permits are all reserved weeks in advance, and if you didn’t get yours before arriving, you could only rely on eventual cancellations. As permits are issued here in San Gerardo de Rivas, it is also quite difficult to obtain one remotely especially if you are not in the country, but you could try to get one with the help of a local agent or the hotel you are staying with.
I personally couldn’t get a permit, as they were all booked weeks ahead, and there were no cancellations either. Nevertheless, I had a great time in San Gerardo!
The Cloudbridge Nature Reserve was an exceptionally beautiful experience, with six hours of hiking in total it was almost a full day program (I went to the thermal pools to take a dip later that day, you can read more about that below).
I have literally explored all of the possible trails in Cloudbridge, except the one that is connected with the Chirippo National Park called the Sendero Mantaña/Ridge Trail Loop – you can see maps of the trails here: Cloudbridge hiking trails.
I started early in the morning – sevenish – and only met with 2 other hikers all along the way. I personally love to hike in solitude.
I’ve seen a lot of monkeys, birds, lizards, and a coati couple on the Vulture Rock Trail.
There are some amazing waterfalls and mountain streams, beautiful views from the Vulture Rock Trail and exotic birdsong all along the trails.
After hiking in the Cloudbridge Nature Reserve I went back to my accommodation to rest a bit – I had a bed in Hotel Casa Mariposa – a fantastic hostel, located between San Gerardo de Rivas and the start of the Chirippo trail.
Later I went to check the Aguas Termales GEVI, some amazing thermal pools in San Gerardo de Rivas fed by a natural thermal water stream, which turned out to be one of the most amazing thermal experiences in my life.
The entry fee was 1500 Colones (around $3), there are three thermal pools in the middle of the tropical forest with stunning flowers and plants all around you, the water is just amazing, the temperature is perfect. I couldn’t get out from the pool for one and a half hours. These were were truly splendid moments at the end of a busy day.
After relaxing in the thermal water, I walked back towards my hostel, and a had a few beers and a great dinner at Hotel Uran – they have a surprisingly good cuisine serving traditional Costa Rican dishes.
It was already late afternoon on the first day I arrived to San Gerardo de Rivas, so I only had time to drop my stuffs in my hostel and check the trout farm nearby to have some fresh fish for lunch. I have visited several trout farms before, but a trout farm in a tropical cloud forest up in the mountains with several small pools, streams and waterfalls, with an abundance of colorful flowers and tropical plants were just amazing, and last but not least, the fish was delicious!
Of course as in every trout farm, here you can also catch your lunch with a simple fishing rod, but I rather didn’t this time, so the cook – a local lady, one of the owners – caught a nice manly sized fish for me before frying it to deliciousness.