Hiking through five distinct eco-systems is almost maginificient enough to make you forget that you are ascending 8,800 feet across the 19 kilometers that makes one segment of the trail to Cerro Chirripo. Located in San Gerardo, the well-marked roughly 38-kilometer out-and-back trail sends you through fern groves, tropical wet forest, cloud forest, oak forest, and finally the alpine tundra that gives you hope that you are nearly to the basecamp.
Reservations to hike Cerro Chirripo and stay at the basecamp are required in advance and can be made online. You must check in at the park office by 4 p.m. the day prior to your ascent and with the Chirripo lodging office (located next to the soccer field in town) by 5 p.m. It is here that you can purchase meals at the basecamp as well as pay for horses to carry your luggage up if you prefer not to lug it yourself.
The hike can be completed in one day, though it is recommended to do this hike over the course of two days. There is no backcountry camping allowed. If you want to camp you must stay at Basecamp Crestones, which is located at 14.5 kilometers. You will want to start the trail between 3 and 4 a.m. to avoid getting rained on in the cloud forest. The rain typically happens between 10:30 a.m. and 12 p.m. Hiking from the trailhead to the basecamp takes between six and eight hours depending on your hiking abilities. There is a rest stop located just past kilometer 7 that provides free potable water as well as hot drinks, snacks, and flushing toilets. Be on the lookout for monkeys, birds, and small critters as you make your way through the individual sections. The basecamp is quite sophisticated and has flushing toilets, (cold) showers, bunk beds, sleeping bags, and snacks and hot drinks for purchase (cash only). The final 5.2-kilometer push to the summit is not as steep as the previous trail and takes between two and three hours. On clear days you will be able to see both the Caribbean Ocean and Pacific Oceans from the summit. Enjoy the work you've put in before starting the descent back to town. Be sure to take trekking poles or a couple of sturdy bamboo sticks with you because these will provide relief to your knees and ankles on the steep and long descent.