South-central Costa Rica is the Cinderella of the country’s tourism. A larger proportion of the region is protected as national park or forest reserve than in any other part of the country. Much remains inaccessible and unexplored. Herein lies the beauty: Huge regions such as Parque Nacional Chirripó and Parque Internacional La Amistad harbor incredibly diverse populations of Central American flora and fauna.

Descending Cerro Chirripó. Photo © Christopher P. Baker.

Descending Cerro Chirripó. Photo © Christopher P. Baker.

The region is home to the nation’s largest concentration of indigenous people.The region is dominated to the east by the massive and daunting Talamanca massif, rising to 3,819 meters (12,530 feet) atop Cerro Chirripó. Slanting southeast and paralleling the Talamancas to the west is a range of lower-elevation mountains called the Fila Costeña. Between the two lies the 100-kilometer-long by 30-kilometer-wide (60- by 20-mile) Valle de El General, extending into the Valle de Coto Brus to the south. The valley is a center of agriculture, with pineapples covering the flatlands of the Río General, and coffee smothering the slopes of Coto Brus (much of the land once planted in coffee has been replaced by cattle). The rivers that drain the valley merge to form the Río Grande de Térraba, which slices west through the Fila Costeña to the sea.

The region is home to the nation’s largest concentration of indigenous people. In the remote highland reaches, and occasionally in towns, you’ll see indigenous Guaymí and Boruca women dressed in traditional colorful garb.

The regional climate varies with topography. Clouds moving in from the Pacific dump most of their rain on the western slopes of the Fila Costeña, and the Valle de El General sits in a rain shadow. To the east, the Talamanca massif is rain-drenched and fog-bound for much of the year. Temperatures drop as elevation climbs, and atop the Talamancas temperatures approach freezing.

Planning Your Time

The region is linked to San José by the Pan-American Highway (Hwy. 2), which runs south from Cartago, climbs over the Cerro de la Muerte—a daunting and dangerous drive—and descends to San Isidro (also known as Pérez Zeledón) in the Valle de El General. South of Buenos Aires, the Pan-American Highway exits the valley via the gorge of the Río Grande de Térraba, linking it with the Golfo Dulce region. Another road transcends the Fila Costeña and links San Isidro de El General with Dominical on the Central Pacific coast. Most visitors pass through the area in two or three days, which is a sufficient amount of time to see the highlights, including the delightful mountain village of San Gerardo de Dota. However, a week would not be too long, with the towns of San Isidro and San Vito as your bases.

Topography surrounding San Vito. P

Topography surrounding San Vito. Photo © Eric T Gunther (Own work) CC-BY, via Wikimedia Commons.

Much of the mountain terrain is within indigenous reserves, such as Reserva Indígena Boruca, which welcomes visitors. It is also the source of the fantastic carved masks prominent in quality souvenir stores. Visitor facilities are minimal.

Organized activities in the region are minimal, with the exception of white-water rafting on the Ríos Chirripó and General. Selva Mar (tel. 506/2771-4582) acts as a tour information center and reservation service for the region.

Excerpted from the Tenth Edition of Moon Costa Rica.