Heaven in heights: Cerro De La Muerte (Costa Rica)
January 1, 1970
The Unusual Cold
A freeze wind waves by, and amazes me with a foreign mood. The air blows the branches of little rough bushes; green mosses in rocks with tiny water drops are witnesses of penetrating cold. The sun glosses a heavenly terrain; wide peace and serenity are the sounds in silence. A majestic mountain that suggests a landscape admiring routine, an introspective journey through the sunrays caressing the rocks, and an unavoidable relaxation of mind are part of the things that offers this mystical place. A wintry and isolated feeling reigns, suggesting reasons of the region’s name given
Temperatures below 10°C aren’t familiar for a country in the tropical zone, but possible in high lands above the 3000 meters above sea level. The “Panamerican Highway” reaches its highest point at this place (3491 m above sea level), frightening drivers within dense fog and the immensity of a wild moorland aside the road. However, the Peak of Death, or “Cerro de la muerte” in Spanish, embraces one of the most unique and beautiful ecosystems in the Central American region: the páramo.
How to get there
After the stories of travelers and drivers who felt they would face death due to the unexpected cold temperatures when crossing the area, the mountain has served as bridge between two important locations in Costa Rica.
[single_map_place] Cerro de la muerte [/single_map_place]
The first one is the metropolitan area in the Central Valley, in which the capital city San José is located. The other one is Perez Zeledón, which is another of the most populated locations in the country. This peak region is at the middle point of the road, in which you have to climb and descent this steep and foggy mountain, being the most effective and faster way to reach Perez Zeledón. Nevertheless, is indeed one of the most beautiful driving passages in Costa Rica.
Getting to our destination is actually pretty simple from San José. There is a bus station in San José downtown named MUSOC. You can ask any taxi driver for it and many of them will know how to take you there. If not, you can ask them to get you to the Women’s Hospital Carit (Spa: Hospital de la Mujer) and the bus station is just right across the street from there. There are buses that can also take you there at downtown. The ticket rounds the USD $5.50 (2850 local currency), with departures from 4:30 am up to 6:00 pm every day. It can take you an hour and a half to reach the Cerro de la muerte moorlands, passing by cities and towns, with a constant divergent ambient. If you go by car, then you just have to take the Panamerican Highway all the way to the south. There is a restaurant and hotel named “La Georgina”, which you can set as destination. This was the place I stayed in and will definitely recommend for the best experience.
The Mutating Road
Departing from San Jose, you can get an impression of the main city’s southern part. The road goes on and we pass by Cartago, a smaller city which was during the colonial era Costa Rica’s capital. Some minutes after, the urban facade is dismissed and the ascension towards the mountain begins. At this point, little towns begin to appear and a lot of fruit sellers on the road are featured. The towns are quite simple counting with a school, church, grocery store and a little soccer field. The fruit sellers are from the region and grow their own products nearby, selling them at a more comfortable price than at the city. Arboraceous trails start to appear next to the road, while the temperature begins to lower as we continue driving up the road. Then, these trees also begin to change and become shorter, with a darker tone of green in their leaves.
At this point, we are at 2500-2750 meters above sea level, about to reach even a higher point in the next kilometers. Little lagoons and bright flowers begin to welcome what seems an ironic name for this location. The spooky expectancy is just overthrown by the charm and stillness the location radiate. An exalted mountain begins to appear, as we reach the 3000 meters and breathing is quite different right now. The Peak of Death greets you with all its immensity and beauty, suggesting the other name for this mountain: Cerro Buena Vista (Peak Good View).
Shortly after that mountainous sight, we reach La Georgina. Being one of the pioneers of the touristic activity on the zone, it has a strategic point being right next to the road. Located at one of the highest parts, the trails around the mountain complex and important points in the region are just some minutes away. Since 1947 has kept a very accessible price on its services for local and foreign tourists. You can find a cabin for yourself up to $30 (15000 local currency), breakfast included. Also, the cabin counts with the appropriate sheet for the cold temperatures and a heating system as well.
In here, you will be attended by the owners, who will greet you and make everything possible to make the best of your staying. The food in here is based on typical costarican dishes. You’ll find the famous “gallo pinto”, a spiced mixture of rice and beans, accompanied with eggs, bread and a regional coffee cup too. One of the best regions to grow coffee in the country is nearby, so you’ll be receiving one of the finest coffees in Costa Rica. However, if you want something in particular or any suggestion, you can ask them personally and they’ll do their best to fulfill your request. You can speak to them and find a warm treat and also very good suggestions on what to do around.
Parque Nacional Los Quetzales
Firstly, there is the national park Los Quetzales. The park is an area restricted to animal and forest protection by law, with trails available for visits and walks around the zone. If you are a bird lover, this definitely should be a destination for you. You can see a vast selection of bird species, including hummingbirds, quetzals and macaws as well. The entrance to the park is about 10 km away from La Georgina, you can ask for different transportation options.
Macizo de la Muerte (Cerro de la Muerte)
Another quite interesting place you can drop by is the Cerro de la muerte itself, which is even nearer from La Georgina than the previous attraction. This was the mountain I described previously. Another type of vegetation appears, since the height influences a lot in the plant growing . The little bushes and plants with rough branches appear, surrounded by grasslands really short in height. In the early morning on dry season, you can see the grass with a little ice crust at the top, making the sight really chilled and ideal for a person who loves these cold moods.
When you reach at the top of the peak, it is just ridiculous all the things you can see from that point. You get to even watch the difference of the forest above and below the 3000 meters. Also, you get to see part of the central mountain range, including Turrialba an Irazú Volcanoes (links). Besides, you can get to see also part of the Talamanca mountain range (link), which is the biggest and highest in the country, including one of the highest points in Central America; the Cerro Chirripo. You can even get to see the General Valley, in which Perez Zeledón is located. The view is just ineffable, filled with metaphoric breezes and divinity.
Finally, after doing this whole tour that may take several hours of your day, you can return to La Georgina to relax for a while. There is a garden in here that, to be honest, it is one of the most beautiful gardens I have been at. Full of color and a lot of types of flowers, the place just radiates peace and calmness everywhere. A lot of hummingbirds come by, so you may even get to see birds in here while you enjoy a hot cup of coffee or chocolate, and watch part of the distant mountains through the windows of the restaurant. The kitchen closes at 6 pm, so get ready to eat before and get to sleep early too to make good usage of the morning next day. At night, if the sky is clear enough, you can get really amazed by the vast quantity of stars you may see. It might be really cold outside, but is worth it for a very long time.
There a couple of options on the next day: you can go ahead and walk through some trails that La Georgina has on its lower part and get to walk a little while in a forest like Los Quetzales area; the other option is to get up really early and visit some other trails nearby La Georgina, just on the other side of the road, and get to a lookout place. Experiencing the dawn in this area, regardless of what option you chose, it is a refreshing experience for our souls, and is a must on visiting this place.
To get back to San Jose, you can take the bus outside La Georgina, it will stop right there. If you go by car, then you just head the road backwards and go appreciating the descent, as a constant mutating scenario once again. You then may realize your own mutation too, and consider getting back to explore furthermore.
*All pictures shown were taken and edited by myself.