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Cartago, Limón & San José

Windswept paramos, cloud forests, lakes of glacial origin, rushing rivers, evergreen forests, stunted forests, rain, mist, fierce winds and intrusive rocks all form part of one of the most beautiful parks in the country. It is located in the Talamanca Mountain Range, between 1,400 meters on the Caribbean and Pacific sides to 3,819 meters above sea level on Chirripó Peak, the highest in Costa Rica.

The differences in altitude, climate and soil in Chirripó National Park and La Amistad International Park, declared by the United Nations as a Biosphere Reserve, together with some neighbouring areas in 1982, and a World Heritage Site in 1983, give rise to the largest ecological diversity in the country.

Some 400 species of birds and 263 of amphibians and reptiles have been identified in both regions and for the most part, 60% of all vertebrates and invertebrates of Costa Rica can be found there. The forests are the habitat of several endangered species, such as the harpy eagle, resplendent quetzal, cougar, jaguar, tigercat, margay cat, ocelot, jaguarundi and tapir. The forests are especially rich in tree ferns, epiphytes, different kinds of palms and understorey growth. The cloud forest begins above 2,500 meters and covers almost half of Chirripó Park with a proliferation of oak, laurels and shrubs that mark the transition to the paramo, a land of stunted, twisted trees associated with gramineous vegetation. The trees are rooted in a type of soil composed of layers of humus, which are several centimetres thick and usually saturated water droplets. The stunted trees thin out at 3,400 mts. and above this only gramineous plants grow.

The paramo that overlooks the Caribbean is very humid, while that on the Pacific side remains dry from January to May, a Phenomenon which is accentuated by the fierce winds. This presents ideal conditions for forest fires, which most of the time are irresponsibly caused by the hand of man, and which in recent years have destroyed part of the paramo and the upland forests.

The park of "eternal waters" is full of incomparable sites of great natural beauty, such as the summit of Chirripó Peak surroundet by several lakes of glacial origin, the imposing mass of crags known as the "crestones", the desolate Savannah of Los Leones, the distant Urán Peak, the old Vetisqueros, the windy summit of Terbi Peak, or the mysterious Lake Ditkevi, all sites of extremely bitter-cold winds.

Climbing from San Gerardo, where the Park Headquarters are located, to Chirripó, 17 kms away, is like going from 23º to 44º north. A change in altitude is equivalent to a shift in latitude with regard to the variations wrought in the climate and vegetation.

In the highlands of the park, the average temperature ranges from 5ºC to 20ºC, but frequently can drop to freezing point. The wind-chill factor and the humidity can combine to reduce temperatures on average from -3ºC to -6ºC. In the most exposed areas the winds can reach over 125 kms. per hour and cause intense cold. At Ventisqueros or Los Crestones, with winds over 70 kms per hour and temperatures of 5ºC, as many calories are lost as at any Arctic location with temperatures of -27ºC and gentle wind. Anyone visiting this area should take precautionary measures against the cold and the ultraviolet rays. It should also be remembered that above 3,000 meters any unacclimated organism is adversely affected because of the partial pressure of oxygen in the air, which is not the best for human beings.

A visit to the park should include a dip in the hot springs at Herradura near the village of San Gerardo, where the Park headquarters are loated. Hot springs are excellent for treating skin problems, obesity, arthritis, stress and muscular pains.

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The Chirripó Peak National Park
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