Costa Rica’s highest peak, the 12,533-foot Cerro Chirripó, presides over the Talamanca mountain range as its main tourist attraction. But for those without the time, money or advanced planning for the 3-day Chirripó hike, there are other ways to see the Talamancas.
Though it may not provide the mountaineering challenge of Chirripó, the nearby Cloudbridge Reserve offers the same beautiful views. At its high elevation, the jungles of Cloudbridge are categorized as a cloud forest, which means visitors can expect to see mossy strangler figs, wild orchids and the occasional nesting quetzal.
Furthermore, it’s free. And knowledgeable guides are available to lead hikes through the area. “This is some of the newest real estate in the world,” said Cloudbridge director Tom Gode, as he led The Tico Times through the reserve. “It only pushed out about a million years ago.”
The reserve was founded in 2002 as a reforestation project for seven cattle farms in the area, uniting the 700 acres into an ecological research base. Volunteers and visiting researchers plant between 4,000 and 5,000 trees a year, and in its 11-year existence, Cloudbridge has gone from clear-cut pastureland to reforested mountain jungle.
The reserve runs right up to the edge of Chirripó National Park linking untouched, primary forest to the recovering portions of the reserve. Only two small, treeless fields still belonging to stubborn farmers are visible within the reserve.
Through successful reforestation, Gode says animals are beginning to come back. Pumas, jaguarundis, ocelots and even an oncilla, the country’s rarest cat, have all been caught on cameras on the mountain trails.
Gode walked us through some of the six trails’ highlights, which include an exotic plant garden full of bright flowers and papyrus plants, and views of the reserve’s waterfall, Cloudbridge Falls.
According to Gode, many people hike Cloudbridge before the Chirripó hike, giving them a chance to acclimate to the high altitude. For guests staying a few days, Cloudbridge has cabins available for rent.
But Cloudbridge’s biggest advantage is that, unlike the Chirripó hike, which includes entrance fees, lodging, porter costs and the price of a guide, Cloudbridge only asks for a voluntary donation.
Going there: Cloudbridge is approximately four hours from San José via the Inter-American Highway. The last chunk of the road to Cloudbridge requires four-wheel drive. Accommodation prices vary based on season and availability. Inquiries can be sent to [email protected].