Where we climb: Rockin’ out in Costa Rica
From the print edition
Costa Rica’s well-earned reputation as a top-tier destination for eco- and adventure travel keeps growing, and much of the world is already familiar with Tiquicia’s natural charms. We’ve got great beaches, excellent surfing, bubbling volcanoes and zip-lines to whisk you through some of the world’s lushest jungle canopies. But there’s also a growing sport in Costa Rica that lots of visitors aren’t hip to, yet – rock climbing.
At first blush, the unyielding jungle and mountain slopes of Costa Rica don’t seem like a climber’s paradise. But all that greenery hides some surprisingly good rocks. Recently, a small but dedicated crew of local climbers and a few foreigners have been putting in the hours to develop climbing areas, hone their skills and build a community of climbers across the country.
Just outside of the town of Cartago sits one of Costa Rica’s most developed climbing areas, a squash-farm-cum-climbing-crag owned by Vidal Quirós.
The basalt wall at Don Vidal’s farm has 38 routes ranging in difficulty from 5.6 (a good place for beginners to get started) and ranging all the way up to 5.13b, for the seriously strong. The blocky grey rock is an odd sight rising out of the lushness of the riverbed in which the farm is located.
Don Vidal rents out ropes, climbing shoes, harnesses and helmets to climbers who don’t have their own equipment and all of the 38 routes are equipped with steel bolts for protection while climbing. He’s also got well-maintained chains and anchors at the top of each route for use in lowering climbers back to the ground.
Don Vidal said he’s seen the sport of rock climbing grow immensely since he first started letting people play around on his cliffs about six years ago.
“Climbing used to be unknown in the country,” Quirós said. “But now we have a strong contingent of local climbers here and, of course, we are visited by many of the foreigners that pass through our country who are climbers at home.”
Quirós charges ₡10,000 ($20) per day for climbers who want to use his harnesses, ropes shoes and helmets. Those bringing their own gear pay ₡5,000 ($10) for a day’s worth of fun on the rocks. That price includes access to the cold-water spring at the base of the wall, which is perfect for cooling off between climbs or an end of the day soak with a cold Pilsen (bring your own).
“We have climbs for beginners and intermediate climbers all the way to professionals,” said Quirós. “There are climbing gyms, now, too, which we didn’t have in the past, but out here people get to enjoy a beautiful wall in this natural setting.”
Sites for camping are available for ₡5,000 ($10) per night and there is a small cabin with capacity for eight people available for rent.
Due the wall’s natural overhang, the climbing routes stay dry even in light rains. But the road leading to the wall is steep, and even in good conditions, four-wheel drive is recommended. Quirós’ farm is located 3 kilometers from the Cachí hydroelectric dam off the left side of Route 225 between the small towns of Urasca and San Jerónimo. The entrance is identified by a small sign on the left.
For more info contact Vidal Quirós at 8867-8259 (Spanish only) or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook at Escalada Cachí.
Providencia de Dota
A little deeper into the Talamanca Mountains from Cachí, a dirt road turns off the Inter-American Highway and wends through some of Costa Rica’s most gorgeous expanses of cloud forest to bottom out some 14 km later, in an idyllic mountain valley.
Cool mountain streams gurgle happily in the crisp air, handsome cows contemplate cosmic oblivion while chewing their cud, spider monkeys clamber in the tall trees and rock climbers cheer one another on as they tackle short, powerful routes on the numerous boulders spread out across the valley.
If Cachí is the rope-climbing capital of Costa Rica, Providencia de Dota, a sleepy farming town in the coffee-producing Los Santos region, is the bouldering mecca. Bouldering is a form of ropeless climbing where climbers focus on executing hard moves on “problems” or routes that are near to the ground. Thick foam pads and spotters are used for protection on climbs ranging in difficulty from V0 (very easy) up to V10 (very hard) – bouldering routes are rated for difficulty differently than roped routes.
“The boulders here have lots of texture, lots of friction,” said Deily Mora, a Providencia native and one of the organizer’s of the annual Providencia Climbing Festival – a four-day event held in February that brings Costa Rica’s climbing community together at the start of the three-month dry season.
“Provi,” Mora said, using the mountain burgh’s nickname, “is located by Cerro de La Muerte, pretty much right in the middle of a bunch of national parks.”
The road to Providencia is, in fact, the entrance to Los Quetzales National Park.
Eric Allen, a Canadian expat and longtime climber, started bringing his family to spend the winters in Providencia 15 years ago. Back then, he saw climbing potential in the boulders and started introducing the locals – including Mora – to the sport.
Allen, his wife, Ying, and his daughter, Sierra, started school in Providencia as well as a climbing team. Sierra Allen, now 22, represents Costa Rica at climbing competitions across Latin America and is the author of the climbing guidebook Costa Rica Bouldering, which details Providencia and the other important bouldering areas in the country. Costa Rica Bouldering is available at Mundo Aventura, a climbing gym and outfitter store, located 50 meters east of Centro Colón on Av. 3.
The Allen family started organizing the Bouldering Festival in 2007 but eventually passed the activity to young local climbers, like Mora.
As with Cachí, arriving at Providencia de Dota can be a little tricky. At this year’s Bouldering Festival at least one car had to stop midway down the steep 14 km downhill road to let its brakes cool off and stop smoking on the way into the festival.
But, like Cachí, the place has its rewards. A glittering blue pool of chilly mountain water fed by a 35-foot waterfall near a boulder called El Oso Maravilloso (The Marvelous Bear) is the perfect spot to take a swim, practice walking a tight-line strung across the water or just nap on a sunny rock.
There are two small restaurants in Providencia and a small store. Several families have built cabinas that you can rent for ₡3,000 ($6) to ₡7,000 ($14) a night.
Visitors are asked to stop at the El Colibrí pulpería (general store) in Providencia and purchase a ₡4,000 ($8) permit to access the boulders, most of which are located on private property. The permits are valid for one month and the money goes to the families that own the property.
Mora said the development of rock climbing has brought more than economic activity to Providencia.
“I started rock climbing at about 12, before that I was always climbing trees,” she said. “But I was looking for a sport that was more like a family, not so competitive, and climbing here is like being part of a family, it’s a very social event.”
Heading south from San José on the Inter-American Highway, turn off near the summit at Ojo de Agua, at the entrance to Los Quetzales National Park. From there, it’s 14 km to Providencia.
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