Lagos Chirripo, Costa Rica

Lake Locations:

Costa Rica - Cartago - Limon - San Jose -

Also known as:  Laguna Grande de Chlrripo, Lago San Juan

Seldom seen except by dedicated high-altitude hikers, the Lagos Chirripo or Chirripo Lakes are the highest in Central America. Located just below the summit of Cerro Chirripo, the series of lakes occupy a small valley high above the well-known cloud forest in Costa Rica. From the summit, hikers are rewarded with a view of both the Caribbean and Pacific oceans, over 30 small high-altitude lakes, and the shining Chirripo chain of small lakes forming the headwaters of the Chirripo Pacific River. This small river gathers water from numerous streams on its way down from the heights, becoming in succession Rio Chibugra, Rio General, Diquis River and Rio Grande de Terraba before it finally reaches the Pacific.

The Lagos Chirripo were created when the last glacier retreated from this area of the Talamanca Mountains. Only the largest is actually named in literature, usually called Laguna Grande de Chirripo or Lago San Juan. Three small lakes are connected by streams during the rainy season and are usually isolated behind rocky moraine natural dams during the dry season. Laguna Grande has no major in-flowing streams, although it gains water from short temporary run-off brooks in the rainy season. Due to its location near the summit, the watershed feeding these lakes is less than a square mile. Overflow from the first lake then tumbles across the now-submerged gravel barrier and enters the second, then the third lake. From the third little lake, the Chirripo Pacific River gains its start.

Although there are rough paths down to the lakes from near the summit of Cerro Chirripo, few visitors attempt to access them. It is belieed that in centuries past native climbers did access the lakes. Pre-Columbian Costa Ricans used to climb the challenging trail to the summit for ceremonies carrying a special charm to protect them from the reputed mountain spirit. Laguna Grande de Chirripo is only 13 acres in size with a shoreline less than a mile around. Considering its small size, the lake is exceedingly deep, reaching 72 feet in the center. There are no fish in the waters of these high-altitude lakes and likewise almost no invertebrates. Aquatic squillwort grows in the shallows. The near-shore area is covered in dwarf bamboo, a few small bushes, tussock grass and club mosses. At over 11,500 feet, the area is above the treeline and has been further altered over past centuries by occasional brush fires. Although most sources blame careless modern campers for the fires, sediment core samples from Laguna Grande de Chirripo show that charcoal from fires has been deposited in the lake at random intervals for possibly thousands of years. The source of these early fires is a mystery.

The Lagos Chirripo as well as Cerro Chirripo are within the 125,600-acre Chirripo National Park, stretching into three of Costa Rica’s seven provinces (San Jose, Limon, Cartago). Formed in 1975, the national park serves to protect the sensitive ecology of the region surrounding Cerro Chirripo, Costa Rica’s highest mountain. From the lowland entrances to the park to the summit is a gain of over 8000 feet with five different eco-zones supporting a wide variety of plants and animals. Within the park live jaguars, tapirs, quetzals (colorful birds in the trogon family), and a variety of birdlife including the goldfinch. Certain areas of the park are noted bird-watching sites. Visitors to Cerro Chirripo come to test their endurance against the steep trail and windswept mountain.

Climbing the Chirripo Trail can be done in one day. Most visitors make the trip a three-day affair, starting out from the little village of San Gerardo de Rivas. Several hotels in this tiny town offer overnight lodgings for park visitors. Food supplies suitable for backpacking can be purchased here. Those spending a couple of days will find several local attractions worth a visit, such as a cheese factory and a coffee plantation tour. Trekkers wishing to arrange for transport for their gear can engage porters and/or horses in the town. From here, the trail climbs over 7,200 feet to the summit, through cloud forest and paramos (alpine tundra ecosystem). Special permits must be obtained to climb the massif, and access is strictly limited to protect the delicate environment. Because the hike is so popular, prospective permit holders must be quick when the permit window opens before they are all committed. The usual trek is a three-day adventure involving overnight lodgings at Crestones Base Camp, three-and-a-half miles short of the summit.

Although the trail starts off rugged and off-times steep, one doesn’t reach the Park entrance until the 4 km marker. Even here, one is not totally away from civilization. A small facility at Llano Bonito Refuge offers water and bathrooms. First-day target, Crestones Base Camp offers dormitory-style accommodations, cold showers and a restaurant. Because nights get quite cold, hikers may wish to bring their own heavy sleeping bag to augment the rather light bedding of the dormitory. The general desire of most hikers is to see the sun rise from the summit of Cerro Chirripo, so an early start is required. If trekkers make it to the top before dawn, on clear days they can see both the Pacific and the Caribbean, and the many small shimmering lakes below the mountain summit. After a few short hours atop Costa Rica’s highest mountain, hikers must retrace their steps and head back down into the valley, taking away nothing but photographs and beautiful memories.

Those who hike Costa Rica will likely be back to experience some of the other trails in the region. Crestones Base Camp serves as the gateway to Cerro Ventisqueros, the country’s second-highest peak and to the unusual rock spires of Los Crestones, namesake of the facility. The Lagos Chirripo are little-studied. Until the US military, who happened to be performing helicopter training in the area, agreed to transport a team of scientists and their equipment to the lake and retrieve them later, there was no way to bring the needed instruments to the lakes to take measurements. Their surveys included only Laguna Grande de Chlrripo, so we have no specifics on the other two, smaller lakes in the chain.

This is one of Costa Rica’s great hikes. Only those willing to put forth the effort to reach Cerro Chirripo’s summit will ever see these pristine lakes. So, come where so few have gone before. The views from the summit are a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

Things to do at Lagos Chirripo

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Camping
  • Hiking
  • Horseback Riding
  • Birding
  • National Park

Lagos Chirripo Photo Gallery

Lagos Chirripo Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Not Dammed

Surface Area: 13 acres

Shoreline Length: 1 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 11,549 feet

Average Depth: 27 feet

Maximum Depth: 72 feet

Water Volume: 361 acre-feet

Drainage Area: 1 sq. miles

Trophic State: Oligotrophic

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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