Tapanti: Remote and Reachable Day Hike from San José
If you look up a map of Tapantí/Macizo de la Muerte National Park, and look to the southeast, you will see that there are no roads and no towns all the way to the Panama border and beyond. This huge swath of jungle is the wildest, most protected and least explored region in all of Costa Rica.
Tapantí, about an hour and a half from San José near Orosi, southeast of Cartago, is where the road ends. Or, as REM says, “it’s the end of the world as we know it.”
Tapantí is among the lesser-known parks in Costa Rica, with 80 percent of its visitors being Ticos looking for a weekend getaway for a picnic and a walk in the park. Among the attractions: great birdwatching, two easily walkable trails and one steep, tough, dense, up-and-down trail that would be challenging for anyone. But I managed to do all three in three hours. There’s also a mirador, a lookout at the top of some mossy stairs, with a view of El Salto Waterfall gushing from the mountainside on the other side of Río Grande de Orosi. And you can take a dip in the cold, clean river, which is part of the headwaters of the Reventazón.
This is the second-largest terrestrial national park in Costa Rica, at 58,495 hectares, and an astonishing 150 rivers are said to originate here. In fact, half the water consumed in the greater San José area comes from here. There are roughly 350 bird species here, and some 80 mammals, mostly bats and rodents, but also big cats, tapirs, wild pigs and of course monkeys.
For some easy hiking, or to find a good picnic spot, try the 1.2km Oropendola trail or the 1.5km La Pava/Catarata trail. For something more hardcore, take on the 2km Árboles Caídos — which a park ranger told me that mountaineers use to train for climbing Mount Chirripó, Costa Rica’s tallest mountain. Insect repellent is highly recommended on this trail, as you may be swarmed by bugs.
To get here with your own vehicle, take the main highway from San José to Cartago and follow the signs to Paraíso and Orosi.
Pulling out of Orosi, bear left with the main road and you’ll cross a little bridge, then take a quick right and you’ll see signs for Tapantí. You can also take a bus to Orosi and find a taxi from there.
Admission is $10 for foreigners and 800 colones for nationals.
The park is open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., though special accommodations can be made for birders who want to arrive at 6 a.m.