By Douglas Marin
Valle del Chirripo, Costa Rica, Nov 29 (EFE).- At the foot of the tallest mountain in Costa Rica is the Chirripo Valley, a zone filled with natural beauty, local traditions and cuisine that is seeking to attract more and more visitors and become a well-known tourist destination in a country where tourism is one of the main economic engines.
Picturesque rural villages filled with humble residents seeking to maintain their traditions and the imposing Mt. Chirripo, rising to 3,821 meters (12,530-plus feet), are becoming some of the best-known attractions in this part of southern Costa Rica.
However, the attractiveness of the region will multiply if the Chirripo Valley can mobilize itself a bit, given that lovely scenery abounds, along with many species of flora and fauna, rivers flowing with clear water, conservation projects and gastronomic delights that combine a cornmeal base with trout and dairy products.
In 2002, Ian and Jenny Giddy, a South African couple, bought a farm that was practically overgrown with forest and transformed it over the years into the Cloudbridge preserve, the name alluding to the area’s height above sea level, the cloudy conditions and its role as a bridge or corridor for the species that move through the forest.
Cloudbridge executive director Casey Ella McConnell told EFE that the project was conceived with the aim of providing ecosystemic services and also becoming a kind of natural laboratory for local and foreign scientists.
“After 20 years, we’ve managed to reforest 255 hectares (about 638 acres) and conserve 23 hectares (58 acres) more. With the reestablishment of the forest, a lot of wildlife has returned,” McConnell said.
The Pacifica waterfall is one of the jewels of the zone, given that aside from its scenic beauty it shows the cleanliness of the Chirripo Pacifico River near its source in the mountains.
Another of the jewels of the preserve it its wildlife, with cameras set up in the forest having detected all six species of large feline living in Costa Rica, including jaguars and pumas, these being the largest feline species in the Americas, as well as assorted amphibians and more than 300 species of birds, including the colorful quetzal.
“These protection zones are of great importance for Costa Rica because they provide us with ecosystemic services and the opportunities for the Costa Rican people to be able to get to know the forest, nature, to breathe pure air and exercise by hiking,” McConnell said.
Rural community tourism is becoming a key money-maker for this part of the country, an activity that has begun to resurge after the most acute phase of the Covid-19 pandemic that hit the tourism sector hard all around the globe.
In the Chirripo Valley, tourists can visit agricultural projects where apples and mushrooms are grown, other where honey is produced along with various kinds of cheeses, jams and coffee.
The numerous natural landscapes are other big attractions and an example of them is the Piedra de Lucas, a site which is only accessible after a 90-minute hike along a path through the forest but which offers a beautiful view of the valley and the mountains.
Costa Rica tourist authorities and tourism chambers are pushing the local gastronomy as yet another of the country’s tourist attractions.
In the Chirripo Valley, the local dishes are based on cornmeal, for instance tortillas and “chorreada” corn cakes, along with fish like trout and the traditional “gallo pinto,” that is rice and beans seasoned with natural spices and traditional sauces.
The promotional director for the Costa Rican Tourism Institute, Ireth Rodriguez, said that gastronomy opens up many opportunities for rural areas and allows visitors to get to know the local traditions and the history of the various communities.
“We see gastronomy not only as an element that adds value to the tourist experience, but also as an element that helps the wellbeing of the communities because our sustainable tourist development model has the companies consuming local products, which allows more producers to be able to enjoy the benefits of tourist activity,” Rodriguez said.
Tourism is one of Costa Rica’s main economic activities, with the country of 5.1 million residents welcoming more than three million tourists each year before the Covid-19 pandemic and now shooting to attain similar figures once again.