San Isidro travel guide

After a chilly ride over Cerro de la Muerte, a spectacular descent into San Isidro de El General brings you halfway back into tropical climes. With its clean, country-town atmosphere and bustling commercial centre, San Isidro is regarded by foreign residents and Ticos alike as an attractive place to live. Plan your trip to San Isidro with our guide to San Isidro — based on the The Rough Guide to Costa Rica, your travel guide for Costa Rica.

The best travel tips for visiting San Isidro

Though there’s not much in the way of sights beyond the modern Catedral San Isidro on the Parque Central (just off the Interamericana), the town is close to Costa Rica’s tallest mountain. Namely, Cerro Chirripó.

San Isidro also boasts several exuberant festivals associated with local agriculture — pineapples grow particularly well here. The town hosts an agricultural fair in the first week in February on the Parque Central. This sees farmers don their finery, put their produce up for competition and sell fresh food in the streets.

May is the month of San Isidro – patron saint of farmers and animals – and is celebrated with fiestas, ox-cart parades, dog shows and the erection of gaudy Ferris wheels.

The twice-weekly indoor Farmers’ Market (known simply as the feria) is one of the region’s biggest, with over two hundred vendors. It's held at Feria del Agricultor; Av 6, at C 5, Thurs 6am–4pm, Fri 7am–noon.

Cerro Chirripo-costa-rica-shutterstock_496152256

Cerro Chirripo, Costa Rica © Shutterstock

Top attractions and things to do in San Isidro

San Isidro is a beautiful, but little-visited city in Costa Rica. Especially for nature lovers, there is plenty to do to keep you entertained for a few days. We've listed the best things to do.

#1 Explore Parque Nacional Chirripó

About 20km northeast of San Isidro, Parque Nacional Chirripó is named after Cerro Chirripó, which looms at its centre. At 3820m (12,533ft), this is the highest peak in Costa Rica, and indeed all of Central America, south of Guatemala.  

The park’s terrain varies widely, according to altitude, from cloudforest to rocky mountaintops. Chirripó is also the only place in Costa Rica where you can observe vestiges of the glaciers that scraped across here about thirty thousand years ago.

Many mammals live in the park, and you may see spider monkeys as you climb from the lower mountain to the montane rainforest.

Your best bet for bird-spotting is in the lower elevations. Along the oak and cloudforest sections of the trail you may spot hawks, trogons, woodpeckers and even quetzals. Note that in the cold and inhospitable terrain higher up, you’ll only see robins and hawks.

For more nature and wildlife inspiration, read up on the most beautiful national parks in Costa Rica.

#2 Climbing the Cerro Chirripó

Almost everyone who climbs Chirripó goes up to the Albergue El Páramo first, rests there overnight, and then takes another day or two to explore the summit and surrounding peaks. It's not really feasible to climb Chirripó in one day.  

On the first day most hikers make the strenuous 14.5km trek to the Albergue El Páramo at 3350m. Reckon on a minimum of six hours if you’re very fit (and the weather is good), twelve hours or more if you’re not.  

On the second day you can make the albergue your base while you hike to the summit and back, which is easily done in a day, perhaps taking in some of the nearby lagoons. During high season, you’ll have company on the path up the mountain. The trail is well marked with signs stating the altitude and the distance to the summit.

Watch out for altitude sickness, though. If you find yourself short of breath, and experiencing pins and needles, nausea and exhaustion, stop and rest. If symptoms persist, descend immediately.  

The trailhead is about 100m uphill from Hotel y Restaurante Urán, a little over a kilometre northeast and on the opposite side of the river from the centre of San Gerardo de Rivas.  

#3 Visit San Gerardo de Rivas

At the doorstep of the Parque Nacional Chirripó, the small community of San Gerardo de Rivas caters to a steady stream of hikers intent on making the trek up the mountain.  

Both San Gerardo de Rivas and the village of Rivas, eight kilometres to the south, have a few pleasant places to stay and eat, with a stunning backdrop to boot.

Best areas to stay in San Isidro

Some of the area’s best accommodation lies northeast of town, 6km or so along the road to Rivas. There are few recommended options in the centre of San Isidro itself.

    Best places to stay in San Isidro

  • Bosque del Tolomuco: a friendly B&B nestled in the cloudforest above San Isidro (14km north of town), this is popular with birders and hikers.
  • Hotel Chirripó: the budget choice in town, this has simple rooms with a decent restaurant on-site. Breakfast included.

Explore more places to stay in San Isidro.

    Best restaurants and bars in San Isidro.

  • La Casa del Marisco: this central spot serves up some of the best seafood in San Isidro, with ceviche a speciality, and huge portions.
  • La Reina del Valle: popular with locals, expect hearty casados, ceviche and shrimp dishes, washed down with bottles of local beer. 
  • Urban Farm Cafe: the best place for breakfast, this contemporary, vegan-friendly café, serves breakfast wraps, and larger plates like huevos rancheros and macadamia pancakes.

Find out more about eating and drinking in Costa Rica.


Ceviche is a sure-fire winner on San Isidro menus © Shutterstock

How many days do you need in San Isidro?

Being a small agricultural town, you won’t need more than a day or two in San Isidro. 

That said, given that San Isidro offers access to Parque Nacional Chirripó, it can be worth staying longer in the area, not least if you want to experience active adventures, and authentic Costa Rican life. This is especially true during the February and May festivals.

In addition, San Isidro serves as a gateway to the Osa Peninsula, one of our recommended best places to visit in 2023. This area is also one of Costa Rica’s best walking destinations, and among its most biodiverse regions.  

If you're keen to experience Costa Rica’s wildlife and nature, our customisable Costa Rica eco-adventure tour kicks-off on the Osa Peninsula. 

What is the best time to visit San Isidro?

If you’re planning to explore Parque Nacional Chirripó or climb Cerro Chirripó, the best time to visit San Isidro is during the dry season. This runs from December to April. 

Happily, the dry season coincides with the annual farmers festival that takes place in San Isidro in the first week of February. 

Alternatively, to join the festivities celebrating San Isidro, the patron saint of farmers and animals, you’ll want to visit in May. Parades and shows are held through the month.

For more on the best time to visit different destinations in Costa Rica, read our guide to when to go to Costa Rica.


Resplendent quetzal, Costa Rica © Shutterstock

How to get to San Isidro

By bus

San Isidro’s main bus terminal is adjacent to the town’s central market at Av 6, C Central/2, but most buses from here head to local destinations such as San Gerardo de Rivas.

To and from San José and most other destinations further afield, Tracopa buses stop at the terminal on the Interamericana and C 3, while the MUSOC station is at Av 3, C 2/4.

If you’re travelling south from San Isidro to Palmar, Golfito or Paso Canoas, it’s better to get a bus that originates in San Isidro rather than one that’s coming through from San José. They’re often full and you could find yourself standing all the way to Panama.

For more transportation tips, read our guide to getting around Costa Rica.

Looking for more inspiration? Read up on the best things to do in Costa Rica, and get yourself a copy of The Rough Guide to Costa Rica.

Our customisable Costa Rica itineraries are also packed with ideas.

We may earn commission when you click on links in this article, but this doesn’t influence our editorial standards. We only recommend services we genuinely believe will enhance your travel experiences.

Top image: resplendent quetzal, Costa Rica © Ondrej Prosicky/Shutterstock

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Rough Guides Editors

written by
Rough Guides Editors

updated 16.02.2023

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