After our 16-hour hike up AND down Cerro Chirripo in ONE day, we knew the next day would be dedicated to one thing, and one thing only: recovery.
Imagine waking up and your body doesn’t work. There’s so much pain in your joints that you don’t even notice the intense soreness in your muscles until 2 days later. Even walking up the 5 stairs to the bathroom triggers haunting flashbacks of trudging uphill in a mindless daze that would bring Sisyphus to tears. All you can do is dream of the thermal baths down the road and the sensation of complete relaxation and weightlessness as you float in the 90 degree water pouring into an infinity pool, carved into the rainforest rocks by the magnificent waterfall of volcanic-heated, crystal clear water. A light cool mountain rain starts to drizzle on your face just as all of the muscles in your body and face begin to soften. The heat covers your skin and you imagine a silence so sweet, it's almost meditative.
And then you open your eyes...
Arriving to the baths, make sure and drive across the bridge and ALL the way up the hill. For us, reality set in when our legs started burning after another ½ kilometer hike uphill in the rain. Inside the thermal bath office, the C3,500 (about $6USD) cost to enter was prominently displayed across the top of the very sparse notebook, serving as a sign-in sheet. And being that the last person to sign the paper had dated it two days prior, we expected to walk up to an empty, serene oasis. It's completely packed, and while dodging bodies and kicking legs in the pool, we quickly realized we'd probably signed in on the tourist list (for gringos) where the previous page of the book probably held the local's entry price... assuming there even was one. And suddenly that relaxation and rejuvenation you’d been dreaming about all morning is now even further than you knew was possible. What you just paid $6 for, just isn't worth $6 at all.
Not 10 meters away from you is the niño pool full of 15-20 Tico kids splashing and screaming. Not to mention the additional 20 tween, teen, and adult locals splashing and yelling in the 15x20 broken-tiled bath tub they're calling a thermal “spa”. You find yourself desperately searching for even an ounce of serenity; your body still aching to heal itself. Forcing yourself to relax, you close your eyes and try to ignore every loud shriek of laughter that stuns your ears or accidental splash of water that hits your face…
Eventually you give up and realize a nap at the hostel is where you should have been the whole time.
It's all about timing and expectations. But it’s hard for your ears not to perk up at the sound of natural hot springs when visiting the mountains in a rainforest in Central America.
Would we recommend the thermal baths after our experience? Maybe. But definitely know what you’re getting into. And don’t lust over it for 10 hours while your body is breaking down as you descend Cerro Chirripo, because it may end up being far from the spa you envisioned. In fact, we're almost sure there was a hot spring on the hike up to the office (through the forest to the left, across a bridge you'll find a waterfall). We'd stumbled upon it earlier, but were too tired to give it another go. If you make it to this area, test the water yourself because no one was around and we could feel the warmth rising from the rocks. As with any under-visited location, exercise caution because we can't vouch for the depth, temperature or safety. But we're positive it would be quieter and you can enjoy your own actual waterfall.
Nothing to do now but chalk this up as another lesson learned… and maybe find a cheap massage.