The Inter-American Highway runs from Mexico to Panama, spanning the entire width of Costa Rica. As you drive south, you’ll notice as soon as you enter the Southern Zone as you’ll find yourself surrounded by a display of stunning mountainous terrain that you just can’t ignore. As you near the highest point of the Inter-American Highway, between Cartago and Perez Zeledon, you might notice signs reading “Cerro De La Muerte.” If your Spanish allows, you will realize this sign marks the “Mountain Of Death.” All of the sudden the once beautiful views are nothing more than spine-tingling images screaming your impending death as you notice for the first time how reckless the driving style of the locals seems to be.
Welcome to the Cerro De la Muerte. If you’re into interesting Costa Rica facts, you’ll love the history of this stretch of road. And yes, it is actually still safe to drive.
Amazing Costa Rica Facts: The History Of The Cerro De La Muerte
The History Of The Cerro De La Muerte
While some people read the name of the pass and fearfully question whether or not it’s safe to drive on, The Cerro De La Muerte actually got its name before cars were even on the road! The Cerro De La Muerte derives its name from the deathly consequences suffered by many a traveler who attempted to make the cross on foot or horseback.
Today you will find a much safer, well-paved road ready for cars to traverse safely. In Costa Rica’s history, however, you will find a much more different situation.
Crossing the Cerro De La Muerte meant a three or four-day journey, with at least two nights spend in the cold, rainy highlands. Ill-prepared travelers succumbed to hypothermia or perished from pneumonia later on. Others were taken by the large population of mountain lions that once ruled the region.
Why Did Travelers Try To Cross?
Some travelers braved the conditions of the Cerro De La Muerte in hopes of a better life found by settling into the fertile valley below the mountain, the Valle del General (today San Isidro Del General.) San Isidro is considered to be one of the most beautiful places in Costa Rica and attracted just as many travelers back in the olden days as it does today. 🙂
The second group of travelers faced the deathly conditions of passing the Cerro De La Muerte as they carried goods on their backs from the valley to San Jose. At the time, the valley consisted of nothing more than farmers who were completely reliant on trade with people in San Jose. In order to swap goods with the big city, someone had to be willing to brave the cold and the wild animals.
The final population of travelers making the deathly cross were not even given the choice to begin with. These travelers were convicts, sentenced in San Jose courts and banished to the uninhabited jungle valley of Perez Zeledon. If they successfully completed the pass across the mountain range alive, they were reprieved and allowed to live out their days in the valley.
What’s The Valley Like Today?
Today you will find a different story. Instead of prisoners forced to flee into the jungles of the valley, you will be met by curious hikers and animal lovers, often coming to the area to witness the incredibly rare Quetzal bird. San Isidro is now a flourishing city, recently named as the fastest growing city in all of Central America. Today, the valley is a gorgeous place to escape the tourist cities and spend a few days (weeks, or months… or years) among quiet jungles and authentic Tico towns.
Have you ever crossed the Cerro De La Muerte? What was your experience like? Share your thoughts in the comments below!