The way of the cross is a challenging hike to some great views

Hikers gather around the first of three crosses on the ascent and enjoy a spectacular view of the Central Valley. Even here, nothing is out of the range of graffiti artists.

For those with a craving for intense exercise and only a day to spare, a hike up to La Cruz de Alajuelita is one that should not be missed.

As the name implies, the path leads to the top of a large cross at the top of a mountain south of Escazú, affording hikers with a fantastic views of the entire Central Valley.

Erosion created this canyon that has to be climbed with hands and feet.

However, those views of the valley come at a price of walking, and sometimes climbing, a steep, rough and rocky trail that ascends to more than 2,036 meters (6,617 feet) above sea level, about 800 meters above San José. Even the fittest hikers should expect the trail to take at least four hours to complete not including time to drive or bus to and from the trailhead. Less fit but equally adventurous people should factor in extra time.

Built in 1933 to commemorate the 1,900th anniversary of the death and resurrection of Jesus, according to Christian tradition, the cross stands 26 feet tall and can be seen on a clear day from most of San José.

Second cross is made of thin pieces of metal and rests atop a concrete bunker.

Although it was and is a popular hike for locals, it earned a grim reputation when seven women were gunned down there on Palm Sunday 1986 in the debut of the infamous “psychopath” serial killer who is attributed with murders of 12 additional people over the next decade.

However, evidence of this crime has long faded, and the occasional cast-aside pieces of garbage and graffiti serve as evidence that the trail is safe and frequented.

The hike starts in a small town called San Antonio at the base of the mountain, and, unlike some of Costa Rica’s more well-known destinations, there is no parking lot or trail head to indicate that the hike starts.

The easiest way to find the trail is to take the El Llano bus from downtown San José and ask the driver to announce when he gets to the stop for La Cruz de Alajuelita. Then would-be hikers can ask locals where to go from there.

The bus lets hikers off at a small convenience store, and they can start the ascent immediately, following the intimidatingly steep paved road on the right when getting off the bus.

Once found, the trail is easy to follow if difficult to walk. But the tricky part is following a series of paved, dirt and gravel roads and a few shortcuts between them before the beginning of trail. If possible, expats should go with a local who has braved the trail before or should get thorough, understandable directions.

Passing along farms tucked into the side of the mountains on these roads, the trail is easy to miss. It starts where there is a gap in the barb wire separating two farms, and the ascent begins in earnest.

Although the trail is named for the cross at the top, there are actually three crosses on the path. Twoo crosses were added later on, according to guide Mario Solís, in order to indicate to hikers that they are following the right path.

Solís, who led a group of 20 students from the language school where he works along the path last week. He said the main cross was built many decades ago, and it was built more because it is a Latin American tradition to have a large Catholic symbol built over city. Rio de Janeiro has its white statue of Jesus.

The crosses themselves are basic, unadorned aside from graffiti, and not much to look at, they do mark the best views of the Central Valley, and Solís recommends stopping to take in the view for at least 15 minutes at each cross.

The hike is not long in terms of distance, but the relatively quick ascent on difficult terrain takes a toll. Within minutes, the group led by Solís broke up into a large group of people in shape for the hike and several smaller groups of stragglers.

After a steep walk up over a farm lined with barbed wire and a short climb through a densely wooded hillock, the first cross comes into view. It is about 15 feet tall, made of light-gray concrete adorned with lots of graffiti and surrounded by a meadow of lush and overgrown grass.

After that, the trails routinely winds through small groves of lush rainforest and out into open areas that appeared susceptible
to mud slides if the rain is hard enough. In other areas it seemed like erosion from rain created the path, carving small canyons in red clay that need to be ascended using hands and feet.

After 30 to 40 minutes a hiker comes to second cross, which is made of thin pieces of rusty metal, perched on top of a ziggurat-like concrete bunker, surrounded by a grassy field that is well-groomed by the cows that graze nearby. They might curiously meander up to the hikers as they take a break. A barbed wire fence separates the trail from the cross to keep the cows from wandering away, but a built-in gap in the fence allows hikers to squeeze through and look more closely at the cross.

Solís led those who could keep up with his pace up the mountain quickly in order to take an even more rustic trail down the other side of the mountain before the rains set in. Stragglers turned back at the second cross also to avoid the rains.

However, even though both crosses offer phenomenal views, Solís insists that the best view is from the third cross, which is much larger than the other two and made of metal beams.

Although Solís prefers sliding down a steep, grassy hill on the other side of the mountain, the quickest way down is to simply backtrack along the trail, which will go by considerably faster the trip up the mountain.

Regardless of how far up the mountain a hiker goes, a day trip to La Cruz de Alajuelita is rewarding for anyone in need of a moderately strenuous hike that is not too far from home. They just need to bring water and lunch, expect to get dirty and carry a camera.

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