If you have climbed to the top of Cerro Pelado, you surely understand what it is like to be dazzled by a landscape. But between the cool gusts of wind and exhaustion from the hike, perhaps you didn’t notice the absence of safety rails at the viewpoints or that nobody gave you instructions before making the trek.
Cerro Pelado is a tourist destination that has attracted thousands of people for a few years now. However, it wasn’t until last year that the location’s administration began the process of applying for the necessary permits to operate legally and to protect the lives of visitors.
The lack of regulation has generated complaints from area residents, who suffer the consequences of the arrival of the large number of visitors, and from the municipalities of Cañas and Tilaran, who do not receive benefits from the economic activity.
Eliecer Delgado, a Cañas council member, stated during a session of the municipal council that the administrator of Cerro Pelado “is running the business without any control,” making reference to the fact that the attraction does not have operating permits.
“There’s a parking lot and an entrance gate; they charge to go do the hike. They do not have any type of permit or emergency control or [approval] from the Ministry of Health,” he added.
The Voice Checks verified that the tourism project has an order to close from the Ministry of Health because it does not meet all of the security conditions necessary for adventure tourism.
However, the administrator does meet some of the requirements: an insurance policy for visitors and municipal approval to use the land for hiking. In addition, it is processing health and municipal permits to obtain use permits.
“We didn’t know because we are new to this. We had tried to do things according to the law with the insurance policy and the Ministry of Finance…. What happened is that we had never been informed, we had not been inspected or warned or anything,” explained the administrator of Cerro Pelado, Wilbert Barrantes.
Adventurous, But Safe
Between 2017 and 2018, three people died in Cerro Pelado. The first two were due to a forest fire that took them by surprise while camping and the third was struck by lightning during a thunderstorm, according to a report from the Red Cross of Cañas, of which The Voice Checks has a copy.
The institution has also faced problems during large events held on the hill. During one such occasion, an accident could not be handled properly because vehicles blocked the entryway, says the same document.
In October 2013, the Ministry of Health temporarily closed Cerro Pelado because it does not comply with the physical and health requirements for operation, according to a document provided to The Voice Checks by the Tilaran Area Department of Health.
The administrator, Barrantes, admitted that he has received notifications from the Ministry of Health that indicated the changes that have to be made, the first time by telephone and then in person. “We took a tour and they explained to us what the handrails should be like, the guardrails, where the signs should go, a stretcher should be on hand for rescues, an extinguisher, etc.,” he added.
However, on January 28 of this year, the Ministry of Health conducted another inspection of Cerro Pelado and verified that the tourist attraction continues to operate despite the closure order. Barrantes’ lawyer, Angel Roberto Reyes, affirmed that they filed an appeal that allows them to continue operating. However, a document from the Ministry of Health shows that this appeal has been denied already.
Barrantes also confirmed that they currently charge ¢2,000 (about $3.40) admission for each person, although they do not have a municipal license, which, according to the Tilaran License Regulations, is necessary to carry out any lucrative activity.
The Ministry of Health filed a complaint against Barrantes with the Public Ministry for disrespecting the health order, alleging that this is a crime of “disobedience to authority.” The punishment for this infraction ranges from six months to three years in prison, according to article 314 of the Penal Code.
Barrantes says that he is getting the paperwork in order. On February 18, he presented the health operating permit application form to the Tilaran Area Health Department, he has a public liability insurance policy from the National Insurance Institute (INS) on behalf of Cerro Pelado and an emergency plan that he turned in to the Cañas Health Area on May 20. The Voice Checks has a copy of all of these documents.
According to the Ministry of Health and the Municipality of Tilaran, the administration of Cerro Pelado won’t be able to obtain a municipal license and legally charge for admission to the property until it obtains the health operating permit.
Tourism that Benefits Everyone
For the communities that deal with the tourism in Cerro Pelado on a daily basis, the arrival of tourists without control is a constant problem.
The mayor of Cañas, Luis Fernando Mendoza, commented that the municipality has received multiple complaints from the residents of Jabilla de Cañas, the town next to the Inter-American Highway by means of which people enter the hill area, and Solania de Tilaran, where most of the activity is based.
When 200, 300, 400 cars and buses arrive, there is not enough space for parking and then the vehicles and buses park on the road and obstruct normal traffic. If at any time there is a special situation due to a fire or transporting someone gravely ill down that road, the way is blocked,” he added.
The administrator of Cerro Pelado affirmed that he has not organized any large events, such as visits to see meteor showers, even though they are held on the properties that he administers.
“A lot of people were coming with the events that the tour operators were doing. They are the ones who held events. There were problems of lack of discipline in the parking lot and there was not enough space; people parked in the lots of other people and under trees and in an area that is provisionally used as parking,” explained Barrantes.
The mayor of Tilarán commented that the municipality has performed operations together with the Public Police Force and the Ministry of Health to prevent large events from being held without permission, jamming the roads of both cantons.
We are very grateful for the tourist attraction and having a very high visitation. However, it is important that people who perform any type of economic activity comply with the requirements and regulations required to protect the life and integrity of the people who attend those places,” concluded the mayor.