Hiking in Costa Rica
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Costa Rica is filled with national parks, wildlife refuges, and private reserves, making this beautiful country a paradise for hiking enthusiasts.
Costa Rica’s hiking trails are incredibly diverse. You’ll find all types of terrain here—including lush rainforests, sandy beaches, and cloud forests, so you’ll never be bored. Plus, you’ll find plenty of hiking trails in Costa Rica for all skill levels, regardless of whether you enjoy leisurely beach strolls or challenging mountain adventures.
Learn everything you need to know before hiking in Costa Rica, including what to wear and how to stay safe, and then discover all the best hikes in Costa Rica to enjoy during your tropical vacation.
What Should I Know Before Hiking in Costa Rica?
Costa Rica’s dry season runs from December to April and is known for its warm, sunny weather. The dry season is also Costa Rica’s high season since many tourists plan their trips during this time. While the dry season is ideal for hiking, it’s important to note you may run into several tourists on the trails, and guided tours will be more expensive and will book out further in advance.
Alternatively, Costa Rica’s green season (or wet season) is known for its moist, rainy conditions and lasts from May to November. While you’ll be able to enjoy lush, green vegetation and beautiful blooms during the green season, you’ll also have to deal with rainy weather and occasional downpours, which may conflict with your hiking plans. However, the green season is Costa Rica’s slow season, so you can enjoy lower prices on hotels, flights, and tours when you travel during this time.
It’s also important to note that most hikes in Costa Rica are within the country’s national parks. You’ll need to pay a fee, usually ranging somewhere between $10 – $20, to enter the park, and from there, you’ll have access to the trails. Some national parks, like Corcovado National Park, and other hiking experiences, like Mount Chirripo, require you to make a reservation or book a tour, so do your research before heading out on your hiking expedition.
Also, please remember to Leave No Trace when you’re hiking in Costa Rica. Leave what you find, be considerate of others, and bring any trash, like food wrappers and water bottles, off the trail with you
What Should I Wear When Hiking in Costa Rica?
If you’re hiking during the rainy season, it’s ideal to bring a rain jacket in case it downpours. You may want to avoid wearing cotton, as it tends to absorb water, and wear synthetic fabrics, like polyester and nylon, that are great at wicking away moisture from the skin. If you’re hiking a longer trail, wearing waterproof hiking boots is ideal, but for shorter trails, regular tennis shoes are suitable. For beach or waterfall hikes, you may even want to wear hiking sandals so that you can dip your toes in the water during or after the hike.
You should also wear sunscreen and bug repellent to protect your skin, and it’s wise to bring a hat or sunglasses to shade your face from the sun. You can bring extra sunscreen, bug spray, and other items you’ll need, like water, snacks, or a beach towel, in a backpack.
Tips for Staying Safe While Hiking in Costa Rica
Chances are, you’re excited to begin exploring all the beaches, rainforests, and volcanoes that Costa Rica has to offer, but before you begin your adventure, it’s important to keep the following safety information in mind:
- Leave early for your hikes to ensure you don’t get stuck on a trail in the dark. Additionally, many hikes in Costa Rica are located in national parks that close at specific times. Be sure to familiarize yourself with your park’s schedule before taking off on a trail.
- Check the forecast before hiking to ensure the weather conditions are favorable. Rainstorms are common in the green season, and volcanic activity can also impact the safety of a trail, so talk with the park rangers to ensure the trail you’d like to hike is safe and open before your adventure.
- Bring the proper safety equipment, like a first-aid kit, multipurpose tool, flashlight, and whistle to help you if you get lost, injured, or need to call for help.
- Pack food and water to ensure you stay full and hydrated during your trip. It’s wise to bring an insulated water bottle, like a HydroFlask or Yeti, to keep your water cool in the hot sun. You should always bring more food and water than you think you need in the unlikely event you get lost.
- Hike with a buddy to ensure you don’t get stranded in the rainforest alone. If you have to hike alone, tell someone where you’re going. Many hiking destinations in Costa Rica are in remote areas, making it difficult to call for help.
Hire a Guide
Guides rely on tourism colones for support and are often the best experts on local routes and lore. They can often spot the tiny bat, camouflaged critter, angry viper, tapir tracks or sleeping monkey you would otherwise walk right past!
Use park-approved guides where available. Costa Rica has a well-developed tourism industry and certified guides often specialize in different aspects of the flora, fauna and geology of the places where they work. One guide might highlight native trees and medicinal plants while another may be a knowledgeable ornithologist.
17 Best Hikes in Costa Rica
Tenorio Volcano National Park
The Rio Celeste Waterfall Hike is a 4.3-mile roundtrip, well-marked trail that follows the river and offers stunning views of the rainforest and waterfall along the way. It’s a moderately challenging hike that requires you to trek down steep steps and climb over tree roots and muddy patches. However, the views are worth the challenging climb!
In order to access the Rio Celeste Waterfall Hike, you’ll need to pay the $12 admission fee to enter Tenorio Volcano National Park.
Corcovado National Park
Visitors to Corcovado National Park must be accompanied by a guide, so all hikes in the national park will be guided by a ranger. Admission into the park is $16.95. One of the most popular hikes in Corcovado National Park is the La Leona Madrigal Trail—an easy 6.3-mile out-and-back trek along the Pacific Coast that’s great for inexperienced hikers.
Manuel Antonio National Park
Two of the most popular hiking trails in Manuel Antonio National Park include the El Manglar (Mangrove) Trail and the Perezoso (Sloth) Trail. The Mangrove Trail has a comprehensive, flat, well-marked platform you can walk on, making it an easy hike for kids or those who may experience mobility issues, and it leads you to a quiet beach. If you continue straight, however, you’ll reach the Sloth Trail, which leads to Manuel Antonio Beach, the most popular beach in the national park. This trail is also paved and is 0.4 miles long.
If you’re looking for more challenging trails in this park, check out the Miradores Trail, Playa Gemelas Trail, Puerto Escondido Trail, Punta Cathedral Trail, and Los Congos Trail. You’ll likely spot monkeys and tropical birds on these trails too!
Arenal Volcano National Park
When you arrive at Arenal National Park, after you pay the $15 admission fee, head to the park ranger station at the park’s entrance. Then, we recommend proceeding to the Las Coladas Trail. This easy trail is just under two miles, but it’s a great way to see Arenal Volcano and Lake Arenal. However, there are tons of trails in Arenal Volcano Park, so grab a map at one of the ranger stations and find the trails that work best for you!
La Fortuna is a small town at the base of Arenal Volcano. La Fortuna is known for its luxury resorts, natural hot springs, and jaw-dropping volcanic views. It’s also known for the La Fortuna Waterfall—a spectacular waterfall that falls 200 feet off a cliff into a blue pool surrounded by mossy hillsides, large boulders, and tropical rainforest. It’s a beautiful sight to behold! However, the only way to reach the La Fortuna Waterfall is the La Fortuna Waterfall Hike.
The La Fortuna Waterfall Hike includes a trek down a 500-step staircase built into a hillside. Although it only takes about ten minutes to walk down and twenty minutes to walk up, it’s a strenuous climb, so only those in good health should attempt this hike. If you’re up for the challenge, however, the views of the waterfall are worthwhile.
Tip: Bring your swimsuit. Although swimming at the waterfall’s base isn’t permitted, you can travel a bit downstream and swim there to cool off after your hike.
Mistico Hanging Bridges Park
The Arenal Hanging Bridges Hike in Arenal Hanging Bridges Hike is one of the best hanging bridge hikes in Costa Rica. This trail leads you across ten regular bridges and six hanging bridges, so you can see wildlife like birds and monkeys through the dense rainforest.
Cerro Chirripo National Park
Experienced hikers shouldn’t miss the chance to climb Mount Chirripo—the highest peak in Costa Rica. Mount Chirripo stands at 12,533 feet tall and is actually the tallest mountain in Central America!
Mount Chirripo should be attempted by serious hikers only. Although the hike is only 11 miles long, you gain over 10,000 feet in elevation, so it’s best to take your time and soak in the scenery. You’ll need to spend the night during the hike, and most travelers recommend Crestones Base Camp as a good midway point.
Rincon de la Vieja National Park
The Rincon de la Vieja National Park is also filled with many of the best hikes in Costa Rica, including one of the most challenging trails—the trail to the Rio Negro Hot Springs. The ten-mile route takes you under a thick rainforest canopy but will loop back around to the hot springs so that you can relax in the natural pools after your hike.
If you’re looking for more moderate trails, the park offers two waterfall trails, the Escondia Waterfall Trail (5.3 miles) and La Cangreja Waterfall Trail (6.2 miles). If there isn’t any volcanic activity, you can also embark on the five-mile trek up the volcano.
Barra Honda National Park
The Cerro Barra Honda Loop is a moderately challenging 4.7-mile trail that remains relatively untouched so that you won’t encounter many other hikers, and you can see the caves along the way.
Admission to the park is $10, but once you’re inside, you’ll have complete access to the hiking trails and caves. However, if you’d like to venture into the caves, keep in mind you’ll need a tour guide.
Santa Rosa National Park
There are several excellent trails in Santa Rosa National Park, but two of the best that you can reach and complete within a day are the Sendero Los Patos Trail and the Mirador Valle Naranjo Trail. The former is a short 1.2-mile out-and-back hike with a lookout of the valley and ocean in the distance. The latter is even shorter, an 0.8-mile out-and-back trail, but ends with a beautiful view of Orange Beach and the famous Witch’s Rock in the distance.
Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve
The Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve offers tons of guided hikes, including an educational tour, natural history walk, and birdwatching tour that will allow you to acquaint yourself with flora and fauna in the cloud forest. While hiking in the cloud forests, you can see jaguars, ocelots, hundreds of other mammals, and many birds, including the quetzal.
While exploring the cloud forests in Monteverde, don’t miss the opportunity to visit some of the other attractions in the area, like the Monteverde Butterfly Gardens and Children’s Eternal Rainforest.
Bajos del Toro
Santa Juana Mountain Tour
The Santa Juana Mountain Hike is a 45-minute drive away from Quepos and Manuel Antonio National Park. It’s a short distance from most locations on the Central Pacific Coast.
This moderate hike will take you into the Fila Chonta Mountains, where you’ll be able to see mountain streams feeding into the Pacific Ocean, and you can take a refreshing swim underneath the waterfalls. During the hike, you’ll also be able to see regional wildlife, including birds, reptiles, insects, and fish.
When you embark on the Santa Juana Mountain Tour, you’ll also have the opportunity to enjoy other activities throughout the day, like horseback riding, catch-and-release fishing, and a visit to a traditional sugar cane powered by oxen.
Poás Volcano National Park
If you’re looking for some of the most spectacular views in Costa Rica, the Poás Volcano Hike is one that you definitely can’t miss.
This 2.8-mile hike overlooks an active volcano that has erupted over 40 times since the early 1800s. You can see the clear blue lake at the surface and the smoking vents if you’re hiking on a clear day. Poás Volcano National Park also includes a crater lake—Lake Botos—surrounded by a cloud forest that is worth exploring. You can add the trek to the crater lake onto the Poás Volcano Hike if you’d like a more strenuous option with even more jaw-dropping views.
Poás Volcano is one of the most active volcanoes in the country, so access to the hike can often be restricted. Check with the park to ensure the trail is open before driving to Poás Volcano National Park for your hike.
Tortuguero National Park
You may notice that many of the best hiking trails in Costa Rica are located on the western side of the country, but if you’re looking for great hiking on Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast—don’t worry! There are plenty of great trails on this side of the country, including the Gavilan Trail in Tortuguero National Park.
Cahuita National Park
The Cahuita Rainforest Trail is the primary hiking trail in this national park. It begins at the Kelly Creek Ranger Station and winds almost six miles through the rainforest before ending at Puerto Vargas. Though this trail is longer, the terrain is easy to navigate, and the incline is gradual, making this hiking trail ideal for beginners.
Llanos de Cortez Waterfall Hike
Years ago, the Llanos de Cortez Waterfall Hike was a local secret that was hard to locate. Today, the falls are easily accessible, the trail and parking improved, and the entrance regulated.