Over a quarter of Costa Rica’s landscape is protected by its comprehensive system of national parks, wildlife refuges and biological reserves. Hikes in Costa Rica may take you deep into the verdant rainforest, past mud pools or along surf-lashed beaches. To help you plan your trip, we've picked the best hikes in Costa Rica.
The information in this article is inspired by The Rough Guide to Costa Rica, your essential guide for visiting Costa Rica.
Standing proud in the centre of the park, Poás is one of the world’s more easily accessible active volcanoes. You can reach it by public transport from San José and Alajuela – with an eleven-million-year history of eruptions.
You can take your pick from the very well-maintained, short and unchallenging trails which weave through the park’s unusual dwarf cloudforest. The Crater Overlook Trail, which winds around the main crater along a paved road, is only 750m long and is accessible to wheelchairs and pushchairs. If you want to see more Costa Rica experiences for families, check out our guide to the 30 best places to go with kids.
This tough 20km trek through the dense rainforest (allow 9 hours) gives experienced hikers the chance to spot some of Costa Rica’s more elusive large mammals, such as the tapir and collared peccary. The Los Patos-Sirena route starts near the village of Rincón de Osa, which runs a programme to train locals as naturalist guides.
Everyone trekking in Corcovado must be accompanied by a guide, and they tend to enrich your experience; the guides at Rincón are taught to identify some of the approximately 370 species of bird recorded in the area, not to mention the amphibians, reptiles, insects, mammals and plants. Ask in Rincón or at the Oficina de Área de Conservación Osa in Puerto Jiménez for details.
The multi-day hike up Costa Rica’s highest peak – 3820m (12,533ft) – is one of the best hikes in Costa Rica. It is a long but varied ascent through cloud forest and paramo to rocky mountaintop. On a clear morning, you can see right across to the Pacific.
The services of a guide can be both useful and illuminating, as they’ll be able to help you identify local species and interpret the landscapes you pass through. Ask at the ranger station at the entrance for recommendations.
Costa Rica’s premier ecotourism destination flourishes with primitive ferns and has more kinds of plants, birds and butterflies than the whole of Europe. 367 species of bird alone have been identified here. The wonderfully remote, wildlife-rich Reserva Rara Avis has a 30km network of excellent trails, which are well marked and offer walks of thirty minutes to several hours.
Given the effort it takes to reach the reserve, it’s worth staying for a couple of nights and exploring. The informative guided walks are a great opportunity for spotting some of the reserve’s abundant wildlife. Night walks are also possible, and show you a different side of the rainforest.
For more detailed information about parks and nature reserves, read our guide to the best Costa Rica National Parks to visit.
This two-day trek from Monteverde to the research station on the eastern edge of the Bosque Eterno de los Niños, Costa Rica’s largest private reserve, is arguably one of the best hikes in Costa Rica for adventure.
It’s real bushwhacking stuff, on unmarked trails (pumas have been spotted around the refuge where you spend the night). You must be escorted by two fully equipped, armed rangers trained in first aid.
This 4.3km round trip (allow 2–4 hours) is perhaps the finest birding trail of any national park in the country – and that’s saying something. It winds through the western half of the park to a croc-filled oxbow lake, home to myriad bird species.
In particular, Carara is one of Costa Rica’s best spots to see the scarlet macaw in its natural habitat – they migrate at dawn and dusk between the lowland forest areas and swampy mangroves, soaring overhead in a burst of red and blue. It’s worth hiring a guide from the visitor centre, 2km south of the trail entrance, as there are some areas visitors can’t access when unaccompanied.
This terrific 6km circuit takes in the best of this memorable national park in the shadow of a smoking volcano. The trail is not too demanding and has recently been updated with smooth concrete pathways and a wheelchair-accessible section.
As such, visiting this park comes recommended for those travelling with kids. See why we listed Costa Rica as one of the mostmagical places to visit with children before they grow up.
It heads past many of the unusual natural features with which the park abounds, including mud pots and geothermal hornillas (literally, “stoves”). These mystical-looking holes in the ground exhale elegant puffs of steam. Make sure not to go nearer than a metre or so, though, or you’ll be steamed in no time.
This Costa Rica waterfall is named after the river that it flows into. This river is known for its incredibly bright turquoise-blue colour, enough to conjure magical stories on how it came into being. The Rio Celeste waterfall is located in Tenorio Volcano National Park in the Guanacaste region, and the waterfall is about an hour's hike from the park entrance.
As well as the waterfall itself, you'll also find here one of the best hikes in Costa Rica as well as lush tropical rainforest teeming with wildlife. You'll find here all sorts of fauna from blue morpho butterflies and dart frogs to all kinds of chattering monkeys.
Located in the South Pacific, only 20 minutes from Dominical, Nauyaca waterfall may not have the impressive drop-offs of La Fortuna or Catarata de Toro. That said, its layout with the upper and lower cascades makes it one of the best hikes in Costa Rica. Hidden deep in the jungle, it's not frequently visited and takes a bit of work to get there (a 4km hike each way).
The hike is a sweaty one, but it's worth the effort – especially as you can refresh yourself with a dip in the water. There's a cost of about $8 to access the trail, but if you fancy an alternate way to explore the falls, the owners of the property offer horseback-riding tours and truck tours.
Located in the famous Arenal Volcano National Park, La Fortuna is one of the most visited waterfalls in Costa Rica. Overlooked by Arenal Volcano, the park is an adventurer's paradise and a perfect place to tick off many classic Costa Rican experiences.
There are multiple activities you can combine with a visit to La Fortuna waterfall, such as the natural hot springs or hiking the famous hanging bridges. This is certainly one of the best hikes in Costa Rica.
Or you can get the adrenaline pumping with a morning's zip-lining. Either way, the thundering falls will be a welcome sight: after the short hike, you can cool off with a dip at the base of the waterfall.
Combine hiking with visiting stunning waterfalls, read our guide and learn the directions you need to go to see the best waterfalls in Costa Rica.
The Hanging Bridges hike is a unique and fascinating experience that gives visitors a chance to explore the rainforest from a different perspective. The hike leads through the lush vegetation of the national park, which is home to many species of plants and animals.
Hanging bridges on this hike vary in length from 8 to 98 metres. Visitors can enjoy spectacular views of the surrounding rainforest and see a variety of wildlife, including howler monkeys, sloths, toucans and hummingbirds.
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