The best hikes in Costa Rica

Rough Guides Editors

written by
Rough Guides Editors

updated 31.05.2024

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

1. Volcán Poás, Parque Nacional Volcán Poás

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.

    Where to stay:

  • Lagunillas del Poas - Tico-owned, high-altitude lodge offering rustic rooms and cabinas (sleeping up to four) with simply breathtaking views. You can even catch your dinner from the on-site trout pond, or take a guided hike or horse trot through the surrounding forest.

    What to do:

  • This is the ultimate Costa Rica tailor-made trip. Spend a few days around Arenal volcano & the Cloud Forest Monteverde before heading to the coast. Stay at a beautiful hotel in the Gulf of Papagayo and relax and for some water activities. Return to the Central Valley for another volcano - Poás before heading home.
Poas Volcano, Costa Rica

Poás Volcano crater and lake © Styve Reineck/Shutterstock

2. Sendero Los Patos-Sirena, Parque Nacional Corcovado

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.

    Where to stay:

  • Iguana Lodge Beach Resort and Spa - a wonderful hotel run by very friendly Americans Toby and Lauren. With luxurious “club” rooms and four two-storey casitas in lovely gardens right on the beach – all rooms face the sea and are attractively decorated.

    What to do:

  • The wild south is an unbeatable destination for hikers and nature lovers with a sense of adventure. Try our tailor-made trip to Costa Rica’s Wild South: explore off the beaten path and see Corcovado, a tropical wet forest and one of the most important endangered wildlife sanctuaries in the world.
Tree frog, Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica

Tree frog, Corcovado National Park © Kit Korzun/Shutterstock

3. Cerro Chirripó, Parque Nacional Chirripó

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.

What better way to plan a trip than to rely on personalized experiences? Our content manager has traveled to Costa Rica and shares with you what to consider when planning your trip.

Cerro Chirripo, Costa Rica

View from the summit of Cerro Chirripó © Kevin Wells Photography/Shutterstock

4. Reserva Rara Avis - one of the best hikes in Costa Rica for spotting abundant wildlife

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.

Hummingbird, Rara Avis Reserve, Costa Rica

Violet-headed hummingbird (Klais guimeti), Rara Avis Reserve © Salparadis/Shutterstock

5. Estación Biológica Pocosol, Monteverde

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.

Suspended bridge in rainforest, Costa Rica

Two-day trek from Monteverde is one of the best hikes in Costa Rica for adventure © Dmitry Burlakov/Shutterstock

6. Sendero Laguna Meándrica, Parque Nacional Carara

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.

    Where to stay:

  • Hotel Cerro Lodge: offering an outdoor pool and sun terrace, Cerro Lodge is located in Tárcoles in the Puntarenas Region. Guests can enjoy a meal at the restaurant and free private parking is available on-site.

    What to do:

  • If you prefer to stay in Puntarenas but still want to visit Carara, take a day trip to discover the Tarcoles river (with its crocodiles!) and the Carara Adventure Park with stunning views over the national park.
Scarlet macaw, Carara National Park, Costa Rica

Scarlet macaw, Carara National Park © Colin D. Young/Shutterstock

7. Sendero Las Pailas, Parque Nacional Rincón de la Vieja

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.

    Where to stay

  • Buena Vista del Rincon Adventure Park Hotel & Spa - A working cattle ranch where you can even ride with the cowhands if your horsemanship is up to it. Enjoy stupendous views over Guanacaste and some great trails through pockets of rainforest on the flanks of the volcano and up to the crater.

    What to do

  • Allow yourself some rest after long days of hiking and enjoy a tranquil day at the natural outdoor spa in Rincon de la Vieja.
Rincon de La Vieja National Park, Costa Rica

Rincón de La Vieja National Park © Nicholas Courtney/Shutterstock

8. Rio Celeste Waterfall hike, Tenorio Volcano National Park

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.

    What to do:

  • On this tailor-made trip to Tropical Costa Rica you will visit volcanoes, and take a dip in hot springs. Drift lazily along the country’s waterways and seek out wildlife in tropical lowland forest. Costa Rica’s diverse ecosystem beholds a whole host of natural treasures.
Waterfall and natural pool with turquoise water of Rio Celeste, Costa Rica © Shutterstock

Waterfall and natural pool with turquoise water of Rio Celeste, Costa Rica © Shutterstock

9. Nauyaca Waterfall hike

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.

    What to do:

  • Travel to Nauyaca Waterfall from Manuel Antonio with this group tour. Hike through the forest and go up to the top of the waterfall. Stop for a delicious lunch.
Nauyaca waterfalls with a deep swimming hole and large rocks in the south pacific of Costa Rica Shutterstock

Nauyaca waterfalls with a deep swimming hole and large rocks in the south pacific of Costa Rica @ Shutterstock

10. La Fortuna Waterfall hike

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.


La Fortuna waterfall, Costa Rica @ Shutterstock

11. Hanging Bridges hike in Arenal Volcano National Park

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.

    Where to stay:

  • Volcano Lodge, Hotel & Thermal Experience. Set in lush tropical gardens, at the foot of Costa Rica’s Arenal Volcano Lodge, Hotel & Thermal Experience offers an outdoor pool. Air-conditioned rooms have a terrace.

    What to do:

  • Escape to Arenal for volcanoes, waterfalls and wildlife reserves on our tailor-made trip to Beaches and Volcanoes. Enjoy gentle hikes or partake in adrenaline-fuelled river rafting. Then journey down to Costa Rica’s Central Pacific for some sand and surf fringed by dense forest that’s teeming with wildlife.
Suspended bridge in rainforest, Costa Rica

Hanging Bridge in Arenal Volcano National Park © Shutterstock

When planning your first trip to Costa Rica be sure to check out our list of travel tips for Costa Rica.

Ready for a trip to Costa Rica? Check out the snapshot of The Rough Guide to Costa Rica.

If you prefer to plan and book your trip to Costa Rica without any effort and hassle, use the expertise of our local travel experts to make sure your trip will be just like you dream it to be.

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Rough Guides Editors

written by
Rough Guides Editors

updated 31.05.2024

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