10 Best Hikes in Costa Rica

With 28 national parks, over 50 wildlife refuges, and dozens of nature reserves, Costa Rica is an ideal destination for anyone who loves the outdoors! There are so many opportunities for hiking in Costa Rica that you could spend a lifetime trying to discover all the routes and trails. 

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Over the years, we’ve visited many popular parks across the country and have followed many trails while exploring the lush jungles and national parks of Costa Rica.

But there are so many more on our list!

For those who are hoping to see and experience the best hikes on their short trip, we have narrowed down the eight best hikes in Costa Rica. Whether you prefer roughing it on a challenging trek or taking an easy nature walk, there’s something for everyone in this green, diversity-rich country.

Manuel Antonio National Park, best hikes in costa rica
Manuel Antonio National Park
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The Best Hikes In Costa Rica 

1. Mount Chirripó

Inside Chirripó National Park, you’ll find Mount Chirripó, Costa Rica’s tallest mountain. Rising 3,821 metres (4178 yards) above sea level, this gorgeous peak is a favourite among hikers. You’ll start your hike in the Chirripó cloud forest and emerge above the tree line for a steep and rocky climb to the top.

Chirripó translates to “land of eternal waters,” which gives you an idea of how many lakes, streams, and rivers flow through this beautiful national park. Once you reach the top, the mountain peak allows sweeping views of both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean.

In order to hike Mount Chirripó, you’ll need 2 full days. The trail is about 20km (12.5 miles) one way, and there is a basecamp lodge about halfway up the mountain that you can stay at. Permits are required to complete this hike and must be secured beforehand on the park’s website.

Mount Chirripo Costa Rica
Mount Chirripo, Costa Rica

2. Corcovado National Park

Corcovado is one of the best national parks in Costa Rica. It’s wild, it’s rugged, and it has an amazing mix of terrain ranging from tropical rainforests to pristine beaches to rocky passes and rushing rivers. There are no roads in or out of Corcovado, so you’ll have to hike (or take a boat).

There are 13 different ecosystems within Corcovado, with 2.5% of the world’s biodiversity found within the national park. National Geographic calls it “the most biologically intense place on earth”, with hundreds of species of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, amphibians, and insects all throughout the park.

Hiking in Corcovado is a great opportunity for spotting wildlife. If you’re lucky, you’ll see creatures such as crocodiles, tapirs, boa constrictors, spider monkeys, and even pumas (mountain lions). Just be aware that some of the animals can be quite aggressive and dangerous, so it’s important to be vigilant.

Corcovado National Park has 5 different sectors: San Pedrillo, Sirena, La Leona, Los Patos, and El Tigre. San Pedrillo is the closest ranger station to Drake Bay, just a 30-minute boat ride away. It has two trails: the Catarata-San Pedrillo (1.5km or 0.9mi) and the Llorana trail (7km or 4.3mi), which take about 2-3 hours each. San Pedrillo is known more for its primary forest and unique fauna. 

When it comes to wildlife viewing, Sirena Station is the most popular one. There are lots of local trails here, over 20km (12.45mi) in total, with most of them being flat and not too challenging. 

Meanwhile, La Leona is a moderate trail with a 3.5km (2.2mi) coastal hike that also doubles as a nesting ground for sea turtles during nesting season from July to December. 

For the highest views of the Corcovado National Park, El Tigre offers a great mirador (lookout point). The trail is moderate at 7km (4.3mi) long, though there are particularly steep and strenuous sections. The uneven terrain takes about 5 hours in total, leading you to a stunning mirador over Golfo Dulce. 

Lastly, there’s Los Patos with challenging trails for more serious hikers. The most common trail at this station is a 24km (15mi) hike to Sirena Station. The long trail means there is plenty of wildlife to see, but with how dense the forest is and how steep the path can be, your focus will likely stay on the hike itself rather than looking out for any wildlife.

You can choose one sector and do a day trip, or visit multiple spots on a one or two-night overnight trip where you can camp at ranger stations. Whichever option you choose, you’ll need a professional guide. Since a certified guide is required to hike in Corcovado National Park, we recommend hiring one with the Corcovado Info Centre

Best costa rica hiking trails
The entrance of Corcovado National Park, Osa Peninsula

3. Monteverde Cloud Forest

The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is an excellent place for hiking in Costa Rica. This beautiful nature park is lush, full of waterfalls, great nature trails, and sky bridges. The hiking here is easy, with well-kept trails and comparatively short flat routes, so it is possible to hike through most of the reserve over the course of a day.

There are 10 trails in total (about 13km or 8mi), the most popular one being the Cloud Forest Trail (Sendero Bosque Nuboso). At 1.9km (1.2mi) with an elevation gain of 213 feet (65 metres), it takes about 1.5 hours to complete. The route takes you through the thick forest with lots of wildlife and is supposed to be one of the best trails to spot one of the world’s most spectacular birds, the Resplendent Quetzal. 

The other trails are about a mile (1.6km) in length, such as the Swamp Trail, the River Trail, and the Sendero Chomogo Trail, which is the highest trail in the reserve at 5,510 feet (1,680 metres) above sea level. 

It’s fairly simple to find your way around at Monteverde since there are clear maps that point out the different routes you can take. You can also book a guided hiking tour in Monteverde. Either way, you’ll need to pay the USD $25 entrance fee

best cost rica hiking trails
At the fork in the road on the trail inside the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
best hikes in costa rica
On the suspension bridge at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.

4. Rincón De La Vieja National Park

One of the best parks for hiking in Costa Rica is Rincon de la Vieja National Park in Northern Guanacaste. Rincon is easy to get to and offers some of the best hiking trails. The park has some beautiful waterfalls, volcanic craters, massive trees, and lookout points. There are also many opportunities to see geyser vents, mud pits, and dry grasslands. Swimming is popular in this park, so bring a swimsuit! 

Most of the hikes in Rincon de la Vieja National Park are only a few miles long, the longest being 10.5 km (6.5 miles.) One of the easiest and most popular hikes is the Mud Pots trail at Las Pailas, which is an easy loop that takes you through boiling mud pots, fumaroles, mini geysers, and a volcanito (little volcano). If you want to reach the summit, the Active Crater Trail is the best choice. It’s 8km (4.97mi) one way and, depending on your pace, can take anywhere from 6 to 8 hours. It’s a great way to experience the cloud and tropical forests and even see jaguars, pumas, and tapirs. 

You’ll need about three full days if you want to explore every route, but many visitors feel satisfied with a one-day visit.

You can hike in Rincon de la Vieja without a guide or opt to join an organised tour. The entrance fee to the park is just USD $15 per person. If you want to visit the natural hot springs, which we absolutely recommend, there is an extra entrance fee.

Bonus tip: If you want to hit two national parks in one trip, the Santa Rosa National Park is about an hour and 10 minutes away from Rincon de la Vieja. Santa Rosa National Park is considered a World Heritage Site and is the only Protected Wilderness Area that has a historical museum within its territory.

5. La Fortuna Waterfall

One of the most well-known Costa Rica hiking spots, La Fortuna Waterfall is one place you shouldn’t miss. The waterfall is over 70 metres (230 feet) high and tucked into the lush jungle, so the only way to reach it is by taking the La Fortuna Waterfall hiking trail.

The trail is extremely well-kept and even has lots of recently built concrete stairs. You’ll follow nearly 400 stairs heading downward on your way there and take them back up on the way back. Since the waterfall is so popular, it’s a good idea to get there right at 7:30 AM when the park opens.

You don’t need a guide to visit, and the entrance fee will cost you USD $18. Don’t forget to pack a swimsuit to swim in the waterfall pool down below.

Things to do in La Fortuna, Costa Rica: Travel to La Fortuna Waterfall
La Fortuna Waterfall. Arenal, Costa Rica.

6. Tenorio Volcano National Park

One of Costa Rica’s youngest national parks—and one of its most magical too—is Tenorio Volcano National Park. It was created in 1995 to protect the active Tenorio Volcano. Aside from its namesake, other attractions in the park include the vibrant blue waters visible at Rio Celeste Waterfall, La Laguna Azul, El Teñidero, and hot springs located in the bed of the Celeste River.

The Lago las Dantas trail can lead you to the Tenorio Volcano summit, with a view of the breathtaking cloud forest and rainforest. It’s a 5km (3.11mi) hike both ways through dense rainforest. On clear days, you can even see as far as Lake Nicaragua from the top! The hike to the summit is a little challenging, so come prepared with water and snacks. The trail won’t be overcrowded, either, making the experience feel more personal.

You can also take the 3.2km (1.99mi) Rio Celeste Waterfall hike Local legend says that its signature bright blue colour came from god’s paintbrush, which he dipped in the river as he was painting the sky. However, science says the vibrant blue colour is the result of Tenorio’s volcanic activity.

Hiking the whole park can take you around 4 to 5 hours. Tenorio Volcano National Park is open daily from 8am to 2pm, and visitors must purchase tickets online for USD $13.56. You don’t need a guide to explore, but we highly recommend it to make the most of your hike.

Tenorio Volcano National Park
Oksana and Max, Tenorio Volcano National Park
Guide to Ecotourism in Costa Rica
Rainy day in Tenorio National Park

7. Arenal Volcano National Park

Arenal Volcano is Costa Rica’s most active volcano, located within the Arenal Volcano Park and the greater Arenal Conservation Area. This 504,094-acre area protects about 16 reserves between the Tilarán and Guanacaste mountain ranges, making it an important site for geologic and biological diversity. The park is open every day from 8am to 4pm, with an entrance fee of USD $15.

Not only is Arenal Volcano National Park one of the country’s most popular, it also has some of the easiest trails to navigate. The most well-known trail is the main sector called Sector Volcan. As the name suggests, it takes you through secondary forest and former lava fields to the main Arenal Volcano viewpoint. There’s also a second, newer sector called Sector Peninsula with paved trails ideal for young children and those with limited mobility. 

There’s a whole loop that’s about 4km or 2.5mi with an elevation gain of 115m that takes you through all the major points of interest. You’ll pass through the Flows Trail, a 1.7km (1mi) stretch of old lava flow from the 1992 eruption, the gigantic Ceiba tree which survived the 1968 eruption, and of course the main volcano viewpoint. Overall, the well-maintained hiking trails make the hike easy even though the trails aren’t entirely flat.

For a change in perspective, consider the Arenal Hanging Bridges Hike. A walk through the unique hanging bridges lets you enjoy the tropical rainforest from a bird’s point of view. This exciting hike gives you better visibility of the animals and birds hanging out in the trees.

View of Arenal Lake from the trail in Arenal Volcano National Park, La Fortuna, Costa Rica
View of Arenal Lake from the trail in Arenal Volcano National Park

8. Miro Mountain

Near the small town of Jaco in the Puntarenas Province is where you’ll find Miro Mountain. The coolest thing about Miro Mountain is all the abandoned structures along the path, including a graffiti-covered pavilion and an abandoned zipline course. Despite that, this Costa Rica hiking spot flies under the radar and is not super popular among tourists.

The hike to Miro Mountain is only a couple of miles, but it is a bit steep. However, the hike is free and doesn’t require a guide, and you’ll be rewarded with amazing views over the town of Jaco and the ocean when you reach the top.

9. Manuel Antonio National Park 

Manuel Antonio National Park is the smallest Costa Rica national park, but it’s a great place for beginner hikers who want to discover the best of the country’s nature from well-kept paths. Costa Rica hiking in this park is very easy (no hiking shoes or gear required), and you can explore the entire park in one day. Admission to the park costs USD $18.

El Manglar Trail is one of the best hiking trails in Manuel Antonio, leading you through beautiful mangrove forests by way of a wooden boardwalk. Taking the Catarata Estacional Trail will lead you to a billowing waterfall during the rainy season. To find the best lookout spot in the park, hike the Miradores Trail. 

You don’t need a guide to hike in Manuel Antonio National Park, but we recommend hiring one anyway. The park offers lots of opportunities to spot wildlife along the trails, but they are often hard to spot with the naked eye. A guide will know exactly where to look for wildlife and will be sure to point out the most elusive animals on your walk!

Bonus tip: If you’re looking for another refreshing hike, the Santa Juana Mountain Hike is about an hour’s drive away from Manuel Antonio. It’s a 45-minute expedition inland to the Fila Chonta Mountains, where you’ll walk past mountain streams and even have the chance to take a dip beneath the waterfalls.

Best Costa Rica Hiking Trails
Manuel Antonio National Park

10. Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve

Cabo Blanco is one of the best Costa Rica hiking spots if you want to get away from tourists. Originally, this park was only open to scientists and conservationists, but today, visitors can trek through the reserve on two different trails: the Sueco Trail (4 km /2.5 miles) and the Danes Trail (1.6 km/1 mile).

The Danes Trail is a flat and easy walk that loops around the ranger station. The Sueco Trail is a bit more difficult due to a few steep sections, but your reward is the beautiful beach at the end of the trail. Make sure to start early in the morning so you can enjoy a full day at the beach. You probably won’t have to share it with many others.

Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve charges a USD $12 admission fee and is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.

While these eight hikes in Costa Rica are some of the best in the country, the reality is that this list only scratches the surface. When it comes to hiking in Costa Rica, the opportunities are virtually endless, and it’s no secret that hiking is one of the best things about the country. If you’re visiting Costa Rica to hit the trail and find adventure, you will not be disappointed.

 

Which Costa Rica Hiking Trails Have You Been On?

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