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With its abundance of flat lowland coastal parks and challenging mountain hikes, Costa Rica is arguably one of the world’s most adventurous hiking and trekking destinations. Imagine hiking in Costa Rica through the rugged, untamed trails of Cerro Chirripo, and losing your heart in the sights and sounds of the jungle. Conjuring up a more ideal hiking adventure than this one is hard. In this post we take a closer look at some of the best places to go hiking in Costa Rica, essentially assisting you in planning the most perfect Costa Rica tour!
On offer at the Arenal Volcano National Park are the likes of savanna, old lava flows, primary as well as secondary rainforests, and of course, the Arenal Volcano. There are four marked hiking trails to follow, and hiking in the park is only permitted on the marked trails. The trails are almost entirely based on flat banks of the volcano, which means they’re not too strenuous to hike.
- Hike difficulty: Easy to moderate
- Hike duration: Trails ranging from 1 km to 2.5 km
- Best time to visit: Any time of the year
- Where to find it: Located in La Fortuna. Getting to the park is easy if you’re on a self-driving tour. From the town of San Ramon, follow the signs to Arenal Volcano, passing through La Tigra on your way to La Fortuna.
- Camping: There are quite a few camping sites situated around the national park which should be booked well in advance should you wish to camp out.
If Arenal Volcano National Park sounds like a place you'd like to hike, check out this hiking and waterfall tour.
Hikers visiting the Ricón de la Vieja National Park can look forward to exploring the natural beauty to be found in the fumaroles, mud pots, and geysers which form part of Costa Rica’s very own Yellowstone. You may also choose to hike down to Cangreja Falls or the Blue Lagoon, which is famed for its rushing waterfall, but for a less-strenuous hike, you can always make your way down the Las Pailas loop.
- Hike difficulty: There are 7 hiking trails in the park, ranging from moderately easy to more challenging.
- Hike duration: From 3 km hikes to 8 km hikes, expect to spend anywhere from 2.5 hours to 10, depending on which trail you choose.
- Best time to visit: Between the months of November and April
- Where to find it: Located in the Guanacaste Province. There are various transportation options including public buses and taxis. From Liberia, buses depart to the park every hour and should take you anywhere between four and five hours.
- Camping: The park offers quite a few camping sites throughout its grounds, so it’s best to phone and inquire about bookings with the park.
One of the most popular national parks in the country, Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve is the ideal location for hiking in Costa Rica, whether you’re planning a guided or unguided tour. There are around 13 km of trails here, where you’ll see a wide range of fauna and flora, and if you’re lucky enough, you may even get to see the elusive quetzal.
- Hike difficulty: Beginner
- Hike duration: Between 1.5 and 3 hours, depending on which trail you take
- Best time to visit: Any time of the year
- Where to find it: Located just outside of Santa Elena. You’ll have to travel from San José on the “Autopista del Sol” highway to Puntatenas, taking the Inter-American highway north. Head towards Sardinal and then reach Santa Elena, from where you’ll have to follow the road signs until you reach the cloud forest.
- Camping: There are no camping grounds here; however hikers will find the restaurant, souvenir shop, and restrooms very handy.
With a network of flat, superbly-maintained trails, Cahuita National Park is located in a perfect beach setting and surrounded by lush forests. Howler and white-faced monkeys are very common in the area, so make sure you keep your eyes peeled for a viewing opportunity.
- Hike difficulty: Moderate
- Hike duration: Roughly 6 hours
- Best time to visit: Between the months of November and April as some trails may get closed down due to flooding in the rainy season.
- Where to find it: Located in Cahuita, outside of San Jóse. There are quite a few public buses that depart to Cahuita on a daily basis.
- Camping: There are no camping grounds within the park, but you can choose to stay at any one of the lodges and camping sites situated around the park.
With ranger stations, camping facilities, and a wide network of hiking trails, the Corcovado National Park is a great destination for hiking and trekking in Costa Rica. Some of the lodges around the park offer day hikes into the park, but we highly recommend reserving a camping spot and staying the night to get the full effect of the park.
- Hike difficulty: Moderate to difficult, depending on which areas of the park you’re exploring and for how long
- Hike duration: Anywhere between 6 and 10 hours depending on your pace, or alternatively take a 4-day trek across the whole national park.
- Best time to visit: Any time of the year, but for the best views, hiking in the Corcovado National Park is best left for the dry season, between November and April each year.
- Where to find it: Located on the Osa Peninsula. The park can’t be reached by road so you’ll either have to hike in, or via a charter plane or boat.
- Camping: The park offers camping sites to hikers, but they are very popular, which means you’ll have to reserve your spot well in advance if you plan on camping out in the park.
Ideal for hiking in Costa Rica without too much effort, the Lankester Botanical Garden trail is a great hiking trail that allows you to immerse yourself in beautiful gardens. The hike offers a great opportunity for young and old to get acquainted with the Costa Rican hiking scene and is ideal for exploring any time of the year.
- Hike difficulty: Beginner
- Hike duration: 1 to 2 hours of easy walking
- Best time to visit: Any time is a great time to visit the gardens, but the drier months between November and April are ideal for viewing the orchids in the gardens.
- Where to find it: Located just outside of the city of Cartago. You can take the bus to Paraiso and get off at the Lankester bus stop, following the signs to Lankester Botanical Gardens.
- Camping: No camping facilities available on site
With around 60km of trails, La Selva Biological Station and protected zone is a fascinating ecological zone to visit and a rainforest-hiker’s paradise. Led by naturalists, the trails here are fully guided and not too challenging, ideal for beginner hikers. Comprising of 1,600 hectares of tropical rainforest, La Selva is the ideal location for discovering over 5,000 species of vascular plants, 50 species of amphibians, 45 species of snakes, and 412 species of migratory birds which call the tropical life zones home. This is also one of the wettest protected areas in Costa Rica, so bring your waterproof boots!
- Hike difficulty and duration: There are several trails available of differing lengths and difficulty. The Sendero Tres Ríos trail is wheelchair accessible with a paved walking track.
- Best time to visit: Between the months of October and April. October is the driest month.
- Where to find it: Located in Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui. To get there, you can make use of public transportation like one of the buses which go straight to Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui from the “Terminal del Caribe”, which is located in San José.
- Camping: Cabins and dorms are available but must be pre-booked in advance. Food and guided walks are included.
If you're looking for a simple day trip hike to La Selva Reserve, try this cocoa plantation and rainforest adventure.
- Be weather wise. Although Costa Rica doesn’t have a disastrous weather season (like hurricane season), it can get very wet and very hot! It might not be ideal to hike through the jungles during the rainy season, which is usually from May to mid-November. The high season for hiking in Costa Rica runs from December through to April, so if you’re a little strapped for cash and don’t dig the crowds, it might be wiser to hike Costa Rica in October or May. Check out our guide on the best time to visit Costa Rica for more information.
- Learn some of the basics. It’s always wise to get yourself acquainted with the local language before visiting any foreign country, so before you embark on your hiking trip to Costa Rica, make sure you brush up on some basic Spanish.
- Pack light. If you’re going to be hiking, you’ll need a light pack weight in order to really enjoy your experience. This means you’ll have to make a list of all the things you think you’ll need, cut that in half, and then trim it down to the bare essentials
We hope that you’ve enjoyed this post and that it has armed you with a wealth of great information which will act as a guide for your adventures of hiking in Costa Rica. Make sure you pack enough water, mosquito repellent, the perfect hiking boots, and a great sense of adventure, and you’ve got nothing to lose and the world to gain!
Travelling to Costa Rica? Chat with a local travel specialist in Costa Rica who can help organize your trip.
Randall Jiménez Moreno Travel Expert in Costa Rica
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Ellen Zoe Golden Travel Expert in Costa Rica