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Best Hiking Trails in Costa Rica

Overview

Costa Rica is considered a jewel of Central America as it is rich in biodiversity and has avoided the political conflicts that have broken out in neighbouring countries.  Much of this country is mountainous and there are plenty of opportunities for hiking in the lush rainforests, cloud forests and volcanoes located throughout the country.  The popular areas for hiking (with some elevation) include Arenal Volcano National Park, Monteverde Cloud Forest and of course the highest peak in Costa Rica, Cerro Chirripo.  The best times for hiking are during the dry season, from December to April, but depends on the region.  Read on for more information on where and when to go hiking in Costa Rica. 

Capital: San José

When To Hike in Costa Rica?

December – April: Driest period
November: Could be dry or minimal rain in many parts of the country
May – October: Too rainy

Climate: Tropical – wet and dry seasons; hot all year round; Guancaste (northern) tends to be drier than more south.  Each region can have slight variations.  While many people like going during the rainy season due to lush vegetation, etc, it can be dangerous if hiking.

Accessibility of Hiking

Medium: While there are established trails in many areas (such as in the national parks), these tend to be on the shorter and easier side.  Embarking on more challenging hikes requires, for the average tourist hiker, the services of knowledgeable guides.  In general, it is advisable to go with a knowledgeable guide on hikes as they will be able to provide information on Costa Rica’s rich biodiversity. 

Transportation required: Definitely need a vehicle and a 4WD in many areas, as roads here are known to be not in the best condition

Where to stay in Costa Rica:

  • La Fortuna – for Arenal Volcano National Park
  • Santa Elena – for Monteverde Cloud Forest
  • San Jose – near Poas Volcano, Braulio Carrilo and Juan Castro Blanco National Parks

 

Top Places to Hike in Costa Rica

There are national parks and private reserves dotted throughout this mountainous country. The two main mountain ranges are Cordillera Volcanica (volcanic mountains in the north, have subranges), and Cordillera de Talamanca (granite system in the southern part, contains Chirripo). Most of the national parks have some marked trails, but they’re often short and easy. For anything longer, there isn't a well-established trail network. The map highlights some of the popular areas for hiking in Costa Rica. Highest Mountain: Cerro Chirripó (3819 m).

Filter out hiking places of Costa Rica by month

Click on the red map pointers to see more info.

Parque Nacional Corcovado

  • Dec – Apr
  • Remote area on the Osa Peninsula with 3 main trails that are open to visitors; trails are primitive and hiking is hot, humid and insect-ridden, considered tough
  • 2023 Guide to Corcovado
  • Sendero Los Patos-Sirena – tough 20km trek

Parque Nacional Chirripó

Parque Nacional Los Quetzales

Parque Nacional Tapanti

Parque Nacional Juan Castro Blanco

Parque Nacional Braulio Carrillo

Parque Nacional Volcán Poás

Monteverde Cloud Forest

  • Dec – Apr
  • Reserva Biológica Bosque Nuboso Monteverde (Monteverde Cloud Forest) – Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve  
  • There are 13 km of marked and maintained trails, three most popular are pretty easy and they form a ‘triangle’ (El Triangulo); you can venture beyond the triangle but need a guide, map, etc
  • Cerro Amigos – hike up to the highest peak in the area (1842 m)
  • Private reserve next to it where you can hike
  • Estación Biológica Pocosol – a two day hike

Parque Nacional Volcán Arenal

  • Dec – Apr
  • Arenal Volcano National Park, Costa Rica
  • La Fortuna is the town closest, popular waterfall
  • 15 km of well marked trails  
  • Not possible to hike up to Arenal summit
  • Cerro Chato (hike to summit, 1200 m) – challenging hike that is officially closed but adventurous hikers can find a way to access trail

Parque Nacional Tenorio Volcán

  • Dec – Apr

Área Conservación de Guanacaste

  • Dec – Apr
  • Conservation area containing protected areas – Ecoturismo – Área de Conservación Guanacaste
  • Parque Nacional Guancaste
  • Parque Nacional Santa Rosa – 30 km of trails 
  • Parque Nacional Rincón de la Vieja – Santa María and Las Pailas ranger stations; well-maintained trails

Costa Rica's Long Distance Trails

  • Cerro Chirripó – can be done in a day but usually done over a few days
  • El Camino de Costa Rica – a new trail, 280 km spanning the country from Pacific to Atlantic – Camino de Costa Rica

Costa Rica's Walking & Hiking Resources

Costa Rica Books: 

  • Costa Rica’s National Parks & Preserves, by Joseph Franke, 2009, Mountaineers Books
  • El Camino de Costa Rica Hiking Guide, by Evan Brashier, 2021, Asociación Mar a Mar 
  • Moon Costa Rica, by Nikki Solano, 2019, Avalon Publishing
  • Lonely Planet Costa Rica 13th Edition, by Lonely Planet, Ashley Harrell, Brian Kluepfel, 2018, Lonely Planet Global Limited – good source for hiking guides 
  • Rough Guide to Costa Rica (Travel Guide eBook), by Rough Guides, 2022, APA Publications

 

Best Hiking Trails in Costa Rica:

  • Cerro Chirripo
  • Cerro Chato – in Arenal area
  • Hanging Bridges – in Arenal area
  • Rio Celeste Waterfall hike – Tenorio Volcano National park
  • Cerro Amigos – Monteverde Cloud Forest
  • Volcan Barva – Braulio Carrillo National Park
  • Fallen Trees Trail – Tapanti National Park
  • Poas Volcano National Park hike – several trails to choose from here
  • Las Pailas Trail – Rincon de la Vieja

Easy Hiking Trails in Costa Rica:

  • Cathedral Point Trail – Manuel Antonio National Park
  • La Fortuna Waterfall – Arenal area

 

Costa Rica Hiking Websites:

 

Costa Rica Weather Website:

  • Instituto Meteorológico Nacional de Costa Rica – IMN 

 

Costa Rica Official Tourism Site:  

 

Costa Rica Hiking Apps: 

 

Costa Rica Hiking Maps: 

What Else To Do

  • Manuel Antonio National Park is very popular but wasn’t included as it does not really have mountain hiking 
  • Beaches
  • Wildlife

Other Important Points

  • English may not be spoken by most people, useful to learn some basic Spanish
  • Trails may be closed due to volcanic activity
  • La Amistad International Peace Park – huge trans-boundary park located on the border with Panama