With 30% of the land area protected by national parks, wildlife refuges, and preserves, Costa Rica hiking reveals a variety of well-marked trails for the adventurer. Hike through rainforests, amble along beaches, and pull yourself up the side of a mountain – Costa Rica is a destination both for those who wish to push themselves and those who prefer to take their time. Guided hikes are one of the best ways to explore the outdoors and see the beauty of this country. There are a number of hiking trails in Costa Rica all defined by their unique location. After all, half the joy of a good hike is in experiencing the otherwise unreachable views.
Arenal Volcano Park Hikes
Arenal Volcano National Park is open daily from 8 am- 3 pm for hikers. The park is over 7,114 acres with gorgeous views throughout of Arenal Volcano. Hike for about 40 minutes over old lava flows and through the secondary rainforest on a guided hike to see frequently missed nature and wildlife. A professional naturalist will take you through areas of regenerating nature where a unique set of plant and animal species can be found. There multiple trails to discover within the park! Once you pay the park entrance fee, we suggest checking in at the park ranger station to get a map and recommendations if hitting the trails without a guide.
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Rio Celeste Waterfall Hike, Tenorio Volcano National Park
Rio Celeste, in the Guanacaste province, is a river so blue that in pictures it’s often mistaken for being photo-shopped! The color of the water truly needs to be seen by the naked eye to be believed. A guided full-day tour of this area is the way to go, with a 3.4-mile in and out challenging hike and the chance to seek out the volcano’s furnace vents. The Rio Celeste waterfall on your way back down is a one of a kind sight to behold. Keep in mind though that this trail can be difficult for inexperienced hikers. Swimming in Tenorio Volcano National Park (where Rio Celeste is located) is prohibited.
- 3.4 miles, in and out trail
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Manuel Antonio National Park Hike
Manuel Antonio National Park may seem small, but it has been named one of the best parks in the world. With monkeys playing in the forest canopy, take a leisurely hike through the rainforest and watch the waves roll in at three of the most beautiful beaches in the country? There are several trails in Manuel Antonio National Park. The Main Trail accessible from the park entrance is flat, sandy, and great for all ages! This is the trail many of the guided hikes will take. This is a great option as it branches off to all the major beaches within the park. Our Costa Rica Experts recommend hitting the trails early with a professional naturalist guide who will be able to point out all the highlights of the park. Another moderately difficult hike for adventurous travelers is the Cathedral Point Trail, a 0.9-mile loop around the park’s ridge with spectacular viewpoints. The trail is accessible from both Manuel Antonio and Escondido Sur Beach and can be steep in sections. Don’t forget to bring a swimsuit!
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Arenal Hanging Bridges Hike
The Arenal Hanging Bridges Hike is a classic in the Arenal area. A series of trails with eight fixed and six hanging bridges will take you in a 2-mile (3.2-kilometer) loop through the 618-acre private rainforest reserve beneath the mammoth Arenal Volcano. The hike takes approximately 2 hours in total and is only available by reservation. We suggest hitting the trails early when the wildlife is most active and hiking with a naturalist guide who is skilled at pointing out animals like howler monkeys, bird species, and wild boars. A Costa Rica Expert can arrange this day excursion for you. Don’t miss the waterfall extension trail toward the end of the hike.
- 2 miles, loop trail
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Los Angeles Cloud Forest Hike
The Los Angeles Cloud Forest is a part of only 2.5% of the world’s remaining Cloud Forests. The hike is 2.5 miles long and is available for guests of the Villa Blanca Cloud Forest Hotel. With over 250 bird species, the Los Angeles Cloud Forest Reserve is ideal for birding, and the night hikes offer a nocturnal expedition for the adventurous hiker.
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Bajos del Toro Waterfall Hike
Accessible from El Silencio Cloud Forest Lodge, the Bajos del Toro Waterfall Hike is a short hike that reaps a big reward. Just a 15-minute trek from the lodge reveals a stunning multi-colored, mossy-green canyon and the giant Bajos del Toro Waterfall, also known as Catarata del Toro, dropping 400 feet into it. The first fifteen minutes of the trek is along relatively flat terrain before you will need to descend about 375 steps to the base of the falls. Be sure to wear sturdy hiking shoes! The hike back up the stairs can be a bit challenging, but the scenery is worth it!
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La Fortuna Waterfall Hike
The La Fortuna Waterfall is one of the must-do experiences for visitors to the Arenal region. Once you park and pay an entry fee, you’ll pass a little restaurant and the lookout point. Don’t forget to stop and check out the La Fortuna lookout. It’s pretty impressive to see the cascade surrounded by the dense tropical forest. From here, you’ll begin down trekking down the stairs. The trail is in and out so it may only take 15 minutes or so to hike down more like a half an hour or more on the way up with some stop-offs to rest. Toward the bottom, you’ll pass over a fixed bridge, some impressive boulders within the canyon and finally reach La Fortuna Waterfall. Swimming at the base of the waterfall is not permitted, but you are allowed to further downstream so wear your swimsuit under your clothes!
Santa Rosa National Park Hike
Santa Rosa National Park, in the Guanacaste province, is the oldest national park in Costa Rica. Hike through the dry forest in an area renowned for its wildlife. Santa Rosa National Park has the world’s only fully protected beach for nesting olive ridley sea turtles. It has the largest concentrations of baby sea turtles—who poke their heads out of their shells from August through November. Santa Rosa is also well known for its surf breaks and gorgeous white sand beaches that lure in surfers from around the world. Visitors can drive 7 miles into the park before they must give up their vehicles and continue their exploration of the remaining 12 miles of hiking trails on foot.
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Carara Biological Reserve Hike
West of San Jose on the Central Pacific coast lies Carara Biological Reserve. The reserve holds one of the last remaining wild scarlet macaw populations. From mangroves to rainforests, there are a variety of ecosystems within the park to explore. Be on the lookout for monkeys, sloths, and a variety of bird species. Tarcoles River, situated right next to the park, is the perfect place to add on a crocodile tour. A guided four-hour Carara National Park Tour can be arranged from the Central Pacific coast or the San Jose area. Carara is ideal for the novice hiker and travelers with disabilities as the land is relatively flat and the first loop trail (The Universal Trail) within the park is paved. Audio-visual and haptic technologies are speckled throughout the park.
Related Article: Carara National Park Guide
Santa Juana Mountain Hike
The Santa Juana Mountain Tour is recommended for everyone who needs a break from modern living. Relax by riding horseback and taking a dip in the waterfall swimming pools, enjoy catch-and-release Tilapia fishing, and visit a traditional sugar cane mill powered by oxen. Take this tour from the Central Pacific Coast and Manuel Antonio.
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Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve Hike
The high altitude of Monteverde brings moisture, making it a rich source of biodiversity and allowing it to be called a Cloud Forest. The park has nine trails covering about eight miles (13 kilometers), but a half-day tour will give you a great taste of the unique flora and fauna of the park. The illustrious quetzal is among one of over 400 bird species in the area, along with tens of thousands of insect species, more than 2,500 plant species, and 130 mammal species.
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Corcovado National Park Hike
National Geographic has named Corcovado National Park, on the remote Osa Peninsula, “the most biologically intense place on the planet.” In fact, Corcovado contains 13 diverse ecosystems with a variety of endangered species such as jaguars, red-backed squirrel monkeys, Baird’s tapirs, and harpy eagles. As of 2014, all visitors to Corcovado National Park must be accompanied by a guide. Day tours to Corcovado can be arranged by nearly all of the lodges in the Drake Bay and Puerto Jimenez areas.
Related Article: Corcovado National Park Guide
Heliconia Hanging Bridges Hike
The Heliconia Hanging Bridges Hike is a great rainforest option for travelers in the Guanacaste province. Heliconia is a private reserve adjacent to Tenorio Volcano National Park with views that look out over the town of Bijagua and Lake Nicaragua. Experience a bird’s-eye view from hanging bridges of the 140 acres of rainforest below, home to bromeliads, butterflies, birds, and orchids.
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Nocturnal Jungle Walk
So much is missed by limiting yourself to daytime hikes! The tropical rainforests of Costa Rica are home to an astounding amount of nocturnal creatures and when you’re sleeping, they’re just getting started. Guided nighttime jungle walks let hikers see and hear wildlife that they would otherwise never experience. The walk can be arranged from multiple destinations.
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Rincon de la Vieja National Park Hikes
Rincon de la Vieja’s temperamental landscape is evocative of Yellowstone National Park in the United States. The park contains Rincon de la Vieja Volcano, the largest volcano in Guanacaste, in addition to nine (minimally) eruptive vents, fossilized lava flows, loose lava rock, hot springs, bubbling mud pots, and several waterfalls.
Hikers interested in the geothermal landscape should check out the 2-mile Las Pailas Loop Trail, also called the Boiling Mudpots Trail accessible from the La Pailas sector. This trail is accessible for beginners and families, and available with a professional naturalist guide!
Two other popular hikes from the La Pailas sector, both in and out trails, are the Escondia Waterfall Trail (5.3 miles) and the La Cangreja Waterfall Trail (6.2 miles). These both begin from the same trail before branching out in different directions.
Serious hikers and birders should climb the 5-mile trail up to the volcanic crater. The slopes of the crater are the only places where the rock wren bird can be found. *This trail is currently close due to volcanic activity.
Full day hiking tours can be arranged to Rincon de la Vieja National Park.
Related Article: Rincon de la Vieja National Park Guide
Poas Volcano National Park Hike
Perhaps the most accessible volcano from the San Jose area, the Poas Volcano has one of the deepest and most active craters in the world and you can walk right up to it! Hit the Poas trails early in the morning when the crater can be seen more clearly. The Botos Lagoon, a lake within an extinct volcano crater, is a beautiful addition to the national park- so don’t miss it after the summit! The trail to the lagoon can be a bit more challenging because of its higher elevation, but if you’re active- it’s worth it. As always, you’ll get more out of your visit with a guide. The Poas hike is great to combine with other tours in the area.
Related Article: Poas Volcano National Park Guide
Hidden Treasure Hike at El Silencio Lodge
The treasures of Bajos del Toro aren’t gold or silver. The treasures are bright green and brilliant blue. The Hidden Treasure Hike in the Bajos del Toro area is taken from El Silencio Lodge in the Cloud Forest. Experience this unique ecosystem with an experienced naturalist guide who can point out wildlife and hidden treasures.
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Costa Rica Hiking Combo Tours:
Poas Volcano Hike, La Paz Waterfall Gardens, & Sarchi Oxcarts
After visiting Poas, one of five active volcanoes in Costa Rica, over 100 species of animals await you in the self-guided Waterfall Gardens, followed by multicolored handicrafts in the artisan town of Sarchi.
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Arenal Volcano Hike & Hot Springs
Arenal Volcano’s geothermal activity means that you get to soak in five therapeutic, natural hot springs comprised of 50 pools of varying temperatures.
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Poas Volcano Hike & Doka Coffee Plantation
After hiking the Poas Volcano, warm up further with an educational tour of the family-owned Doka Coffee Plantation, home to the oldest humid coffee processing plant.