The best hikes in Costa Rica are the hikes that showcase the remarkable biodiversity of the Central American country. Thankfully, there’s so much forest, of so many different varieties, in Costa Rica. There are so many beautiful beaches, waterfalls and rivers, and so many dramatic volcanoes and vibrant nature reserves too - meaning most decent hiking routes in the country cover some sort of beautiful scenery. A massive 25% of Costa Rica's natural beauty is protected, with a staggering 28 national parks, over 50 wildlife refuges, and a stunning 5% of the world's biodiversity found in the country - no wonder it's a hiking haven.
So, where to start exploring? We hope to give you some answers to exactly that in the list below. Of course, the best hikes in Costa Rica are always going to be subjective, so with our choices, what we’ve really aimed to do is to give you an idea of the diversity across the country; the different areas and styles of hike available, and from there, to give you a starting point to start planning a trip.
1. Golfito to the Piedras Blancas National Park
Length: 9.3 miles
Starting Point: Golfito
Starting in Golfito, the most southern port town in Costa Rica, this hike will soon have you passing Golfito Wildlife Refuge en route to the neighbouring park, Piedra Blancas.
The terrain is primary rainforest on the Southern Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Think stunning birds and animals - howler monkeys, white-nose capuchins, coatis, toucans and scarlet macaws. The place is considered to be one of the best parks in the country for bird watching, and the scenery is appropriately stunning too; wondrous waterfalls, picturesque beaches and even an off-shore coral reef.
Hike deep into the forest and finish the day at El Bonito ranger station. There, you'll camp for the night and hear the rainforest come alive.
Due to remote access - Piedras Blancas National Park is 222km from San Jose City - this is one of the lesser visited parks in Costa Rica. It's not a day hike. Be prepared to spend the night. This is one stage of our intrepid seven-night hidden rainforests adventure hike in Costa Rica. The next morning you’ll make your way to San Josecito Beach, a stunning location where the rainforest meets the sea.
2. Hiking the Corcovado National Park
Length: 27 miles approx
Starting Point: La Tarde Eco Lodge
Corcovado National Park is the biggest national park in Costa Rica. It's also the largest piece of primary forest on the American Pacific coastline. Oh, and it’s one of just a handful of sizeable areas of lowland rainforest remaining in the world.
That should give you an idea of the scale and reputation, but what are the best hikes? One option is to do a two/three-day hike from the eco lodge of Ecoturtico La Tarde on the outskirts. This will take you 15 miles up to the La Sirena ranger lodge. You'll then hike a further 12 miles on to La Leona ranger station the next day before leaving the rainforest.
Watch out for spider monkeys, wild boars, amazing bird life and more insects and amphibians than you knew existed. National Geographic called this place "the most biologically intense place on Earth in terms of biodiversity".
3. Visit the Mistico Hanging Bridges in Arenal Volcano National Park
Length: 2 miles
Starting Point: Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park
One of the most popular, and simplest but stunning, routes in Costa Rica is around the Arenal Hanging Bridges - a series of suspension bridges in the Volcan Arenal National Park. There are 15 bridges in total, six of which are hanging, and there's a diverse range of lowland and highland forest. The area is home to over 700 species of flora, more than 300 species of bird and countless mammals.
This is a short hike, but what’s great about it is that there’s so much else to do in the area. This can be combined with a great two and a half hour hike from the base of Arenal Volcano Park to a dry lava field from the 1968 eruption for example, and/or with a hike to La Fortuna Waterfall - though either will require transports between hiking locations.
4. The Catarata del Toro Waterfall Hike
Length: 1 mile
Starting Point: 6 km north of the Alajuela church, Bajos del Toro.
There are waterfalls and then there are worth-taking-a-day-out-to-see-especially waterfalls, and the Catarata del Toro waterfall, plummeting 90 metres into an extinct volcano crater, is definitely one of the latter.
This is on private land, so unfortunately there is an entry fee - and at $10 it’s not the cheapest attraction in the great outdoors - but the trail really is wonderful, taking you through dense rainforest before dropping steeply down to the base of the fall, where you can wonder at the green cliffs and orange streaks on the walls that make these so distinctive. If you’re a bird fanatic, then good news too, because the area is buzzing with hummingbirds.
Waterfall enthusiasts should also check out the Nauyaca waterfalls further south, and you can also extend your trip in the Bajos del Toro region by visiting the Bajos del Toro cloud forests. Monteverde might be the crown jewel of Costa Rica's Cloud Forests, but Bajos Del Toro is pretty special too.
5. Visit Tenorio Volcano National Park
Length: 3.5 miles
Starting Point: Tenorio Volcano National Park
Tenorio is a beauty of a national park. It's famed for the Rio Celeste river and particularly for the waterfall, and its distinctive blue waters - surrounded on all sides by busy, rainforest green. The cliff walls really do make the location feel like you’ve just stumbled into a little piece of paradise. The out and back trail is particularly good here. You'll take in the aforementioned 30-metre waterfall, and have an optional detour to a beautiful waterfall lookout point down a substantial amount of stairs. Then it's on to Los Borbollones, where you can watch the water bubbling away with volcanic heat. Hike on to El Tenidero, where two streams meet and you can see the rivers merging and the water actively changing colour - sometimes you’ll even catch a glimpse of the extraordinary, otherworldly blue next to a more clear current.
The dense jungle, volcanic waters and tight paths of Tenorio are simply remarkable, but it’s really that ultimate aqua blue water, and the transformation, worth going for. For the hardcore hiker, there's also a serious hike to the volcano rim in Tenorio, though you'll need a guide to help navigate the jungle.
6. Climb Home Cerro Chirripó (3,820m)
Length: 12.4 mile (one way)
Starting Point: San Gerardo de Rivas
The tallest mountain in Costa Rica is the mighty Cerro Chirripó, standing tall at 3,820 metres, but first thing first - the hike up Cerro Chirripó is a tough 12.4 miles one way, and the ascent will take you up over 2000 metres, so most people don’t do the up and down in one day. The Crestones Base Camp lodge is at 3,400 metres, and puts hikers 3.4 miles away from the summit, allowing for a two or three day effort depending on fitness, experience and so on.
The route up Chirripó starts at the small mountain town of San Gerardo de Rivas, passes through cloud forests and páramos. Then via rugged, gravel and craggy paths, it eventually takes you to the summit view over all of Costa Rica, from the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean.
7. Climb the Rincon de la Vieja Volcano
Length: 8km (one-way)
Starting Point: Active Crater Trail
A tough one-day hike, the Active Crater trail up to the 1915m rim of the Rincon de la Vieja volcano is demanding, but achievable. You'll go through all sorts of terrain, starting off in tropical rainforest, then riding through a dryer forest before reaching the inevitable rocks as you get nearer the rim. From here it's a scramble to the rim, with remarkable views from the top around the surrounding area. The volcano is active, with the last large eruption in 1991 and smaller eruptions in 1998 and 1999, and December-March is the dry season, so the best time to climb to the rim. Expect to be on the go for between six and nine hours.
8. Hike the Monteverde Cloud Forests Trails
Length: 8 miles
Starting Point: Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
The enormous Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve comes in at 765 acres, but visitors are only allowed access to a very small amount of that. The rest, quite rightly, is for the animals and biodiversity that the reserve was set up to protect. The cloud forests are something really quite unique - quite literally, forests which are usually shrouded in cloud, so yeah… bring a rain jacket.
There are several trails around the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, but they don't add up to an abundance so why not... do them all? It works out as around eight miles in total. The longer loop will take you from the Sendero Bosque Nuboso through the dense, lush forest and up to La Ventana, a terrific viewpoint of the Continental Divide. Hopefully the clouds will clear for a moment and you'll be able to see the true beauty of the vast expanse of greenery in the clouds.
Next it's on to the Sendero Pantanoso and Sendero El Rio along a beautiful ridge. You'll find yourself in prime bird spotting territory, level with the tree canopies, and might catch a glimpse of a few monkeys too, then on to the El Rio waterfall. There’s a lot to see in those eight miles.
Inspired? Check out our range of adventure holidays in Costa Rica!