Best Hiking Routes in Costa Rica in 2022
It should come as no surprise that Costa Rica is widely regarded as one of the world’s best ecotourism destinations, being that roughly 30% of the country’s land area is protected by national parks and wildlife sanctuaries. Hiking has become one of the most popular activities in Costa Rica with visitors, with the option to hike through rainforests, amble along beaches, or pull yourself up the side of a mountain.
The best way to explore Costa Rica’s abundant natural beauty is by hiking with a guide. One reason is because local guides know where the best spots are located to give you the best chance of observing much of the country’s most iconic wildlife.
The second major benefit of going with a guide is the safety they provide both in terms of knowing how to safely navigate the country and its wild rugged terrain as well as their knowledge of the potential hidden dangers that Costa Rica’s wild can throw at you.
Costa Rica’s Best Hikes
Arenal Volcano Park Hikes
Arenal Volcano National Park is arguably one of the most popular hiking destinations in the county because it’s quite easy to get to and hiking is rather accessible to all fitness levels.
For decades, Arenal Volcano was very much active, creating explosions and lava flows to the delight of visitors. It has since been dormant for the past decade or so, allowing visitors to safely enjoy many hikes available around its base.
While it is still very dangerous and prohibited to climb up Arenal Volcano due to ongoing safety issues, you can enjoy a number of smaller hikes within the park that lead to old lava fields such as on the popular Las Coladas trail, the Los Miradors trail which will lead you to the shores of Lake Arenal, and trails that lead through the forests where you may spots howler monkeys, sloths, and countless bird species.
The best time to experience the hot springs and unique micro-climates of Arenal Volcano Park is during the dry season running from January to April when the park trails are most accessible.
La Fortuna Waterfall Hikes
The La Fortuna Waterfall is definitely a must-do experience during any visit to the Arenal region. La Fortuna waterfall is one of the most beautiful natural waterfalls in Costa Rica. Getting here is also extremely easy if you come from San Jose as it only takes about 2 driving hours if you go from San Jose to La Fortuna.
While La Fortuna may translate as “the fortune” in Spanish, it won’t cost you a fortune to witness it. At last check, entry tickets were under $20 for adults and just $5 per child. The only other hidden cost comes in the form of having to walk down 500 steps to experience the base of this stunning 200-foot waterfall, but it should take you less than 15 minutes to reach the bottom of the stairs.
Don’t forget to bring a swimsuit along. While you may not be allowed to swim in the pool directly beneath the falls, there is the opportunity to swim in the calm pools with sandy bottoms that are just downstream and are patrolled by a lifeguard. You’ll find restrooms and showers back at the top of the waterfall where you enter
An alternative to driving to the entrance of the of the La Fortuna Waterfall hike within Arenal Volcano National Park is opting for a 45-minute horseback ride that will lead you to the falls while providing you with the potential of observing local wildlife such as coatis, peccaries, and toucans.
Rio Celeste Waterfall Hikes
The Rio Celeste Waterfall Hike is another one of the country’s most beautiful hikes. The trail is located inside the Tenorio Volcano National Park in rural northwestern Costa Rica and due to the more remote nature of the area, you can enjoy it with far less tourists than many of the other hikes on this list.
The Rio Celeste Waterfall hike is accessed from the ranger station on the Bijagua side. The hike to the nearly 300-foot waterfall will take you roughly about 30 minutes to reach and then there are around 250 steps to walk down to get to the viewing platform. Note that unlike La Fortuna, there is no nearby swimming permitted.
While the highlight of the hike is definitely viewing the waterfall you can extend your hike to take in more challenging terrain. With the added effort comes the opportunity to also take in the beautiful blue waters of Poza or Laguna Azul and the unique tenideros which is where two clear rivers meet and magically turn blue due to a chemical reaction that takes place.
The extension of the hike will require up to 4 hours to complete in total from the start of the trail head and it is a one way in, one way out hike. Like other hikes in Costa Rica, it is best enjoyed during the dry season.
Pico Blanco por Ventoleras Hikes
This is a super beautiful hike in Costa Rica that is perfect for those looking to challenge themselves with a more difficult hiking trail. Pico Blanco por Ventoleras is a roughly 9-kilometer trail that offers some pretty decent elevation gain, where steep sections and muddy trails require proper hiking boots.
Aside from the difficulties presented by this more challenging hike, it does allow you to experience the true rugged nature of Costa Rica’s more untouched forests, with some pretty nice lookouts along the way.
A GPS is recommended as the often overgrown trails and branching off of trails can make getting lost a potential. Plan for the hike to take around 5 hours to complete.
Poás Volcano Hikes
Poás is one of the most active volcanoes in the country so it provides quite a surreal sight when observed up close. Poás Volcano National Park is just an hour north of San Jose in the Central Valley region making it an easy day trip from the city.
There are a number of trials within the park including a 4.7-km out-and-back trail as well as an easy paved level trail around .5 kilometers that overlooks the volcanic crater. The Botos Trail leads to the volcanic lake while the Escalonia Cloud Forest Trail often provides great chances of seeing a number of the country’s popular bird species such as hummingbirds, quetzals, and toucanets.
Note that volcanic activity can result in a number of trails being closed at times. You should also choose a clear day to visit if possible in order to be awarded with optimal views of the crater.
Safety features now exist on the volcano including poison gas monitors and concrete bunkers in the event a dangerous situation occurs. Don’t miss paying a visit to the park museum which will give you an overview of the park’s geothermal and ecological wonders.
Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve Hikes
While it’s true that just 3% of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is accessible to the public, this still equates to there being nine trails within the park that collectively add up to around 13 kilometers of hiking.
The cloud forest is a hotspot for wildlife, said to be home to more than 100 different mammal species, well over a hundred reptile and amphibians, hundreds of bird varieties, and thousands of plants such as a wide array of orchid species. Common sights along the trails include white-faced monkeys, agouti, coati, and quetzals.
The Sendero Bosque Nuboso offers a longer hike and gives a better chance of spotting more wildlife. You’ll be rewarded with an exceptional view of the Continental Divide on clear days. The trail connects with Sendero Pantanoso and the steep ridge of Sendero El Rio.
The shorter trail known as Sendero Camino or “Road Trail” may be a little less wild but there is a picturesque suspesnion bridge to cross which allows you to walk through the rainforest canopy and hopefully spot additional wildlife.
These are just a few of the exceptional hiking areas offered in Costa Rica. If you are planning on visiting Costa Rica to experience any of these trails or the many other available wilderness areas, we recommend you check out our guide to 10 hiking essentials you should pack for your next hiking trip.