Our Favorite Hiking Spots in Costa Rica
With hundreds of national parks and reserves to choose from, Costa Rica is a dream for hiking enthusiasts of all ages and abilities. Well-tread footpaths through primary rainforest, rugged mountain passes, and sandy ocean-side trails beckon thousands of travelers each year. While challenging to whittle down our list of favorite hikes, the following made the cut based on their sheer beauty, accessibility and cornucopia of wildlife. But before heading out on your Costa Rican trek, be sure to heed the following tips: hire a local guide (whenever feasible), bring plenty of water, pack extra sunscreen and insect repellent and carry raingear for the odd thunderstorm.
Inviting cloud forests of Santa Elena
Situated on the edge of its more popular neighbor Monteverde, the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve deserves as much praise if not more when it comes to the pleasures of hiking. Here, you can escape the tourist crowds and enjoy more than eight miles of luscious, verdant primary growth cloud forest simply brimming with bromeliads, epiphytes and orchids. Local guides are invaluable for spotting some of the 400 bird species that inhabit this protected zone. Besides the fabulous birdwatching, visitors often report coatimundi, sloth and tree frog sightings.
Dramatic lookout points in Manuel Antonio
Covering more than 1,700 land acres, Manuel Antonio National Park has five main trails from which to explore its dramatic vistas and gorgeous coastline. And if you’re willing to veer off the main trail and gain some elevation, the Cathedral Point loop is well worth the effort. One of our favorite aspects about this park is the diversity of ecosystems – one minute you’re in dense jungle and the next you’re ambling next to mangrove estuaries. Bring along a picnic lunch, and after your hike, take a snooze under the ample shade of a sea almond tree. Throw in some monkey encounters, hummingbird fly-bys and white sand beaches and you have the recipe for a perfect day!
Tenorio Volcano National Park & Celeste River
This particular hike is best undertaken with an Arenal tour operator, as it ensures you can relax rather than worry about transportation and directions. The main trail – a five hour-loop — passes by volcanic geysers, steaming mud pots and the incandescent Rio Celeste waterfall, dyed bright teal blue by sulfur and carbonate. The well-marked forested trail offers plenty of opportunities for wildlife watching, with Baird’s tapirs making the occasional appearance.
Explore the old lava flows of Arenal Volcano
For many years, Arenal was one of the planet’s most active volcanoes, rumbling and spurting streams of red-hot lava and boulders from its near perfect cone. The blackened paths of its namesake national park are a testament to its volatile history and famous eruption more than five decades ago. The volcano has entered a semi-dormant phase, but you can still hear its quakes and groans while exploring its slopes. Seasoned guides are on hand to point out the old lava flows from 1968 and identify some of the area’s better camouflaged animals.