Home » COSTA RICA HIKING GUIDE – 20 Best Hikes in Costa Rica
COSTA RICA HIKING GUIDE – 20 Best Hikes in Costa Rica
Costa Rica has more than 26 National Parks, wildlife refuges and private reserves which makes up 30% of protected land. Hiking in Costa Rica leads you through the lush rainforests and towards the powerful Costa Rica waterfalls, along the stunning tropical coast or up the majestic mountains and volcanos in Costa Rica. Most of the hikes in Costa Rica lead you along, or towards beautiful viewpoints or a collection of waterfalls. Along the way you can encounter various wildlife of Costa Rica, small and big, and explore the primary rainforests and beautiful flowers and plants. In this complete Costa Rica hiking guide you will find the 20 best hikes in Costa Rica with all the information you need and our personal experience info.
Best time for hiking in Costa Rica
Generally the best time to visit Costa Rica is during the dry season that runs from December through April. This is also some of the best periods for hiking in Costa Rica as the hiking trails can then be expected to be in good condition. During the rainy season, also known as ‘green season’ in Costa Rica, the trails can be too slippery and views might be obstructed by clouds. Especially the higher up in the mountains you are, the more chance of clouds passing by.
Another general rule is to hike in the morning to avoid the midday heat. Also, always prepare and know how long a hike will take so you don’t end up hiking in the dark. Despite it’s planned to be a night hike of course.
COSTA RICA HIKING GUIDE – 20 BEST HIKES IN COSTA RICA
Manuel Antonio National Park
Manuel Antonio is one of the most popular National Parks in Costa Rica to observe wildlife and to experience the lush tropical rainforest and unspoiled beaches. Located along the Central Pacific coast just south of the city of Quepos in Puntarenas, Manuel Antonio National Park has the purpose to protect the rainforest, beaches, mangrove habitats and animals.
The well maintained hiking trails in the park lead you through the rainforest and along some of the most beautiful beaches in Costa Rica. Fun fact is that Manuel Antonio National Park is even internationally recognised as one of the most biodiverse parks on the planet!
You can either hike by yourself through Manuel Antonio park or do a guided day hike. The 10 different hiking trailsare well signposted and be seen on the map of Manuel Antonio National Park below. The entrance fee to Manuel Antonio park is $16 per person for foreigners and tickets must be purchased online in advance!
Tenorio Volcano National Park to Rio Celeste waterfall
Located in the northern region of Costa Rica, Tenorio Volcano National Park was created in 1995 and is one of the country’s youngest National Parks. It’s name comes from the active Tenorio volcano which is a beautiful symmetrical cinder cone shaped volcano of 1916 meters height.
In Tenorio National Park visitors can explore the the beautiful Rio Celeste river and waterfall with its distinctive blue color, natural hot springs and an abundance of flora and fauna. The complete hike through the park is an out-and-back trail of 5.5 kilometres long. You will need about 4 – 5 hours to explore the entire park and if you take the time to enjoy the several points of interest along the way. If you only want to do the Rio Celeste hike Costa Rica it will take you 20 minutes to get to the waterfall from the entrance. The entrance fee for Tenorio Volcano National Park is $12 per person for tourists.
The Rio Celeste waterfall is the first, and probably most popular point of interest of Tenorio National Park. This is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Costa Rica with it’s unbelievably turquoise color of water. The Rio Celeste waterfall hike Costa Rica takes about 20 minutes from the entrance to get to the beginning of the stairs. From here you will have a beautiful vantage point on the 30 meters high Rio Celeste Waterfall. The other spots to visit in the park are La Laguna Azul, Los Borbollones and El Teсidero.
Located along the southern Caribbean Coast on only a 20 minute drive from the laidback town Puerto Viejo, this lush nature park is perfect for outdoor people. Along the 8 km well maintained point to point trail, you can spot a variety of wildlife, relax on the stunning white sand beaches and snorkel to discover the wonderful coral reefs. The hiking trail is a combination of wooden boardwalk though the jungle and a sandy path parallel along the beautiful coast. In our opinion is Cahuita National Park has some of the best hiking trails in Costa Rica that we’ve explored during our 3 months road trip in Costa Rica.
Cahuita National Park is one of the smallest National Parks in Costa Rica protecting an area of 1067 hectare of rainforest, mangrove and coral reefs. The 8 km point to point trail leads visitors through the rainforest and along the stunning white sand beaches. Created in 1970, the park has the mission to protect endangered coral reefs and the forest behind the beach. The entrance fee is $5 USD (3000 colones) for foreigners.
The Nauyaca Waterfalls are some of the most beautiful waterfalls in Costa Rica. Within the rainforest of Costa Rica’s south west coast are these two tier falls located. A 4 kilometre hike leads you through the jungle towards these amazing waterfalls. The hike to the falls is very well signed on a wide dirt path so you can’t get lost. It’s not an exhausting hike or with steep parts. Very easy to do for anyone who is used to a bit of walking. Despite it is possible to do the hike on flip flops, I would advice to wear hiking shoes or at least comfortable sneakers for some extra grip. Also bring a swimsuit to cool off at the waterfalls before you make your way back to the parking lot.
The Nauyaca falls consist of two levels. The lower falls are 20 meters high and flow down along the rocks into a natural pool. In this pool at the bottom of the Nauyaca falls you can swim as its about 6 meters deep and very wide. A beautiful experience with all the green jungle around you. If you want to explore the upper falls you can get there via a short path. These falls are 45 meter high and flow into a small pool where you can’t swim. The entrance fee is $10 per person and is a self guided tour.
If you’re in for a huge adventure and have hiked volcanos before, then hiking up Arenal volcano in La Fortuna is one of the top hikes in Costa Rica. This demanding hike isn’t for the faint hearted as the incline is insane. The 1633 meters high strato volcano is built upon layers of ash, rock and lava and is officially not allowed to hike. But, when staying in La Fortuna you will soon enough notice that many people do this epic Costa Rica volcano hike.
Watching the sunrise from the summit of Arenal volcano is a once in a lifetime experience and something to never forget. Keep in mind that your fitness level has to be good for the La Fortuna volcano hike. There are plenty of guides in La Fortuna offering to take you up Arenal volcano.
Catarata del Toro is one of the beautiful waterfalls in Costa Rica. Located in a private ecological reserve and surrounded by wonderful lush jungle, this 90 meters high waterfall pours down into an extinct volcanic crater. The total round trip to get to the base of the waterfall is 3.5 kilometres and takes you anywhere between 20 – 30 minutes. Not a huge hike, but definitely worth it.
With four fantastic viewpoints and many different trees, flowers and birds to see, the Bajos del Toro waterfall hike is one of the best waterfall hikes in Costa Rica. Make sure to wear sturdy shoes as the stairs and rocks down at the waterfall can be slippery.
The Gandoca National Park is located along the Southern Caribbean coast and stretches all the way from the little village of Manzanillo down to the border of Panama. The nature park includes 15 kilometre of wild white sand beaches backed by coconut trees and lush primary rainforest. You can explore the park via it’s beautiful trails that lead you along the stunning beaches, picturesque little coves, rocky outcrops and through the rainforest.
A coastal trail starts in the town of Manzanillo and stretches 5.5 kilometres (3.4 miles) one way all the way to Punta Mona. If you’re not looking for a long hike, you can also only explore the first kilometer to Punta Manzanillo. This will bring you to the most beautiful viewpoint in the park and definitely the highlight of your visit.
The other trails throughout Gandoca lead you to different areas of the nature park, varying from coastal trails to jungle trails. Along the trail you can have a stop at the beautiful beaches, so don’t forget to bring your bathing suit!
The La Paz waterfall gardens Nature Park is a beautiful privately owned ecological attraction near San Jose. It features some of the most famous waterfalls in Costa Rica, the largest animal sanctuary in Costa Rica and 3.5 kilometres of hiking trails through the lush tropical rainforest. You will need at least 2 hours to explore everything in the park which is then on a pretty fast pace. So if you want to take your time to enjoy all the waterfalls and see the wildlife such as jaguars, pumas, sloths, monkeys, snakes, frogs in the sanctuary, then try to spend at least half a day here.
The trails lead you through the mesmerising clouds forest, along the flowing white rivers with 5 spectacular waterfalls which you can admire from several viewing platforms. You can easily navigate through the park by yourself. The hiking trails are clearly signed and well maintained paved paths.
Entrance fee La Paz waterfall gardens for tourists: Adults $48 + tax, 03 – 12 years $32 + tax.
Entrance fee La Paz waterfall gardens for locals and residents: Adults $28 + tax, 03 – 12 years $19 + tax.
Corcovado National Park has some of the best hiking trails in Costa Rica and is one of the most biologically diverse places on earth, located in the remote Osa Peninsula. When doing a Costa Rica jungle trek through Corcovado National Park, you will experience what Costa Rica is about. Because the National Park protects about 5% of the world’s biodiversity and contains 13 diverse ecosystems, you can see a huge variety of wildlife. That makes Corcovado National Park some of the best places to hike in Costa Rica. With a guide you will explore the jungle and hike the several trails while learning more about the flora and fauna around you.
There are four ranger stations in Corcovado National Park that you can choose from to visit. Los Patos, Leona, San Pedrillo and Sirena. From these stations you can do day trip hikes, with the trail from San Pedrillo and Sirena being the most popular. But if you have the time and you literally want to dive deep into the wild jungle of Costa Rica, you can choose for the 14 kilometer (8.6 mile) overnight hike from Leona to Sirena. By doing this Costa Rica trekking tour thought the dense jungle, you have more chance of spotting endangered species such as jaguars, pumas, red-backed squirrel monkeys, anteaters, wild pigs and tapirs.
La Fortuna waterfall hike
One of the beautiful Costa Rica waterfall hikes is to the La Fortuna waterfall. This 75 meters (246 feet) high waterfall comes straight out of the jungle and drops down into a bright blue pool.
To get down to the base of the waterfall, you have to conquer approximately 530 steps. The trails are well maintained and there are benches to rest along the way. The surrounded area of La Fortuna waterfall is beautiful with tropical rainforest and views on the surrounding volcanic mountains. It’s a great half day trip and you can even take a refreshing dip in the pool of the waterfall. This is definitely one of the best hikes in La Fortuna to some of the most beautiful waterfalls in Costa Rica. Make sure to put this La Fortuna hike on your Costa Rica itinerary. The entrance fee for La Fortuna waterfall is $18 per person for adults and for children it is $5.
Some of the lesser known Costa Rica hiking trails is the Rainmaker Forest trail. Located just a 30 minutes drive outside of Manuel Antonio, Rainmaker forest is an undiscovered secret that leads you along a river and through beautiful primary rainforest. You can spot a waterfall, cross many hanging bridges, watch over the stunning rainforest from a treetop viewpoint and spot plenty of wildlife such as toucans, dart frogs, butterflies and much more birds, amphibians and reptiles.
The entrance fee to Rainmaker forest is $20 per person. If you want to do a night hike in Costa Rica you can book this as well at Rainmaker forest. During a night hike you can see a whole different world as nocturnal species come to life. A guided night tour starts around 6.30 PM and reservations need to be made beforehand.
La Muralla waterfall hike
La Muralla waterfall is located in Turrialba and is some of the great Costa Rica waterfall hikes. Surrounded by green grassland and lots of trees it feels as if you’ve entered a fairytale. The way this waterfall and the paradise surroundings blend together is something we haven’t seen at other waterfalls in Costa Rica.
It is not a commercialised waterfall at all, so you will most likely have the place to yourself. Because of the huge open area and big grassland, there is plenty of space to picnic. There is a river where you can cool off after the hike but it’s not deep enough for swimming.
The hike down to La Muralla is 1.5 kilometre one way and takes about 20 – 30 minutes. The descend is about 180 meters, so the trek back up will make you sweat! It is advisable to wear proper hiking shoes.
The Chirripo mountain is the highest mountain in Costa Rica standing at 3,820 m (12,530 ft). You can climb to the summit of this mountain but it requires an overnight stay at the base and up at the top in Chirripo National Park. It is pretty common to do the 2 night stay to watch the sunrise from the summit. But, you will have to make reservations far in advance. It depends on the period, but make sure to check a few months ahead! You can also book with a tour company that provides all the organisation.
El Tigre waterfall trail
The El Tigre waterfall trail is one of the best Costa Rica waterfall hikes. Along this 5 kilometre jungle trail you will pass four beautiful waterfalls from 15 to 30 meters height. During the hike you will cross the river a few times by walking on the hanging bridges from which there are 10 in total. The waterfalls you will see along the way are beautiful and the nature you’re surrounded with is impressive. In our opinion the El Tigre waterfall hike is one of the best hikes in Monteverde Costa Rica.
The entrance fee for the El Tigre waterfalls differs on which tour you choose. There are two options.
Full package $59 for adults and $49 until 18 years old. This is the entrance to the trails and includes horseback riding for the last 3 kilometres. You can also choose to go back to the entrance with a 4×4 safari car if you don’t fancy riding a horse.
Big hike $29 for adults and $19 until 18 years old. This option does not include the pick up with the horses or safari car. In this case you need to hike the last 3 kilometres back which is a pretty heavy incline.
If you haven’t walked on a hanging bridge during your time in Costa Rica, you haven’t seen anything of Costa Rica. Or at least, that’s our thought! You will cross many hanging bridges when you go our in nature in Costa Rica. And some of the most famous ones are in Monteverde and La Fortuna.
There are a two hanging bridges parks in and near La Fortuna. The Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges and Arenal Sky Adventures park. However the Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges has a total of 16 bridges while the Sky Walk Hanging Bridges at Arenal Sky Adventures park only has 5 bridges. So there is an obvious difference in experiencing the parks. If you are looking for a quick visit because you’re short in time, then the Sky Walk Hanging Bridges are an option. But if you want to explore the rainforest longer then the Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges park is your choice.
Eco Chontales waterfall hike
The hike to Eco Chontales waterfall is a short but stunning walk to this 60 meters high waterfall. Tucked away in the jungle and hidden between Dominical and Perez Zeledon, you can easily visit this waterfall during a day trip from Uvita and Manuel Antonio. At the bottom of Eco Chontales waterfall is a beautiful natural pool in which you can safely swim and admire the beautiful surroundings. The entrance fee for visiting Eco Chontales waterfall is 3000 colones per person.
The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve offers some of the best Monteverde hiking trails. High up in the cloud forests you will find a collection of several trails that show you the diverse forests and landscapes of Monteverde. These eco systems are some of the most treasured yet vulnerable in Costa Rica.
There are several Monteverde trails with Monteverde Cloud Forest being the most popular one. Santa Elena Cloud Forest is another option which also belongs to some of the best hikes in Monteverde Costa Rica. Take into account that it’s often raining in Monteverde, so bring a raincoat.
Cerro Chato hike
The hike to Chato volcano Costa Rica is officially closed from La Fortuna waterfall due to erosion. However, there is another way to get up with a guide. Ask around at Arenal Observatory Lodge and you’ll soon enough get a lead. The hike goes to the lesser-known dormant volcano, Cerro Chato. It’s not a hike for everyone concerning the incline and off the beaten path trail. However, it’s a once in a lifetime experience to hike to the crater of a dormant volcano. There you can cool off with a refreshing dip in the crater lake. The trail distance is 3.2 kilometres one way which will take you anywhere between 2 to 3 hours.
Rincon de la Vieja National Park
Rincon de la Vieja National Park is a huge park that consists of two volcanoes, 32 rivers and streams and an incredible variety of flora and fauna. You can explore the many hiking trails in the park that go through the tropical dry forest and along charming waterfalls where you can swim. Other features in the park include a freshwater lagoon, hot springs and boiling mud pots where you can witness the powerful geothermal energy released by the volcano.
The entrance fee for Rincon de la Vieja National Park is $16.95 USD for adult foreigners and $5.65 USD for children from 6-12 years.
Arenal Volcano National Park trails
The Arenal Volcano National Park has trails leading you through rainforest, over the lava fields from previous eruptions and along some incredible vantage point of Arenal volcano. The several hikes in this park are Heliconias, Los Miradores and El Ceibo trail. They are all relatively short between 2 to 3 kilometres and give wonderful views of the lava fields and Arenal volcano. It’s a great family activity as the hiking trails are fairly flat through the rainforest. Only at the lava fields are some uneven parts but nothing too serious.
Entrance fee & opening times Arenal Volcano National Park: $15 USD for adult foreigners and $5 USD for children. The park is open every day from 8 AM to 4 PM.
More Costa Rica travel inspiration
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