The Top Hiking Trails in Costa Rica

The ethereal Rio Celeste in the Central Highlands is well worth the hike
The ethereal Rio Celeste in the Central Highlands is well worth the hike | © Jon Arnold Images Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Jenn Parker
3 September 2021

One of the best ways to explore Costa Rica and its diverse habitats is by hiking. Being on foot allows you to be truly immersed in your surroundings; your chances of unique wildlife encounters are also far greater. There’s something soothing and primal about finding yourself deep in the jungle – so add one of these unforgettable hikes to your Costa Rican adventure.

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Santa Juana Mountain Hike

The Santa Juana mountain hike is a magical experience and one that the whole family can enjoy. A certified guide will accompany you through the jungle, where you can see where two rivers are born, swim in a pristine natural pool beneath a stunning waterfall, see an abundance of wildlife and enjoy a panoramic view of the Manuel Antonio National Park from an elevated viewpoint.

Tirimbina Biological Reserve Night Hike

The Tirimbina Biological Reserve is a research, education and ecotourism destination in the beautiful rainforest of Sarapiquí. There are 6mi (9km) of trails within the reserve and several different hiking options. The best way to experience this biodiverse spot is by taking a guided hike with an expert naturalist. The superior choice is the night hike, when the forest comes alive with nocturnal creatures.

A suspension bridge over the Sarapiqui River allows further exploration of the rainforest in Tirimbina Biological Reserve | © Kim Hammar / Alamy Stock Photo

Arenal Hanging Bridges and Nature Hike

This self-guided or guided hike will take you across 15 different bridges, six of which are hanging high up in the rainforest canopy. The 2mi (3km) looped trail is a beautiful nature hike for those looking for a more gentle pace. The rainforest is alive with birds, monkeys, butterflies and more elusive creatures that require a bit of luck and a keen eye to see. The plant life is also spectacular.

Manuel Antonio National Park Hike

This 2mi (3km) looped hike through the Manuel Antonio National Park is one of the most amazing short hikes in Costa Rica. The trail leads you through the dense canopy to the picturesque Third Beach. You’ll have the opportunity to spot four different types of monkey, a vibrant variety of tropical birds and, depending on your luck that day, a diversity of other rainforest dwellers.

Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica | © adrian hepworth / Alamy Stock Photo

Rio Celeste and Tenorio Volcano Hike

You’ll need to take photos of this 5mi (8km) guided hike through the Tenorio National Park, just to remind yourself that it was real. Rio Celeste is like something out of a fairytale. The water has an unreal turquoise glow; you’ll find a formidable waterfall and an ethereal natural pool. This hike is moderately challenging, but well worth the effort.

Curú Wildlife Refuge Hike

The Curú Wildlife Refuge is located on the southern coast of the Nicoya Peninsula. It’s a small wildlife refuge, but there are multiple hiking trails that will take you through five distinct habitats, including tropical dry, wet and mangrove forests, coastal and farmland. This is an important meeting place for migratory birds and other animals. The hike takes about six hours with a guide and is best if you start early.

Quesera Beach, Curú Wildlife Refuge, in Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula | © adrian hepworth / Alamy Stock Photo

Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge Hike

Take a half-day hike through the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge with an expert guide and witness the immense wonder of this protected reserve. This refuge is home to over 380 species of birds, sloths, white-faced capuchin monkeys, howler monkeys, iguanas and an abundance of other incredible species. The rainforest here is bursting with plant life and has a thriving and intoxicating energy.

Hot Springs Hiking Tour in Sensoria

Take a four-hour hike on the trails of Sensoria. Guanacaste province is known for its dry forests and vast farmlands, but when you get to this sanctuary outside of the Rincon de la Vieja National Park, the scenery completely changes. Within this verdant forest runs the serene waters of the Rio Celeste. Hiking this jungle trail will grant you the opportunity to encounter some fascinating wildlife and the chance to soak in a natural thermal pool, which will be welcome after the hike.

The Rio Celeste waterfall in Costa Rica | © John Crux / Alamy Stock Photo

Cerro Chirripó Grande Hike

Cerro Chirripó Grande is the highest peak in Costa Rica, and this is a strenuous 9mi (15km) hike to elevations of over 10,000ft (3,000m). From the peak on a clear day, you can see both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Camping is prohibited in the park, but there is a refuge that can house up to 40 climbers; you have to reserve space in advance. The weather can be quite chilly at these elevations, so make sure you bring warm clothes, as well as lots of water, food and a cooking stove, if you are planning on spending the night.

Corcovado National Park

The Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula is home to jaguars, tapirs, scarlet macaws, monkeys and an unimaginable abundance of other rainforest species. With many different hiking trails and entry points into the park, you can hike for a few hours or embark on a trip that will last for several days. However you choose to explore this outrageously beautiful place, you must have a professional guide with you.

Wildlife watching in the rainforest, Corcovado, in Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula | © Martin Shields / Alamy Stock Photo

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