The Top 10 Hiking Trails in Costa Rica

Costa Rica | © dconvertini/Flickr
Costa Rica | © dconvertini/Flickr
Photo of Jenn Parker
11 July 2017

One of the best ways to explore Costa Rica and its diverse habitats is by hiking. Being on foot allows you to be truly present and immersed in your surroundings. You are also far quieter on foot than by car, quad, shuttle, or boat, so your chances of having unique wildlife experiences are far greater. There is something soothing, healing, enlightening, and primal about finding yourself deep with the jungle among ancient trees, surrounded by a symphony of bird, frog, and insect songs and by the cleanest and most oxygen-rich air you can imagine.

Santa Juana Mountain Hike

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

Nature everywhere | © Courtesy of Santa Juana Lodge

Tirimbina Biological Reserve Night Hike

The Tirimbina Biological Reserve is a research, education, and ecotourism destination in the beautiful rainforest of Sarapiqui. There are six miles (nine kilometers) of trails within the reserve and several different hiking and walking options. The best way to experience all that this biodiverse spot has to offer is by taking a guided hike with an expert naturalist. The best of the options has to be the night hike, as at night the forest comes alive with fascinating nocturnal animals.

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 two-mile (three-kilometer) looped trail is a beautiful nature hike for those looking for a more gentle pace. The rainforest is alive with birds, monkeys, butterflies, and other more elusive creatures that require a bit of luck and a keen eye. The plant life is also spectacular.

Walk through the canopy | © Peter Sheik/Flickr

Manuel Antonio National Park Hike

This two-mile (three-kilometer) 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 rainforest and to the picturesque Third Beach. You will have the opportunity to spot four different types of monkey, a vibrant variety of tropical birds, and, depending on your luck that day, a wide diversity of other rainforest dwellers.

Rio Celeste and Tenorio Volcano Hike

You will need to take photos of this five-mile (eight-kilometer) guided hike through the Tenorio National Park, just to remind yourself that it was real. Rio Celeste is like something out of a fairy tale. The water is an unreal opaque turquoise glowing color and there is a lovely waterfall. This hike is moderately challenging, but well worth the effort.

Not photoshopped | © Thierry Lecierc/Flickr

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. The Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife 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.

Curú Wildlife Refuge Hike

The Curú Wildlife Refuge is located on the southern coast of the Nicoya Peninsula. It is a small wildlife refuge, but there are multiple hiking trails that will take you through five distinct habitats, including tropical dry forest, tropical wet forest, mangrove forest, marine/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.

Intricate mangrove forest | © US Fish and Wildlife Service/Flickr

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. The lush and verdant forest seems like a beautiful oasis. Within this sanctuary runs the magical blue 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.

Cerro Chirripó Grande Hike

Cerro Chirripó Grande is the highest peak in Costa Rica, and this is a strenuous nine-mile (15-kilometer) hike to elevations of over 10,000 feet (3,000 meters). 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.

Mystical and challenging hike | © Luis Manuel Madrigal Mena/Flickr

Corcovado National Park

The Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula has been rightfully labeled by National Geographic as one of the most biologically intense places on the planet. This Pacific lowland rainforest is home to jaguars, tapirs, scarlet macaws, monkeys, and an unimaginable abundance of other rainforest animal and plant species. There are 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.