Last Updated: Feb 02, 2013
Discover the country's diverse parks and reserves, which highlight Costa Rica’s countless natural wonders. Trek through verdant rainforest, tropical dry forest, coastline, cloud forest, and mountains – sometimes experiencing several ecosystems along a single park trail. Nature lovers and birding aficionados should consider hiring a naturalist guide to improve their chances of spotting camouflaged flora and fauna.
Though most trails are well maintained and display signage, hikers should always be prepared. Keep in mind that estimated hike times may be under or overestimated depending upon your skill level, so always ask a park ranger. Hike during daylight hours and begin the return trip well before dusk, which usually begins around 5:30 p.m. in Costa Rica.
Natural treasures abound in the north Pacific, where hikers are treated to one of the world’s last remaining tropical dry forests in Santa Rosa National Park, boiling mud pots at Rincon de La Vieja National Park, and the rugged terrain of Cabo Blanco Reserve.
Explore the beachside jungles of Manuel Antonio National Park, known for its serene white sand beaches and troops of white-faced monkeys, or look for scarlet macaws in Carara National Park – two the central Pacific’s most popular destinations. Hikers can expect both easy and moderate terrain, and most trails span less than three miles.
Hike the mountainous paramo of Chirripo National Park, home to the highest peak in Costa Rica. Serious hikers relish the challenge of ascending Mount Chirripo, a three-day trek that affords incredible views and an exceptional climb through at least five ecosystems. One of the most biologically intense places on Earth, Corcovado National Park has beautiful hiking trails that snake through the Osa Peninsula's dense rainforest. Heavy rains from April to December can making visiting the park difficult to impossible.
Arenal Volcano National Park has four short trails that showcase the area's natural wonders: hike to old lava flows while listening to volcanic rumbles, then take in the panoramas of scenic Lake Arenal. At Tenorio Volcano National Park, trek around thermal geysers, sizzling hot springs, and a baby-blue river that tumbles over a cliff into one of Costa Rica’s most famous waterfalls. This hike is moderate to difficult, especially during the rainy season when paths are slick.
The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve and the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve are two local hotspots for spectacular guided hikes through mist-shrouded cloud forest where orchids and bromeliads hang like ornaments from trees. Night hikes are a regional specialty, and sightings include porcupines, lemurs and sleeping birds.
Take a day trip to Poas Volcano National Park or Irazu Volcano National Park, where gentle paths amble to lookout points over steaming volcanic craters. Get away from it all at Braulio Carrillo National Park, a diverse landscape marked by lush rainforest, gorgeous waterfalls, and towering volcanoes. Or, take an easy hike to Guayabo National Monument and discover remnants of the valley’s ancient civilizations.
Spend an afternoon hiking along a sandy beach path, through indigenous reserves, or along meandering rainforest trails. Sloths, iguanas and white-faced monkeys are everyday sightings at the beachfront Cahuita National Park. Farther south, guided hikes in Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge traverse rainforest, swamp and pristine beaches, focusing on the park’s astounding biological diversity.
- Carry plenty of water
- If possible, hire a local guide
- Wear quick-dry, sturdy shoes
- Use high SPF sunscreen
- Pack extra camera batteries
- Bring along a swimsuit
- Dress in layers
- Take a lightweight poncho or rain gear
- Carry a small headlamp or flashlight