Hiking in Costa Rica: 6 Incredible Costa Rica Hiking Trails

With its diverse and vibrant landscapes, Costa Rica is a hiker's paradise, catering to all levels of adventurers. From leisurely coastal rainforest trails to challenging mountain climbs, the country's boundless hiking opportunities promise unforgettable journeys into its breathtaking natural beauty.

Hiking Costa Rica

Hiking in Costa Rica perfectly encapsulates the country’s tagline “pura vida” meaning pure life. In a country full of natural splendour and unrivalled views, lush rainforests and rugged terrains beckon hiking enthusiasts and leisurely walkers alike. It is a playground for those with an adventurous soul, wanting to connect with nature. With such rich biodiversity, hikes in Costa Rica will take you through jungle, around stunning coastlines and among cascading waterfalls. Here we share the best places for walks, hikes, and treks in Costa Rica, for all levels and abilities, along with what to pack.

What to Pack for Hiking in Costa Rica


Having the right equipment for hiking in Costa Rica – no matter how long or short the route – is vital to your enjoyment. You don’t want to get caught out on the trail underprepared for the four seasons and multiple environments that you may come across in one day.

  • Clothing: Lightweight, breathable, and quick-drying clothing is ideal as it can get damp and sweaty when hiking in Costa Rica. Pack shorts and t-shirts for excursions and keep colours light and neutral to avoid insects. Wear loose, long-sleeved tops and long trousers to cover skin if you are prone to getting bitten.
  • Appropriate footwear: Sturdy, comfortable hiking boots with good grip are necessary for tackling different terrains and protecting your feet.
  • Flip-flops/sandals: For the beach.
  • Rain gear: Be ready for unpredictable rain showers with a waterproof jacket or poncho.
  • Sun protection: A wide-brimmed hat or cap, sunglasses, and sunscreen with high SPF will shield you from the intense tropical sun.
  • Trekking poles: Aid your balance with poles when on steep or uneven trails.
  • Insect repellent: To ward off mosquitoes and other biting insects.
  • First Aid Kit: Plasters, antiseptic and pain relief, are useful to have.
  • Map and compass: Even if you have a guide, having a Costa Rica hiking map and compass as a backup can be helpful to keep you on track and aware of your surroundings.
  • Torch: This will be useful if you plan to hike during early mornings or late evenings or if you're doing overnight treks.
  • A camera and binoculars: Don’t miss the incredible wildlife and stunning vistas.
  • Small backpack: A comfortable daypack is needed to carry your essentials during hikes.
  • Cash: Carry some local currency in a secure, waterproof pouch.
  • Travel towel: A compact, quick-drying towel can be useful for sweaty hikes or after a dip in the waterfalls.
  • Swimwear: Many Costa Rica hiking tours lead to refreshing waterfalls or beautiful beaches.

Where to Hike in Costa Rica

Choose from volcano hikes or rainforest hikes, near beaches or inland, Costa Rica’s trails are varied and diverse. Most are guided, and the trails are sign-posted, which makes it easy to follow them. The hardest thing will be choosing where to start, so here are some of the best hikes in Costa Rica.

Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve

Skill level: Trails here are moderately easy.

Best for: Families with children or those travelling with older adults, particularly if you want to see wildlife.

A hotspot for wildlife, Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is home to a wide variety of plant and animal species including Howler monkeys, White-faced Capuchin monkeys, sloths, amazing butterflies, and colourful birds. The reserve offers several hiking trails catering to different fitness levels and interests. Sendero Bosque Nuboso (Cloud Forest Trail) is one of the main and most popular. Taking between 1.5 and 2.5 hours to complete, it is known for its well-maintained paths and diverse flora and fauna, particularly the bird life. You might spot the famous Resplendent Quetzal or Three-wattled Bellbird, as well as toucans, hummingbirds and colourful tanagers.

La Ventana (window) trail is relatively short, about 1.2km, and takes 2 to 3 hours. The main highlight is reaching the "window" – a viewpoint with breathtaking views of the cloud forest canopy and surrounding landscape. Sendero El Camino (The Path Trail) is considered one of the easiest and most accessible trails in the reserve, it is roughly 0.8 km and more of a leisurely stroll, taking 30 minutes to an hour allowing hikers to explore the forest at a gentle pace and spot some wildlife.

Rio Celeste

Skill level: This hike is moderate, it takes about 3 to 4 hours, with some steep parts.

Best for: Younger travellers and couples looking for a showstopping Insta-moment.

Set in Tenorio Volcano National Park, Rio Celeste is one of the most striking places for hiking in Costa Rica thanks to the sight of the river itself. Its vibrant turquoise colour is a result of the merging of two streams, Rio Buenavista and Quebrada Agria. Both contain high levels of certain minerals, which, when mixed in the right proportions, create the intense blue hue that gives the river its name Celeste meaning celestial or sky-blue in Spanish. The hike takes you to Los Teñideros, where you can witness the exact point where the two rivers meet, and the colour transformation occurs. It is a spectacular thing to see and an amazing photo opportunity. On route, you’ll pass stunning surroundings; waterfalls, greenery and other distinctive features created by the volcano.

Rincon del Vieja

Skill level: Trails in this national park range from moderate to challenging.

Best for: Keen hikers and families travelling with teenagers looking for adventure, amazing scenery, and a glimpse of Costa Rican culture.

Walking in Rincon de la Vieja National Park will take you past steaming fumaroles, bubbling mud pots, and hot springs. The park's volcanic landscape is a rare sight and offers a glimpse into the earth's inner workings, as well as the chance to ease aching hiker’s feet in rejuvenating mud baths and warm springs. There’s plenty for birdwatchers and animal lovers too, as well as adventurous activities (zip-lining, horseback riding, and rock climbing), hidden waterfalls to discover and the chance to learn about the customs and traditions of the Guanacaste indigenous people who live in the surrounding area.

Rincon de la Vieja National Park offers a variety of hiking trails, ranging from easy to challenging. Las Pailas is one of the most popular and accessible trails in the park. It is a 2.5 to 3-hour loop. Sendero Catarata Río Blanco leads to the beautiful Río Blanco Waterfall, where you can enjoy a refreshing swim in its crystal-clear waters, taking about 1.5 to 2 hours round trip, while Santa María Volcano trail is a more challenging 6 to 8-hour walk to reach the summit, where you’ll be greeted with panoramic views of Lake Nicaragua and the Pacific Ocean on a clear day.

Corcovado National Park

Skill level: Routes here are easy to challenging.

Best for: This area has something for everyone, from hiking aficionados to families with young children. It’s a diverse landscape so is perfect if you are short on time and want to combine stunning beaches with rainforests, and impressive wildlife.

One of the most biodiverse places in the world, hiking in Costa Rica’s Corcovado National Park is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of experience. Its remote location on the Osa Peninsula brings with it a real sense of adventure and, because of the dense rainforest, you need to hike with a guide. There are various trails in the park, some take you to secluded beaches where turtles nest their eggs, and others lead you through lush rainforests, mangroves, cloud forests, and freshwater lagoons. The easiest is the San Pedrillo Station trail, which takes 2 to 3 hours to complete and is good for families with children or older adults. It is relatively short and mostly flat, passing beautiful rainforest scenery, and a section that leads to the beach.

Those looking for a full day’s hiking in Costa Rica should opt for the Sirena Station, which is 17 to 20km one-way, the round trip can take around 8-10 hours and sees you navigating dense rainforest, crossing streams, and walking on uneven and muddy terrain deep into the heart of the park, far away from any towns or settlements. The remote nature of the trail increases the chances of seeing the likes of jaguars and pumas, as well as various monkey species and exotic birds and the endangered Baird’s tapir. Whichever hike you choose, you’ll feel fully immersed in the park’s exquisite natural beauty.

Cahuita National Park

Skill level: The two routes range from easy to moderate.

Best for: This hike offers something a bit different, by going through coral reefs. It’s great for multigenerational families as two routes run parallel to each other. It’s also a good choice for animal lovers.

Hiking in Cahuita National Park takes you through a mix of lush rainforest and sandy beaches. Known for its coral reefs, the park offers an unusual combination of hiking and snorkelling on its underwater Coral Garden trail. As you walk in shallow waters, pop your head down into the ocean to see coral reefs, fish, rays, and even reef sharks below. Back on land, there are howler monkeys, capuchin monkeys, sloths, raccoons, and several bird species to look out for.

The coastal trail takes about 3 to 5 hours, whereas the inland trail, which runs parallel, takes 1.5 to 2.5 hours. Cahuita was established with the help of local communities to protect the coastal ecosystems and traditional livelihoods and doesn't allow any buildings or infrastructure along the hiking trails, which adds to the park's untouched atmosphere. Easy and accessible trails make these routes suitable for hikers of all ages and fitness levels.

Arenal Volcano Hikes

Skill level: A range of easy to challenging trails are available within the national park that surrounds Arenal Volcano.

Best for: These hikes are best for all levels of fitness and experience, especially if you’re looking for incredible views of the volcano.

The parks surrounding the mighty Arenal Volcano have several different hiking routes. Those wanting to get close to the main attraction can follow a well-marked trail that takes you through the forest to the base of the volcano, offering up spectacular views of it and the surrounding landscape. Hiking Arenal Volcano takes about 2 to 3 hours, but if you’re looking for something more challenging while hiking in Costa Rica, Cerro Chato is a dormant volcano next to Arenal and can be reached through a steep, muddy (in parts) rainforest route, taking 4 to 6 hours. At the summit, you are rewarded with the stunning emerald-green crater lake.

Meanwhile, families with young children might prefer the trails that wind past the Arenal Observatory Lodge, giving views of Arenal Volcano and Lake Arenal. They are relatively easy and provide opportunities for wildlife spotting too. Or take a jaunt across the suspended bridges over the top of the canopy instead.

Costa Rica Hiking Tours

Scott Dunn can prepare bespoke Costa Rica hiking tours, taking into consideration your fitness levels and abilities, what type of terrain or landscape you’d like to see, and how long you have. For inspiration though, take a look at our sample itineraries:

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