Costa Rica’s top 5 hikes

From paradise beaches to serene waterfalls, magical rainforests to sublime volcanoes, Costa Rica’s best hikes explore its wildest and liveliest landscapes
Cerro Chirripo view in Costa Rica. Photo: Shutterstock
Cerro Chirripo view in Costa Rica. Photo: Shutterstock

Don’t forget, each and every hike mentioned below can be included on your Insight Guides Costa Rica holiday itinerary. Browse suggested trips created by local expert Alain online now or submit a trip request to discuss your holiday ideas with Alain directly.

1. The Pacific Coastal Path

Just south of Drake Bay village, on the Osa Peninsula, the wild coastal footpath begins with an impressive hanging bridge crossing the Rio Aguijitas. This easy-to-walk scenic trail cuts between dense jungle on the land side, and crashing surf on the Pacific side. There are also plenty of calm sandy coves along the way. The terrain is flat but temperatures are feverishly hot. Take plenty of water and supplies, especially if you plan to spend the day on one of the secluded beaches along the way. 

The path leads south all the way to Punta Marenco Lodge, in the 500-hectare (1,200-acre) Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Río Claro. Guests stay in rustic but comfortable grass huts perched over the Pacific, with cool breezes, hammocks on private verandahs, and views of Caño Island.

2. Chirripó National Park

The ultimate hike to Costa Rica’s (and southern Central America’s) highest peak, here you’ll find a real diversity of landscapes, including páramos – alpine moors – tall oak forests, fern groves, cloud forests, and crystal-clear glacial lakes.

Be warned, only really fit walkers willing to brave a long day of hiking, starting before dawn, in the cold, and quite possibly rain, make the ascent to the top of Mount Chirripó. A lodge and several trails, which are regularly maintained, make the ascent at least possible. Daytime temperatures reach 27°C (80°F) but at night they can drop to almost freezing. The best months to attempt Chirripó are February and March, the driest time of year, but during the rainy months the flora is splendid. Visits to Chirripó require reservations many months in advance during popular times, which Alain, our local expert, can assist you with.

It’s a good idea to arrive a couple of days in advance of your climb in order to acclimatise to the altitude. To get an early enough start, you should spend the night before your climb at one of the inexpensive hotels clustered in and around San Gerardo de Rivas. Taking your trip with Insight Guides will ensure you’re accompanied by an experienced, knowledgeable guide for your trek. Submit a trip request today to begin planning your adventure with local expert Alain.

La Cangreja waterfall in Rincón de La Vieja National Park. Photo: ShutterstockLa Cangreja waterfall in Rincón de La Vieja National Park. Photo: Shutterstock

3. Rincón de la Vieja National Park

This spectacular park contains two towering volcanic peaks, the slightly higher one reaching a height of 1,916 meters (6,286ft), plus four complete ecosystems within its 14,000 hectares (35,000 acres). A two-hour, 10km hike through forests and meadows will take you to La Cangreja Waterfall where you’ll find thermal springs and a cool swimming hole. The hike begins in lush, tropical jungle but quickly opens out onto a dry hillside with expansive views across to Nicaragua.

The waterfall and pool offer the perfect place for a refreshing dip before your return hike. Don't forget your swimming kit!

The volcano is intermittently quite active now and some hiking trails are off limits, owing to noxious gas emissions. Check current conditions with the park office before heading to the park.

4. Volcán Barva

There is a steep road to the Volcán Barva that runs just above the town of Barva de Heredia, through San José de la Montaña and on toward Sacramento. The volcano is on the western side of Parque Nacional Braulio Carrillo; from the ranger station it’s an enjoyable hike through cloud forest dripping with moss and epiphytes to the crater lake. An alternative one-hour hike will take you to Laguna Barva (2,900 meters/9,514ft), a green lake in an extinct crater rimmed with trees.

If you are still feeling energetic, there is the smaller Laguna Copey to explore, another 40-minute walk away. You may be rewarded by sighting a quetzal there – but don’t bank on it. Wherever you hike on Volcán Barva, bring rain gear, a compass, and waterproof shoes or boots – even in the dry season – and be sure to keep to the designated paths. The roads in this area crisscross one another and are not at all well marked. Even Josefinos taking Sunday drives have to stop passersby and ask for directions.

Beach and jungle in Corcovado National Park. Photo: ShutterstockBeach and jungle in Corcovado National Park. Photo: Shutterstock

5. Corcovado National Park

The trail between La Leona and La Sirena stations alternates between beach and forest, with refreshing river dips and scarlet macaws squawking overhead. Tackle it on Day 5 of Insight Guides' Costa Rica's Wild South holiday

The ideal time to hike and camp in Corcovado is during the dry season, from December through April. A visit might include a night at each of the three park stations, with days spent hiking from one station to the next. (Stations are joined by trails, each of which requires from three to 10 hours of hiking time.) It is important to come well equipped: a tent, mosquito net, insect repellent, sun hat and sunscreen, good hiking shoes, and a couple of changes of socks are essential – plus your own food.

The La Sirena station has wonderful trails into the forest and along the beach, although the station itself, sadly, has been neglected. At the north end of the park is the Los Patos Station, an 11km (7-mile) hike from Sirena on a wide trail that runs parallel to the El Tigre River. The trail allows relatively easy wildlife viewing. Even though it passes through thick forest, you stand a reasonably good chance of seeing at least tracks of jaguar, ocelot, and tapir. 

Hikers used to be able to hike along the beach to the San Pedrillo station, midway between Drake Bay and Sirena, but that route is now closed because it was deemed too dangerous. You can still enter the park at the station if you arrive by boat. The La Leona station is the southernmost park station, and it’s the easiest to hike to, along the beach from Carate. There is camping at all the stations.

Ready to take your trip to Costa Rica with Insight Guides?

Browse local expert Alain's suggested itineraries online now or submit a trip request to talk over your travel plans directly