7 of Costa Rica's Best Hiking Regions
Featured destinations: Costa Rica
Published 30 March 2016
Boasting dormant volcanoes, lush rainforests and beautiful beaches, Costa Rica has diversity written all over it. And with no less than 27 national parks and countless other reserves, forests and wetlands, you won't be short on walking adventures. Here are seven of the best trail-laden regions to tread:
1. Santa Rosa National Park
Costa Rica's first national park, established in 1972, Santa Rosa is Central America's largest remaining area of dry tropical forest. Its collection of diverse habitats – including mangrove swamps, woodlands and savannahs – provide homes for jaguars, ocelots, howler monkeys, vampire bats and over 250 species of avifauna. Walking trails are aplenty too: the mile-long Naked Indian Trail winds past waterfalls or the Laguna Escondida and Caujiniquil River trek (over eight miles long) is great for spotting wildlife like white-tailed deer, drinking from ponds. Head to Playa Nancite beach from the main dirt track, where you could see thousands of nesting olive ridley sea turtles. For some Tico history, visit Costa Rica's most famous monument and the start of many of Santa Rosa's trails: La Casona, a memorial to the country's victory over American mercenaries in 1856.
2. Cerro Chato
A dormant volcano that flanks the more well-known and active Arenal Volcano in the Alajuela province, hiking to the top of 1,140m Cerro Chato isn't a walk in the park but then again, the most rewarding ones never are. Start from the Arenal Observatory Lodge and you'll rub shoulders with sloth, monkeys and iguanas on your steep climb through dense rainforest from the volcano's base. Once at the top, catch your breath by admiring Chato's milky emerald crater lake and even though it's tempting, it's advised not to take a dip because of its concoction of minerals. Descend down Chato's eastern ridge, where you can stop off and admire the stunning La Fortuna Waterfall – yes, you can enjoy that well deserved swim here!
3. Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
Costa Rica is home to 4% of all the world's known plants and animals and Monteverde Reserve is one of its richest areas. Wander its eight-mile network of trails and you'll be left gawping at the diversity of flora and fauna on show: it boasts salamanders, bats, porcupines, tapir, muskrats and more. Crane your neck skywards to see some of the 500 species of birds on show, including swallow-tailed kite and piratic flycatcher. Follow the Bosque Nuboso trail to reach La Ventana lookout for a breathtaking view across the whole forest.
4. Corcovado National Park
Just like Monteverde, this is biodiversity at its best. Located in south-western Costa Rica, it's one of the last sizeable chunks of lowland rainforest in the world and is jam-packed with wildlife: the basin is home to tapirs, macaws, monkeys, coatis and you may even be lucky enough to spot a jaguar. Follow the 10.5-mile Sirena to La Leona trail along the Pacific coast to see nesting sea turtles on Naranjo beach or trek through the heart of the park on the Los Patos to Sirena to admire its jigsaw lagoons, mangrove swamps, dry forest and mountains.
5. Cerro Chirripó
Climb to the top of Costa Rica's highest peak and you'll be rewarded with views stretching from the Pacific coast right across the breadth of the country to the Caribbean Sea. At nine miles long and 3,000m high, it's a tough trek, but a number of mountain huts provide welcome respite for anyone looking to stay the night. The trek through its namesake national park is just as rewarding as reaching the summit. Flanked by 50m-high oak trees, its one of Costa Rica's wilder parks so you'll have more chance of seeing its many inhabitants, such as peccary, pumas, woodpeckers and spider monkeys.
6. Rincon de la Vieja National Park
Iceland and Yellowstone National Park are famed for their volcanic beauty spots, but Costa Rica has its own geological wonders at Rincon de la Vieja. Peppered with waterfalls, you can spot armadillos, capuchin monkeys and even boa constrictors throughout the park but the real star of the show is the park's namesake volcano – a steaming, nine-cratered cinder-cone volcano which has bubbling pools and hot springs dotted across the park, with creamy blue crater lakes at the peaks.
7. Manuel Antonio National Park
Often named as one of the most beautiful national parks in the world, Manuel Antonio combines white sand beaches with lush rainforest along the Pacific coastline. It's Costa Rica's most popular park and small in stature, but don't let that put you off: its maze of short and simple trails will lead you to fantasy-feel waterfalls (find a great gem along the Sendero la Catarata trail) and is home to both two and three-toed sloths hiding amid the guarumo trees. The main trail, Sendero el Perezoso, also heads straight for one of the park's iconic sights at Playa Manuel Antonio: the unique fan formation of the bridge-connected Punta Catedral isle.