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Hiking in Costa Rica

From the tropical rain forests of Manuel Antonio to the smoldering volcano of Arenal, there are countless opportunities to explore the stunning trails of Costa Rica. What better way to become familiar with the country than by hiking its local treasures. Costa Rica’s natural parks including Corcovado and Santa Rosa, provide a perfect blend of adventure, wildlife and exercise. There are dozens of overnight hikes to chose from such as Mount Chirripo, the country’s highest peak offering spectacular views and an escape from the heat. For a full day adventure, hit the trail from Arenal to Monteverde, considered by many to be one of the country’s best hikes. Several tour companies near volcanoes like Arenal, Poas or Turrialba, have organized walks to the nearby craters. Below is a list of some of Costa Rica’s best hikes.

Caribbean Lowlands
In the province of Limon, hikers can climb 119 meters (390 ft) to Cerro Tortuguero, the highest point on the Caribbean coast. Although the path is steep and usually muddy from the rains, the vistas offer views of the tropical rainforest, winding canals and exotic wildlife. Hiking trips to the Tortuguero area can be booked through travel companies out of San Jose.

Central Pacific Coast
The beauty of hiking in the national park of Manuel Antonio is the ability to explore the rainforest and nearby tropical beaches in a single day. Here, trails are backdropped by the white-sand coves of Playa Espadilla Sur and Manuel Antonio. From Playa Espadilla Sur, a singe trail winds around the peninsula to Punta Catedral, offering stunning views of the ocean and national park. Hikers can continue along the route to Manual Antonio or cut across the peninsula directly to the beach.

Northern Lowlands
Located in the Alajuela Province, the biological station of La Selva has 60 km (37 mi) of well-marked trails. The only way to explore this area however, is by booking a guided tour. Each hike is led by an informed naturalist, making this an ideal option for those wanting to gain knowledge about the local wildlife. This area is great for bird watching, and there is a wooden boardwalk which allows visitors to hike even during rainy season. The drive from San Jose takes approximately 1.5 hours.

Northwestern Costa Rica
There are limitless hiking trails in the province of Alajuela, especially near Arenal National Park. The trails inside the national park traverse through a variety of ecosystems, including rainforest, savanna, and old lava flows. The lands are relatively level and climb only the flat flanks of Arenal Volcano. Near the Arenal Observatory are additional trails complete with suspension bridges and wooden boardwalks. It is possible to walk to the base of La Fortuna Waterfall from here. The drive from San Jose to Arenal National Park is 3.5 hours.

Also in this area is Monteverde, home of the Cloud Forest Reserve. This area is best known for its thick vines giving refuge to birds and monkeys. The marked trails are well maintained and can be explored with a local guide.

Another highlight in this northwestern region is Rincon de la Vieja National Park, where hikers can climb to the summit of a smoldering volcano. Numerous trails meander past mud pools and lakes, making this one of the country’s best areas to explore by foot. The 5.1 km (3 1/4 mi) hike to Blue Lake and Cangrejo Falls takes about 5 hours round trip.

Central Costa Rica
Located in the San José Province are the easy but pleasant trails of Lankester Gardens. The park has hundreds of species of flora and fauna that can be seen throughout the manicured grounds. The park itself is only 27 km (17 mi) from San Jose.

Southwest Coast
Near the southern tip of Puntarenas Province is Corcovado National Park. This area is known for its pristine rainforest populated with the country’s largest colony of scarlet macaws. This dense lowland has a well-designed network of trails, ranger stations, and camping facilities. Most lodges offer day hikes through the park, but keep in mind that many overnight hikes can be strenuous. Those who commit to these arduous trails are rewarded with breathtaking images of Costa Rica’s unspoiled terrain.

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