With over 26 national parks and countless reserves spanning the width and breath of the country, Costa Rica’s many hiking trails showcase the immense diversity of the glorious landscape.
From endless stretches of coastal rain forests to high-altitude mountainous terrain, exploring the country on you own two feet is in-arguably the best way to really soak up the splendors. Encounter wildlife, swim under waterfalls and soak in thermal springs as you discover Costa Rica at your own pace.
Whether you’re an experienced hiker looking for a challenging adventure or simply an outdoor enthusiast craving some alone time in pristine nature, Costa Rica offers an impressive array of hiking trails, no matter where you go yet among the seemingly endless well-trodden trails, there are some that still fly way under the tourist radar.
Here are some of our favorite Costa Rica’s Best (Secret) Hiking Trails, perfect for all those who wish to explore the country off the beaten trail:
Braulio Carrillo National Park
If you happen to be a Costa Rica enthusiast and you’ve never even heard of Braulio Carrillo, don’t despair: you’re not the only one. Hidden in plain view and with a highway that runs straight through the heart of it, this spectacular national park is only steps outside of San Jose and is, in fact, one of the largest reserves in the entire country yet is often overlooked by visitors who head straight to more famous spots like Manuel Antonio.
Well, dear off-the-beaten-trail hiker, that just spells great news for you. With great hiking trails guiding you through luscious primary and secondary rain and cloud forests, Carrillo covers over 44,000 hectares of unspoilt wilderness and boasts a truly impressive diversity of landscapes. From the top of Barva Volcano, some 9500 feet up in the clouds, you’ll soak up all-encompassing views of the Caribbean selva below and will be above all the rivers of the Central Valley which originate here. Home to more than 600 distinct species of wildlife (including jaguars, toucans and tapirs and monkeys) and more than 600 unique trees and plants, Carrillo is revered in Costa Rica for being a pivotal ecological natural haven.
Three ranger stations and a maze of hiking trails could keep you busy here for days on end, just remember to always pack a warm clothing layer as the climate, at high elevations, can be harsh. Including a hike in Braulio Carrillo is very easy when traveling east out of San Jose, into the Limon Province.
Rainmaker Conservation Park
To highlight the fact that some of Costa Rica’s best secret hideouts are literally nestled in plain views, you’ll find this exceptional (and quiet) park merely half an hour’s drive from Manuel Antonio, arguably the most visited park in the country. Ideal for those who are headed in this region but wish to spend a few hours hiking in a more secluded rain forest, Rainmaker offers a leisurely hiking trail through its pristine primary rain forest, which means the trees here have never been cut down.
You may not find as much large wildlife here as you may see in Manuel Antonio (not nearly as many monkeys, for example) but you will encounter swaths of colorful butterflies and poison dart frogs, birds and a flurry of interesting insects. Astonishingly, more than half of the flora and fauna in the whole country can be found here. On a hike through Rainmaker, you’ll cross hanging bridges suspended halfway up the thick rain forest canopy (acrophobia sufferers beware!) and pass several gorgeous waterfalls as you follow the winding path of a river. The main loop requires a moderate level of fitness but if you’re up for the challenge you can tackle the offshoots which head higher up the mountains. The views from up the top are absolutely sensational and you’d actually be hard-pressed to find better, anywhere in Costa Rica.
Take a photo of the hiking map board near the entrance and design your route to suit your skill level and time constraints. A crisp cold beer from the Perro Vida Brewery right in the park makes for a perfect reward on a hot summer’s day. As usual when hiking in a rain forest, wear good hiking shoes, bring a rain jacket and do wear your swimming costume under your clothes, there are plenty of swimming spots in Rainmaker!
Santa Rosa National Park
A remote park set in Cost Rica’s northwest Guanacaste region, Santa Rosa is usually reserved for experienced hikers looking for an out-there challenge but there is one hiking trail that is accessible for everyone.
Whilst much hiking effort and skill is required to access the furthest reaches of Santa Rosa, many of which are over multiple days, there are a few shorter trails that still offer fantastic hiking experiences whilst meandering through the park. Revered for harbouring one of the last remaining dry tropical forests on our planet, Santa Rosa is home to an array of natural diversity. Its forest boasts different species of monkeys, coatimundis, jaguars and whitetail deer and its secluded beaches are favored nesting sites for Olive Ridley turtles.
There are also excellent SCUBA and snorkeling just a few miles out. Mangroves, evergreen and deciduous forests, marine habitats, savannahs and splendid beaches abound and on a hiking trail through Santa Rosa you can really soak it all in. Whilst some of the beaches are favourite local surfing spots, the sheer number of hiking trails and remoteness of the park means you’ll still see far fewer fellow visitors here.
Reserva Biologica La Marta
Hiking the trails of the La Marta Wildlife Refuge is one of the favorite on-land activities on offer in our whitewater rafting and kayaking tours on the Pacuare River. Both rafters and their non-paddling companions relish the chance to stretch their legs and explore the incredible UNESCO-listed rain forest brimming with sensational wildlife.
As a former mining land – now completely protected for preservation – La Marta offers a little of everything for the curious traveler: historical sites, an astonishing array of unique flora, countless exotic birds as well as pristine streams, a resplendent rain forest canopy and, after ascending to La Mina, the highest point, simply sensational views across the Talamanca Mountains. The 3-mile hike takes about three/four hours and can be completed by just about anyone with a moderate level of fitness and good hiking shoes (the trail can be muddy and slippery at times). Don’t forget the bug spray, wear a long-sleeve top and bring a rain-jacket no matter what time of year you visit. La Marta offers various hiking trails (over 10 miles in total) of varying difficulty, crossing rivers, waterfalls and hanging bridges, and offering great view points along the way.
A great full day excursion out of Turrialba, 2hrs east of San Jose. What we love most about hiking in La Marta is that it’s one of the least visited parks in central Costa Rica so, on some days, you’ll feel like you have this striking place all to yourself.
No matter how many times you’ve visited Costa Rica – or how many years you’ve lived here – there is always something, new, secret and enticing to discover. At CostaRicaRios we love doing just that! So visit our Costa Rica active vacation itinerary ideas to learn all about the active ways you can explore the hidden treasures of our beloved home and contact us for custom tours designed with your most fervent wishes in mind.