Know Before You Go: Hiking Costa Rica
Tips and basic etiquette for hiking Costa Rica’s trails
Hiking is one of the best ways to experience the exotic plants and animals of Costa Rica. It’s a fantastic course in the natural history around you. Specialist plants, animals, and insects all have their niche in the forest. Whether the dry tropical forests and savannahs of Guanacaste, the rainforests of Manuel Antonio and the Jacó area, or the misty cloud forest of Monteverde, there are trails for every ability.
The Cloud Forest Trail is one of Monteverde’s most popular trails, 1.2 miles full of natural beauty. Monteverde is famed for its biodiversity, but it’s difficult to spot the wildlife if you don’t know what to look for. Consider hiring a guide who can spot the wildlife and tell you about what you’re seeing. It takes about 1 ½ hours to complete the hike, a tour will take about 2 hours.
You can continue from the Cloud Forest Trail to Sendero La Ventana that leads to the vista point on the Continental Divide. From the vista point on the divide, if the mists cooperate, you can see east and west from the Caribbean to the Pacific.
Closer to Croc’s Resort & Casino, the trail to Bijagual Waterfall is just past Carara National Park. For $20, a local landowner provides worry-free parking with a view overlooking the valley below. The trail to the waterfall is about 45 minutes each way.
Manuel Antonio National Park, an hour to the south, has easy trails through the coastal rainforest. The park’s white sand beaches are a bonus.
Follow these common-sense tips to help you make the most of your time on the trail:
- First, stay hydrated. Take water with you and remember to drink it. Adequate hydration can help guard against more than heat stroke.
- Light rain gear will be a welcome addition to your wardrobe wherever you’re hiking.
- Hiking boots are recommended, but not required. You need sturdy, comfortable shoes that you don’t mind getting muddy.
- Consider joining an organized hiking tour or hiring a guide. Naturalist guides are professionals who spot things you may otherwise miss. They have a wealth of information to share about what you’re likely to see during the hike.
If you don’t do much hiking, several universal rules ensure everyone enjoys the trail.
- There’s a hierarchy on multiuse trails: Mountain bikers yield to hikers and horseback riders; hikers step aside for the horses. If you stop for a break, move to the side of the trail so others can pass you.
- Stay on the trail. It may look like an enticing shortcut but going off-trail damages the delicate environment.
- Uphill traffic has the right of way. It’s hard work walking uphill and far easier for downhill trekkers to step aside.
- Keep quiet for the best chance of spotting wildlife. If other hikers can hear you coming, the animals do too. That goes double for phones and music.
- Leave only footprints: In other words, take your trash with you—in and out.