Hiking in Central America: The 8 Best Trails

by | Oct 8, 2022 | Central America, Destinations, Travel Bucket Lists, Travel Tips

Central America has the world’s best culmination of lush rainforests, diverse wildlife, beautiful lagoons, thick mangroves, and more. Hiking is one of the best ways to explore Central America like a local. Read on to know more about the eight best hiking in Central America along with all the practical information you need to trek these places.

Best Hikes in Central America – Summary

  1. Poás Volcano, Costa Rica
  2. Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, Belize
  3. Volcano Concepcion, Nicaragua
  4. Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica
  5. Volcanos in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
  6. Pico Bonito National Park, Honduras
  7. Cerro Chirripo, Costa Rica
  8. Celestine Waterfall Hike, Panama 

1. Poás Volcano, Costa Rica

Poas Volcano is one among the Best places to hike in Central america on your travel to Central America
Botos Lagoon on top of the Poás Volcano

Elevation: 2400-2700 meters

Best time to visit: January to April

Tickets: Reserve in advance through SINAC (Sistema Nacional de Areas de Conservación) 

Timings: 7am to 1:30pm

Trekking level: Easy

Your plan for hiking in Central America will remain incomplete without a visit to Costa Rica’s most famous volcano-national park, Poás Volcano. It is a moderately challenging trail due to the steep altitude and cold temperatures in the dense forests filled with exotic bird and animal species.

Poás Volcano is well-known for the Botos Lagoon which are two craters filled with emerald green water situated among the folds of the volcano. Their aerial view after you complete the trek of 4.7 kilometers in about 2 hours will leave you breathless!

Things to do: There are many must-see elements in this National Park located in the Central Valley. This includes visiting the mesmerizing La Paz Waterfalls, exploring the world’s largest butterfly garden, walking through the aromatic Hacienda Alsacia and Doka coffee plantations, visit the animal sanctuary, snake garden, and frog pond.

Tip: For amateur trekkers, do consider taking a guided tour by local hiking guides. In any circumstance, don’t swim in the Lagoon. It will be hot because it is right beneath the Volcano.

2. Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, Belize

One of the best things to do in Central America is go on a exciting trek in the Cockscomb sanctuary
Explore the biodiversity of Cockscomb in Belize

Elevation: 100-1160 meters

Best time to visit: Before sunset, from December to May

Tickets: Buy at the park entrance ($5 for foreigners and $1.25 for nationals)

Timings: 7.30 am to 5 pm

Trekking level: Moderate to difficult 

Cockscomb Sanctuary is the prided crowning jewel of Belize. The active presence of Jaguars makes it one of the best places for hiking in Central America. Even more, it is known to be the world’s first jaguar sanctuary which was opened back in 1984. You can find around 200 jaguars and other jungle cats like Pumas, Ocelots, and Margays roaming freely in this 128,000-acre natural reserve. 

It will be an adventure of a lifetime if you are an adrenaline junkie. Moreover, it is also a haven for birdwatchers with more than 300 species to observe. A pro tip is to choose beforehand which trails to hike (there are 17 in total) based on your hiking abilities.

Things to do: Tigern fern trail and Victoria peak are must-visits for a seasoned hiker. You can also try exploring the Currasow and Rubber Tree trail if you are a beginner. moreover, you can also do spotting howlers monkeys which are indigenous to Central America.

Tip: Consider renting a local tour guide or going along with a hiking group led by a guide. There are many poisonous snakes and spiders here, hence wearing knee-high rubber boots is a must. Carry insect-repellent creams too.

3. Volcano Concepcion, Nicaragua

Elevation: Up to 1600 meters

Best time to visit: December to February

Tickets: Buy ferry tickets from San Jorge, no tickets for trekking

Timings: 8 am to 1 pm 

Trekking Level: Difficult 

Volcano Concepcion is a hidden wonder of lakes and volcanoes in Nicaragua. Its unique geographical location makes it the perfect challenge for adventurous hikers. Watching an active volcano up close with bursts of hot air coming out makes it a rewarding experience. Therefore, it is one of the best places for hiking in Central America.

The volcano itself is situated in the middle of the lake on top of mount Ometepe. Hiking this mountain is no small feat as it takes more than 10 hours. However, the stunning panorama of Lake Nicaragua from the volcano top makes this trek even more alluring for tourists.

Things to do: You can trek other volcanoes on the island like Madres for a less daunting experience. Exploring the island of Ometepe by hiring a two-wheeler and visiting the natural pools of El Ojo de Agua to relax after your trek are also two good options. Do not also forget to watch a spectacular sunset from the coast of Punta Jesus Maria or discover banana and coffee plantations along your trek.

Tip: You need to assistance from a local hiking guide to complete your trek safely. Be prepared to trek at a constant 45-degree slant throughout.

4. Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica

Known for its rich biodiversity and lush rainforests, Corcovoda is one of the best places to visit in Central America
Explore the rich biodiversity of Corcovado National Park

Best time to visit: December to April

Timings: 8 am to 4 pm

Trekking Level: Easy

This is THE destination in Costa Rica for wildlife lovers and enthusiasts. This national park is truly a pandora’s box as it is home to a beautiful coastline, lush tropical rainforest, mangroves, and a slew of exotic wildlife species. Even more, National Geographic has named this park to be one of the most biologically intense places in the world. This makes it one of the best places to visit in Central America.

Because of its varied biodiversity, you can spot many endangered species like Baird’s tapir, rare Harpy Eagle, scarlet indigenous sloths, red macaws, and anteaters. Getting here is a bit of a hassle as it involves multiple, short boat rides. In addition, expect to find this place damp and muddy throughout the year as it receives 20 feet of rain annually. 

Tip: Be extremely cautious while crossing the river area in Drake Bay or Puerto Jimenez as many crocodiles and sharks come to the surface during high tides. Besides that, make sure to hike with a local guide for your safety.

5. Volcanos in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Best hikes in Central America

Elevation: 1500 to 3000 meters 

Best time to visit: November to April

Tickets: Free entry, buy tickets for boating onsite

Timings: 7 am to 7 pm (boat rides)

Trekking Level: Easy to moderate

Lake Atitlan in Guatemala looks exactly like a scene from ancient Greek mythology stories. It is a massive crater-turned-lake surrounded by three enormous volcanos. However, the view from the lake as well as the view from the volcano top is simply magical and awe-inspiring, making it one of the best destinations to visit for hiking in Central America. 

There are many hiking trails to pursue but the Indian Nose trail, San Pedro volcano hike, and Myan Ridge hike (from San Marcos to Santa Cruz) are the most popular and scenic ones. 

Things to do: Visit Panajachel, San Pedro ad Jaibalito villages to immerse yourself in everyday Mayan culture, and tradition by visiting the daily markets and Saturday artisan markets. You can also go kayaking in the lake for a unique experience. 

Tip: Guatemalan hiking trails are known to be slightly dangerous and difficult due to the lack of prominent trail marking. It is notoriously known for robberies too along deserted stretches in the trails. Hence it is advised to hire a local guide or travel in a group. Moreover, don’t forget the number of the local police in case of emergencies.

6. Pico Bonito National Park, Honduras

Best hikes in Central America, best things to do on your Central America travel
Aerial view of lush rainforests in Pico Bonita National Park

Elevation: Up to 2400 metres 

Best time to visit: December to March, March to August for bird watching 

Timings: 9 am to 5 pm (weekdays), 9 am to 1 pm (Saturdays), closed on Sundays

Trekking Level: Easy

True to its name, Pico Bonita National park in Honduras is one of the prettiest natural reserves in the country. Pico Bonita is a complete package because it has natural ponds, waterfalls, dense jungles, and exotic wildlife. For that reason, it is one of the best spots for hiking in Central America.

Moreover, Pico Bonita is the perfect option if you want to hike an easy trail surrounded by river streams, cawing birds, and a stunning sunset. There are several trails to explore inside the park. The El Mapache trail along the Cangrejal River Valley is the most popular one to get a view of the stunning El Bejuco waterfall. Alternatively, you can trek along Zacate River Waterfall trail.  

Things to do: Besides hiking, you can explore the connecting coastal town of La Ceiba or have a quick dip in the crystal clear Caribbean Sea. White river rafting, swimming, and canoeing on River Cangrejal are unmissable things to do when in Honduras.

7. Cerro Chirripo, Costa Rica

Best hikes in Central America, best things to do on your Central America travel
A panoramic view of the Cerro Chirripo mountain range

Elevation: Up to 3800 metres 

Best time to visit: January to May and December

Tickets: Avail permits for hiking on SINAC 

Trekking Level: Very difficult

Trekking the tallest mountain in all of Costa Rica is no small feat. Standing at a towering height of 3821 meters, it takes two to three whole days to cover the 20-kilometer hike to reach the summit. You should put this place on your hiking in Central America bucket list only if you are a seasoned hiker.

However, like most challenging hiking trails in Central America, this one is extremely rewarding too as you can see both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean from the mountaintop. Don’t forget to look out for the view of the famous Talamanca mountains known for their remote and rugged landscape.  

Tip: You need a special day or overnight permit for this depending on the number of beds at the base camp. In fact, frequent travelers said there are around 50 overnight permits and 20-day permits for hikers. Hence, get your permit in advance. 

Do you want to do something other than hiking? Check out JoinMytrip’s detailed guide and itinerary on exploring other natural wonders of Costa Rica.

8. Celestine Waterfall Hike, Panama 

Best hikes in Central America, best things to do on your Central America travel
View of a hidden waterfall in Panama

Best time to visit: December to April

Trekking Level: Easy

This is one of the most inconspicuous hiking trails located amidst the thick Chiruqui forest in Panama. If you don’t consciously look for a signboard named Celestine falls on route 10, you will probably never find it! However, being away from the popular routes is what gives Celestine Falls a mysterious yet magical air. 

Some hikers throng this place looking for bright blue natural pools filled with waterfalls above. This is a must-visit spot for hikers looking for a short trail in the dense rainforest of Panama. 

Tip: Because this is truly a hidden gem, you cannot find the location on Google Maps. If you are traveling by car, you should take these routes for easy access: Panama City to David, Panama City to Bocas del Toro, and Panama City to Boquete.

Moreover, you can also read about the best places to visit in Central America, a list curated by JoinMyTrip, if you want to explore other activities.  

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