Over the past two decades, countries such as Costa Rica and Panama have made Central America one of the adventure paradises of the world. It is a country characterized by steaming mountains, dotted with beaches dotted with coconut palms and dressed from head to toe in a jungle full of sloths and gliding snakes.
This guide to the eight best hiking trails in the region will take you from the wave-covered Pacific Ocean to the unexplored corners of Darien Gap. Target? To discover the best hiking trails and day hikes in Central America that offer something for all levels of training from beginners to bear grills.
Sendero el Lenoso-Costa Rica
The best thing to see in the wild
1.3 km (0.9 miles), 30 minutes, easy
Ask 10 people why they came to Costa Rica in the first place, and it is likely that sloths will appear somewhere in the answer. Take this short detour along the main path of the park in the epicenter of biodiversity, the Manuel Antonio National Park, which offers tourists access to one of the richest sloths of the jungle in the world, hence the name.
The sloth trail starts less than a 10-minute walk in the forest from the main entrance of the nature reserve. Turn off the spur leading to the west and follow the elevated paths of the promenade; it will soon be hidden under the phalanges of silk trees and button forests. It is known that they are home to two- and three-legged sloths, but it can be difficult to spot these creatures: they almost do not move! Try to sit down early in this beautiful place, because there are more lazy people out there when there are fewer people.
The end of the path connects with the main intersection of all routes through Manuel Antonio. It is a great place to relax: on one side the sand of Playa Espadilla Sur Canela and on the other the path to the well-photographed Kosa de Porch on the beach of Manuel Antonio.
- Concepción Volcano-Nicaragua
- The best for the test
- 16 km (9.9 miles), 11 hours, test
The Concepción volcano is one of two cone-shaped peaks that rise above Lake Nicaragua, the largest freshwater lake in Central America. That may not be the matter, but it’s doable with a single push; just leave early, because most need 10 to 11 hours and fresh morning air is a blessing at the initial upswing.
Speaking of climbs, the real finisher here is the elevation increase. The peak is located at a relatively flat altitude of 1,610 m, but the level of the foot of the hill is only 427 feet, which means that there is still a long way to go to reach the summit. The first sections run through a lush jungle and then you pass a zigzagging mud path down the ridge.
The last section over 1,200 m is more difficult. It is here that scree is gaining the upper hand, and there are steep areas where you are asked to stir on the dizzying background of the lake water body and the surrounding coffee plantations. But there is also a downside: clear days at the top mean visions of the crater rim covered with clouds. and even the volcano Mombacho, which is located far to the north.
- The Trail of the Lost Waterfalls of Panama is one of the most popular round trips in Boquete © Martin Sarikov / 500px
- The Path of the Lost Waterfalls-Panama
- Best for waterfall lovers
- 3.3 km (2.1 miles), 2-3 hours, easy
The good news is that none of the three waterfalls are safely lost on this hike. In fact, they are quite well-known, as they are certainly one of the most popular round-trip trips in the eco-mecca Boquete. The thing is, you feel lost, because you have to wade through the dense Amazon jungle, woven from lianas and cobwebs, to get to them.
The waterfalls themselves are scattered along the route almost at the same distance. The first is the largest, roaring waterfall, foaming on a wet stone ridge. Secondly, it is a seaside resort: it gurgles in a deep ink pool. The third is like from the novel by Jules Verne, framed by lush vines and bright orchid flowers in the depths of the Panama jungle.
The entrance to the Path of the Lost Waterfalls, while a taxi from Boquete will cost an additional (only one route). Wear sturdy, waterproof shoes and take a rain jacket with you, as it will be dirty and damp from start to finish.
- Poas Volcano-Costa Rica
- The best thing to see on the volcano
- 4.6 km (2.9 miles), 2.5 hours, moderate
All of Central America is marked with more volcanoes than you can see on the tourist map. One of the most affordable is the Poas volcano, which is located in the heart of the north-central part of Costa Rica. It is located in a national park in the middle of jungle peaks, about 50 minutes by car north of Alajuela and 90 minutes by car north of the capital San Jose, which makes it an ideal area for day trips.
The beginning of the trail has a visitor center, where you can learn a little about the somewhat secret volcanology of Poas, not ignoring the fact that it has erupted 40 times since the 1820s and has become a real hit. First, we head east to Botos Lagoon, the first of two crater lakes, passing cloud forests rich in luminous quetsal and hummingbirds.
The last climb will take you to a high ridge, which is about 2,500 m high. There, a 180-degree panorama shows the second crater lake, the lagoon of Caliente, which is grilled with sulfur and smoke in the crater of del Poas. It is actually the largest open crater on the planet with a length of one mile from edge to edge.
- Cerro Cirripo-Costa Rica
- Best for experienced travelers
- 20 km (12.4 miles), 2-3 days, difficult task
The Cerro Chirripo, which rises above the mountain ranges and clouds in the south of Costa Rica, is the highest peak of La Terra de Pura Vida. It is a suitable test that requires good body fitness and a certain determination, a total of two to three days in the mountains. Even to reach the beginning of the trail, you have to make a little effort, which requires an odyssey over the Talamanca mountain range to the small trekking town of San Gerardo de Rivas.
From there, the whole day goes on steep stony paths to the hut with the tin roof of the Crestones base camp. It gets really exciting here, because the second day brings parts of the cloud forest and the high heath, biomes of steep rosette plants and shimmering yellow wildflowers. At the top, at an altitude of about 3,821 m above sea level, you can admire the surrounding lagoons and glacial valleys, which are 20,000 years old.
- Tiger Fern Trail-Belize
- It’s best to watch jaguars
- 5.5 km( 3.4 miles), 3-5 hours, moderate
If you can escape from the candied sands of the Belize reefs and atolls, a wonderland of biodiversity awaits you inland. The most important of the many nature reserves is the Coxcombe Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, here you will find this moderately challenging round trip that leads through the unspoilt jungle.
The path of the tiger fern meanders through the dense thickets of Belize pines and broad-leaved trees, sometimes crossing a humming stream on stones covered with moss. It takes you deep into the jaguar reserve, so keep your eyes and ears open for big cats while driving.
Near the summit there is a country camp with a panoramic view of the Mayan Mountains, as well as a duo of waterfalls where you can refresh yourself. The best time to visit is the dry season (December to April), when the paths are less dirty and the small pools are much lighter.
- Telika-Nicaragua Volcano
- The best thing to see in the center of the planet
- 13.1 km( 8.2 miles), 1-2 days, moderate
You can climb the Telika volcano in Leone, in the north of Nicaragua, for a day or two. It is not a very difficult route that starts with flat fields and then picks up a steep rise of the fiber cone.
Actually, it’s about the view from above. If you look outside, you can see a kind of Nicaraguan serengeti, stretching in the west to the Pacific Ocean, in endless scrub of shrubs dotted with rare mangoes, a haze of heat at the bottom of the valley.
But it is the view of the crater that you will write about at home. Look down to see a hole spewing smoke with sulfur plumes and scraps of ash. At night-and this is the reason why you might prefer to spend the night on the slopes of the hills – it even burns red hot because of the hot magma and lava.