Experienced and beginning hikers love Central America for 2 main reasons – its uncrowded trails and diversity. Hiking in Central America offers plenty of opportunities to soak in landscapes and enjoy nature. Trails go through a desert-like altiplano, bio-rich cloud forests, snowy tundra, lush tropical jungle, and much more.
If you are planning to grab your hiking gear and go to Central America, having an idea of the trails to explore can make things much easier. In this article, you will find the top-rated hikes in Central America. Exploring these trails should give you a unique perspective of the entire Central America.
Where to Go Hiking in Central America
1. Cockscomb Basin – Belize
Commonly referred to as the “Jaguar Preserve”, Cockscomb Basin is one of the most beautiful natural attractions in Belize. A large tract of 155 square miles of forests, the area is alive with wildlife. In addition to the jaguar, the basin has margays, pumas, deer, armadillos, kinkajous, iguanas, tapirs, and ocelots.
Cockscomb Basin features more than 20 miles of well-maintained hiking trails, ranging from a simple hour-long stroll along the river to a 4-day Victoria Peak expedition. If you would like to see wildlife after donning your hiking boots, an early morning hike on Wari Loop should be ideal for you. The Tiger Fern Trail, though quite rigorous, allows you to view one of the most impressive double waterfalls in Belize.
If you manage to climb Ben’s Bluff after donning your hiking hat, you will find yourself looking out over the park where the jaguars live. From Ben’s Bluff, you should be able to see Outlier Peak, a moderate 1-day hike (an average of 8.5 miles round trip).
Accommodation is not a big issue in the Cockscomb Basin. You can bring your backpacking tent and stay in one of the 3 well-maintained campgrounds. For people who prefer more comfortable sleeping situations, shared and private rustic cabins do exist in the basin.
2. Telica Volcano – Nicaragua
While most of the Nicaraguan volcanoes are mesmerizing in their own right, Telica Volcano is especially incredible –the hikers can view the molten lava flowing within the volcano’s crater. The footpath to the Telica Volcano peak will take you through valleys, grasslands, forests, and over rocks, giving you an ideal opportunity to reconnect with nature.
On reaching the summit which lies at a height of 3481 feet (1061 meters), you get a clear view of the crater that is close to 1000 feet deep. While the sight of the crater is quite stunning, you need to be careful. If necessary, consider enjoying the view at a safe distance – fumes and smoke from the crater can grow quite erratic.
In addition to enjoying the crater’s view, the summit offers a silhouette, panoramic view of the surrounding volcano that stretches across the horizon, creating an ideal landscape photography opportunity after an exhilarating adventure.
If you are worried about accommodations, you shouldn’t be. You can easily set up a camp at the base of the crater.
3. Cerro Chirripó – Costa Rica
Rising 3,820 meters (12,533 feet) above sea level, Cerro Chirripó, Costa Rica’s tallest Mountain, offers hikers great views of the surrounding Talamanca Mountains. To reach the mountain’s dramatic peak, hikers use a 20-kilometer (12.4-mile) trail that climbs 2000 meters (7,218 feet) from a tiny mountain village called San Gerardo de Rivas. The trail for hiking in Central America takes hikers through páramos and cloud forests – a unique ecosystem only available at high elevations.
From Cerro Chirripó’s summit, 360-degree sweeping views tumble down over the shimmering lakes and graceful valleys. If you happen to be on the summit on clear days, you should be able to see both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean sea.
If you decide to put Cerro Chirripó’s summit on the list of your hikes in Central America, be sure to wear hiking clothing capable of protecting you from the low temperatures. On the summit, temperatures range between 4 to 18 degrees centigrade at daytime while nighttime temperatures can go below 0 degrees centigrade.
If you are an overnight hiker, you can spend your night at the Crestones Base Camp, a rugged lodge situated about 3,400 meters above sea level and only 3.4 miles from Cerro Chirripó’s summit. While the base camp is not very luxurious, it puts Cerro Chirripó within easy reach and also makes sunrise summits feasible.
4. Acatenango Volcano – Guatemala
While the Acatenango Volcano is one of the most popular hikes in Central America, most people do not engage in the hike to view Acatenango’s summit. The real goal of donning hiking pants and hiking up the Acatenango Volcano is to see the Volcan de Fuego, which is the world’s most constantly erupting volcano.
The 6 to 7 kilometers hike to Acatenango’s summit is riddled with interesting sections and sites. The trailhead is at around 8,038 feet (2,450 meters) above sea level and to reach the summit, you will have to climb to 13,044 feet (3,976 meters).
Once you put on your hiking shoes and grab your trekking pole, you will start by climbing alongside cornfields that cling to the volcano’s steep slopes and then on through cloud forests before arriving at the volcanic zone, where the ground is covered in black silt.
Depending on the pace of your hiking group, it should take you an average of 4 to 5 hours to reach the summit. This means that the Acatenango hike is a single day trek. However, if you would like to spend a night in the wilderness, you can use the campsites available at 3,600 meters above sea level.
5. Darién National Park – Panama
Set upon the eastern edge of the Isthmus, along the Colombian border, Darién National Park is Panama’s wildest and largest park. The park is home to an incredible array of animal and plant species, making a hike through the park one of the best experiences you can have in Panama.
Darién National Park features several interesting hiking areas, with Cana being one of the best. While exploring Cana, you will come across eagles, hummingbirds, manakins, Tanagers, and even keel-billed toucans. Apart from the birds, Cana allows you to view spider and howler monkeys, Baird’s tapirs, and white-lipped peccaries.
Set in a low valley and surrounded by a mostly premontane forest, Cana features 5 trails that wind through the surrounding wilderness. Some of the trails, like the Boca de Cupe Trail, are both arduous and long. The Pirre Mountain Trail is a tough 9 kilometers (5.5 miles) ascent up the Cerro Pirre.
If you would like to spend several days exploring Darién National Park, you should consider bringing your camping tent and sleeping bag. Several campgrounds are available – one of the camps is available at the top of Cerro Pirre.
6. Corcovado – Costa Rica
One of the remotest environmental reserves in Costa Rica, Corcovado National Park features some of the best hiking in Central America. You get to hike through pristine rainforest, past deserted beaches, and close to beautiful waterfalls. Dubbed as “one of the most biologically intense areas in the whole world” by National Geographic, Corcovado has a lot to offer in terms of wildlife.
Despite the numerous terrain-shifts in the National Park, Corcovado is largely intermediately challenging. The park has numerous well-maintained and accommodating paths – these make things much easier for the hikers.
While exploring the park, you might meet several rare animals, including the giant anteater, the spectacled caiman, bull shark, puma, jaguarondi, Baird’s tapir, and numerous varieties of monkeys. The park is home to Costa Rica’s second-largest population of Scarlet Macaws and a wide range of other beautiful birds.
Camping in the National Park is allowed. Hence, if you have a tent or a camping hammock, you won’t have to worry about accommodation.
7. Volcano Rincón de la Vieja National Park – Costa Rica
With a network of top-rated trails, memorable sights, and stunning landscapes, Costa Rica’s Volcano Rincón de la Vieja National Park offers thrill-seekers and hikers plenty of active adventures. The National Park allows you to enjoy stunning volcanic craters, bubbling hot springs, and dramatic waterfalls.
In addition to great natural sceneries, the National Park has a lot to offer in terms of wildlife. While exploring the national park, you should be able to spot tapirs, different types of birds, jaguars, quetzals, and even sloths.
The National Park has several trails which should offer you the best experience. If you have enough time, you can try your luck with the 6.5-mile Blue Lake and Congrejo Falls trail which takes hikers through the deepest secrets hidden in the Costa Rican rainforest. If your goal is to try a less strenuous trail, you can consider exploring the 2-mile Las Pailas trail loop. If you are up for a challenge, consider exploring the Active Crater trail – this trail will allow you to hike to the highest point of the National Park.
8. Volcano Concepción – Nicaragua
Located on the Ometepe Island, in the 8,000 square kilometers Lake Nicaragua, Volcano Concepción sits at approximately 5,280 feet above the lake. Hiking to the Volcano’s summit is quite challenging but worth it. The summit gives you great 360-degree views over the Ometepe Island, across Lake Nicaragua, and down the Volcano itself. In addition to this, you will be able to see the sides of the Concepción’s crater as they belch smoke and the Mombacho Volcano in the distance.
La flor is the most popular Volcano Concepción’s hiking trail. Being extremely rocky, the trail makes for an extremely challenging descent and a long overall trek.
The first part of the hike will lead you through farmlands and into the jungle. As you approach the summit, the trail usually becomes extremely steep. Also, you may have to deal with a cold and strong wind while approaching the top.
The entire hike, up and down the volcano, takes an average of 10 hours. If you leave early enough, you may not need to make a camping site.
9. Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve – Costa Rica
The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is one of the most famous hikes in Central America and this is for good reasons. Most notably, the main reason why the reserve is extremely appealing is its position at the point of the Continental Divide where the Pacific and Atlantic slopes collide.
Hiking through the reserve, you will get to explore 4 different life zones, each featuring a slightly different ecosystem. You can find over 120 reptiles and amphibians, 500 birds, and 100 kinds of mammals in the Reserve. Besides, the property is home to more than 3,000 plants, including 500+ species of orchids, and tens of thousands of insects.
Most of the hikers who visit the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve prefer to use the circuit trail. The 23 kilometers (14 miles) trail takes an average of 1 to 2 days to complete.
Camping in the Reserve is not allowed. For people who would like to explore the property for more than a day, finding an inexpensive hotel or cabin close to the reserve may be your best accommodation option.
10. Pacaya Volcano – Guatemala
Standing at a whopping 8,373 feet, Pacaya Volcano is not just one of the most active volcanoes in Central America, it also happens to be one of the most epic hikes in Central America. Featuring impressive views of the lagoons of Calderas and 3 other volcanoes – Acatenango, Fuego, and Agua, Pacaya’s summit has a lot to offer.
The trailhead for Pacaya Volcano is in the San Francisco de Sales village. The steep 3.7 kilometers (2.3 miles) up the Pacaya will take you through farmlands and secondary forests before you arrive on an exposed ridge covered in dried lava flows.
The trail crosses the ridge and then winds up the volcanic crater. Hiking up the loose ash can be difficult – be ready for a solid hiking workout. You can, however, make your workout much easier by using a trekking pole.
The entire hike takes an average of 4 to 6 hours. This means that you won’t need to bring your sleeping pad since you won’t be spending a night in the wilderness.
Globo Surf Overview
In addition to being a place that has managed to keep most of its jungles and forests, Central America features a warm and favorable climate. This makes hiking in Central America one of the best activities for people who like the outdoors.
In this article, we have looked at some of the best hiking trails you can find in Central America. It is worth noting that Central America does have other trails – the trails listed above can, however, serve as inspiration for your next outdoor adventure in Central America.
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- Hikes in Central America – Tripadvisor.com