Here is my list of the best hikes in Central America based on the hikes we did during our travels
We spent around 10 months backpacking through Central and South America and got the chance to do some pretty epic hikes! So I thought I would put together a list of the best hikes in Central America to give you a little inspiration for your trip.
I know it can be pretty tough to choose sometimes, especially when there are so many incredible options but hopefully this will give you a good starting point.
Hiking is one of our favourite things to do when we travel. It is often free, it is good for us and it’s a fantastic way to see the nature and landscapes in a new country.
In this post, I will cover 10 of our favourite hikes From Guatemala down to Panama. They will cover a range of difficulties, lengths and landscapes. There is even an overnight hike.
So let’s get stuck in…
Best Hikes In Central America Map
In case you are more of a visual person here is a map with the locations of all of the hikes marked out. Sometimes it is nice to see where they are if you plan to try and combine a few in one trip.
Best Hikes In Central America By Country
For each of the hikes, I will give our experience along with the distance, time needed, location and any other useful tips you might need. I will also give a difficulty but keep in mind this is how easy or hard we believe the hikes to be based on our experience.
Best Hikes In Central America – Guatemala
Guatemala is a beautiful country with so much beautiful nature to explore, here are our top picks for hikes;
I am starting with one of the most special hikes in Central America. Acatenango is growing in popularity among adventurous travellers thanks to its challenging nature and what awaits you at the top.
With this overnight hike, you climb up Acatenango Volcano and camp at the top where you have front-row seats to its active neighbour Fuego. It is super common to get to see Fuego erupting vivid red lava throughout the night.
We were lucky enough to see Fuego erupt lava 3 times and were woken up several more times in the night by the ground shaking from the power of the eruptions.
- Location – Near Antigua in Guatemala
- Distance – 11 miles / 18 Kilometers round trip
- Duration – 2 days
- Difficulty – Hard
Acatenango can be more challenging than you might expect thanks to the rapid increase in altitude. And no, I don’t mean you will be running up the Volcano but you do pretty much just walk at a steep incline for around 6 hours. Before ending up at base camp which is around 3600m!
That is more than twice as high as the highest point in the UK, so I definitely felt the effects. In fact, so did many people and some in our group got pretty bad altitude sickness.
Because of this, I would seriously recommend getting something before you start to help with the altitude. You can ask any pharmacist or GP to help you with this.
You can also opt to do an additional hike on to Fuego to see the Lava from really really close and yet another option to get all the way to the summit of Acatenango. If your legs are feeling up to it. Mine certainly were not!
Semuc Champey is a real gem and a perfect place to explore if you have the time to get there. It is relatively out of the way and would require a couple of extra days of your trip just to get there and back.
However, if you do make the effort you will not be disappointed. The unique waterfalls are truly a sight to behold. Even more so from the mirador, viewpoint.
- Location – The closest town is Lanquin, around a 6-hour drive from Guatemala City
- Duration – 45 Minutes
- Difficulty – Hard
This hike should take around 45 minutes and can be pretty challenging depending on recent rainfall. Don’t let that put you off because everyone who visits will agree that as fun as it is to swim in the waters, the best part of the visit is seeing the falls from the viewpoint.
Lake Atitlan in Guatemala is also home to some great hikes that you can read more about in our separate guide.
More Hikes in Guatemala;
- The Lower Mayan Trail – Lake Atitlan
- Indian Nose Hike – Lake Atitlan
- El Mirador, hidden pyramids 4-day Hike
You can also take a helicopter ride over the jungle to see the ‘hidden’ pyramids from above if you don’t have 4 days spare to do the hike.
Best Hikes In Central America – El Salvador
El Salvador was the country that surprised me the most. We had heard too much online that painted the country in a really bad light. So much so that we nearly skipped it. I am so glad we didn’t!
El Salvador is such a wonderful country full of kind people and beautiful nature and so much to do. Here are our favourite Hikes from El Salvador;
Santa Ana Volcano
Santa Ana Volcano is a very unique volcano thanks to the lake that sits in its crater. It’s not uncommon for volcanos to have lakes in their craters but this one is different. It is a pale green milky colour and is steaming hot.
You can’t get close to it but the hike takes you up to the ridge of the crater where you can look down into the middle. It is pretty cool!
- Location – Close to Santa Ana
- Length – 4.3 miles / 7km round trip
- Duration – 4 hours
- Difficulty – Moderate
You are also not allowed to do this hike without a Guide, so you can either just turn up and see if there is a guide available to go up with you, or you can book a tour in advance.
My TOP TIP for this hike is to NOT DO IT AT THE WEEKEND!!! It is a popular hike among locals and when we did it, it was packed. I am talking about one long, slow-moving queue of people the entire way up.
Funnily enough, this didn’t spoil the hike because the views made it all worth it but be warned this is a popular one and best done on a weekday, early in the morning.
This is a great hike for families or waterfall lovers, like me who want to enjoy some wild swimming without a strenuous hike.
We found it a really easy hike down through the forest. It was just the last little section where we had to climb down some steep steps and over some rocks to reach the waterfalls. This might make them a little inaccessible to some.
- Location – In Tamanique, near El Tunco
- Length – Around 1.8 miles / 3km
- Duration – 3 – 4 hours (with time for swimming)
- Difficulty – Relatively easy
It is good to keep in mind that despite this being a very safe hike, the local authorities will not allow anyone access to the trail without a local guide.
Or you can take the bus and get a guide when you arrive like we did, and we created a full guide on this experience to help you out.
More Hikes in El Salvador
- San Salvador Volcano Hike
- San Miguel Volcano Hike
- Cerro El Pital
- 7 waterfalls hike
Best Hikes In Central America – Nicaragua
Nicaragua is well known as the land of volcanos and it was easy for us to see why. Everywhere you look you are confronted with sights of just how alive this land is with volcanic activity.
While in Nicaragua we did a few great hikes and these were our favourites;
This one was a little different to what you might expect a volcano hike to look like because the volcano is covered in cloud forest, including the crater.
This makes it a great place to escape the sun and enjoy some lush green forest for a change. Don’t forget to keep your eyes peeled for the local wildlife. We were lucky enough to see a sloth snoozing in the trees during this hike.
You can choose to hike all the way up the volcano if you are feeling fit, or you can take a jeep up to the top and do one of the 3 marked hikes around the crater.
We did the shortest of the 3 because we also hiked part way up the side of the volcano.
- Location – Close to Granada
- Length – The crater trail is 1.1 miles / 1.9km
- Duration – 1 hour
- Difficulty – Easy (unless you hike up the volcano too, that bit it STEEP)
There is the option to hike the extended trails but for these, you have to have a guide. However, I would recommend having a local Guide anyway because ours was fantastic!
Our guide spotted the sloth for us, told us all about the local plants and made sure we didn’t take any wrong turns or miss the viewpoints (which we probably would’ve without him).
This is a super unique hike because it is combined with volcano boarding.
Yes, you read that right. You hike up to the top of the volcano and then slide back down on a wooden board. Nuts right!?
But it was great fun. At least it was once I had gotten past the fear of being so high up.
- Location – Near Leon
- Length – 1.5 miles / 2.4 km
- Duration – 1 hour
- Difficulty – Hard
What makes this a challenging hike is that you are walking mostly on loose volcanic rubble, Whilst also carrying your wooden board.
The day we did this hike, it was also windy which meant holding on to the boards was even more of a challenge. If this sounds too much for you, they do bring a couple of local men along who you can pay to carry your board up for you. Legends!
We did this hike through Bigfoot Hostel in Leon. They are the most popular company to do it with and they also have a bonfire and drinks on the side of the volcano afterwards which is pretty fun!
More hikes in Nicaragua
- San Ramon waterfall Hike on Ometepe Island
- Miraflor National Park
- Teica Volcano Hike
- Concepcion Volcano Hike
If you are torn between Nicaragua and Costa Rica this may help you decide.
Best Hikes In Central America – Costa Rica
When you think of Costa Rica, you might instantly think of gorgeous beaches and abundant wildlife and you wouldn’t be wrong. However, thanks to these 2 factors Costa Rica is also home to some of the best hikes in Central America!
We spent around 3 weeks in Costa Rica and here are some of our favourite hikes;
Manuel Antonio National Park
We really enjoyed our hike through Manuel Antonio National Park. It is a super easy and accessible hike, suitable for wheelchairs and strollers.
You hike through the jungle where you get the chance to spot all kinds of wildlife before it opens out into one of the most beautiful secluded beaches.
- Location – Manuel Antonio
- Length – 0.9 miles / 1.5km
- Duration – 3 hours (with time for swimming)
- Difficulty – Super easy
My TOP TIP for visiting Manuel Antonio is to book your ticket to enter the park as soon as they open. It can get very crowded by midday and by going first thing in the morning we had the beaches all to ourselves.
It was lovely!
It is also handy to know that you do have to book online in advance, you can’t buy a ticket at the entrance of the park. You can visit Manuel Antonio National Park without a Guide but if we were to go back again we would definitely get ourselves some experienced eyes.
We saw quite a lot of wildlife but feel like we also missed a lot and a local guide could’ve shown us so much more and also educated us about all that we were seeing. Luckily a guided tour in Manuel Antonio is super affordable compared to the rest of Costa Rica.
Corcovado National Park
I will admit right now that our Hike through Corcovado National Park was my absolute favourite hike…EVER!!!
If you are an animal lover like I am then this is the hike for you. I saw more wildlife that day than I saw in the whole 9 months we were in Central America!
This is due to the remote location of the park, the restricted access and the fact that you cannot enter without a guide. They only allow 330 people to enter the National Park each day and because of this, the wildlife lives in perfect harmony still.
- Location – Drake Bay
- Length – Varies around 2-5km
- Duration – All day
- Difficulty – Easy
You reach the National Park by sea and your tour guides will collect you from Drake Bay. The hike is flat and easy to navigate. Your Guide will take you wherever he believes is best but you will generally follow the coastline and return back to the boats when done.
If you are feeling particularly adventurous you can also opt to spend a night in the National Park and do 2 days of Hiking to increase your chances of seeing even rarer species such as Pumas.
Monteverde Cloud Forest
Monteverde is a fantastic place to explore and go hiking. There are multiple hikes you can do in the area but I am going to tell you about the one we did. High up in the tree tops, around the Selvatura Park Hanging Bridges loop.
- Location – Monteverde
- Length – 1.9 miles / 3km
- Duration – 1.5-2 hours
- Difficulty – Easy
We loved this experience because it is not often you get to go hiking in the treetops. It gives you a chance to get a really unique view of the cloud forest. Not to mention some fantastic wildlife sightings.
To have a really memorable day out, I recommend combining your hike with a tour of the Parks zip lines. They have a circuit of 13 ziplines, with one being 1km long! It was wild and so much fun.
More Hikes in Costa Rica
- Catarata Del Toro Waterfall Hike
- La Fortuna Waterfall Hike
- Arenal Volcano Hike
- Nauyaca Falls Hike
Best Hikes In Central America – Panama
Finally, we have made it to the very south of Central America, to the wonderful Panama.
Panama was another country that I had no real idea what to expect and it just blew me away. If I could pack up and move to anywhere in the world right now it would be Bocas Del Toro in Panama, that is how much I loved it there. We did a great little hike on the islands too.
But that is not the one that has made it onto our list of the best hikes in Central America. This one is;
Lost Waterfalls Hike
I was drawn in by the mysterious name and had to see for myself what all the hype was about. I am so glad we did.
This is a brilliant hike up through the forests that takes you on a journey to 3 magnificent waterfalls. The 2nd one is my favourite.
The route can be pretty challenging because it is steep and the ground is uneven. If it has rained recently then it is also very muddy and slippery, so keep this in mind.
- Location – Near Boquete
- Length – 2.1 miles / 3.4km
- Duration – 3 hours (with time for swimming etc)
- Difficulty – Challenging
For this hike, you have to take a short bus journey to reach the start. You can also read our full guide to the Lost Waterfalls hike here.
The land is privately owned so you do have to pay to do the hike but you don’t have to have a guide with you. This leaves you free to explore the waterfalls at your own pace.
More Hike In Panama
- Hike to Starfish Beach on Bocas Del Toro
- The Pipeline Trail
- Volcan Baru hike
- Cerro Tute Hike
Best Hikes In Central America – What To Take With You
Here is my list of essentials that I take with me on every Hike I do, especially when hiking somewhere like Central America.
- Small Backpack – I have this 35-litre Osprey backpack and it is perfect for day hikes.
- Water Bottle – Our Water-To-Go filter bottles are amazing because we can fill them up from streams and waterfalls as we go!
- Snacks – I’ll let you decide on this one but my go-to hiking snacks are chocolate every time.
- Raincoat – You never know in Central America when you might get a tropical downpour. So having a thin raincoat on you is never a bad idea.
- packing list for Central America.
Best Hikes In Central America Top Tips
Now that you have read our list of the best hikes in Central America, here are some of our top tips to keep in mind when planning your hikes.
Do you need a guide?
Many hikes across Central America require you to have a guide, otherwise, you will not be allowed to enter. We have mentioned when this is the case for the hikes we have listed but if you find other hikes you want to try out, always check beforehand if you need to arrange a guide.
Do you need a map?
Whether that is a good old-fashioned paper map, a hand-drawn map from your hotel receptionist or an app on your phone, it is good to know where you will be hiking and how you will be able to navigate.
Take plenty of water
It is super important that you carry plenty of water for the distance you will be covering but also consider the weather. It may be a short hike but if it is really hot and sunny then you will need more water.
Wear the right shoes
There is nothing worse than trying to get out and enjoy a good hike but ending up with sore feet and blisters halfway through. To avoid this always try to wear new hiking boots around the house first or for day-to-day things to wear them in.
Leave no trace
A super important one and goes without saying really, but always take your stuff with you when you are out in Nature.
Avoid hiking in the dark
Sometimes it can be super tempting to get out before sunrise for those epic views and I totally get it. But if you aren’t a confident hiker, or don’t know the area well etc then hiking in the dark can be a tad risky. Always be sure of your route first or have a local guide with you.
Check the weather forecast
Last but not least, it is always a good idea to check the weather forecast before you head out on a long hike. The last thing you want is to get halfway up a volcano and end up in a storm.
In Preparation for your trip to Central America, I put together a list of all the best hostels.
Best Hikes In Central America Final Thoughts
There you have it, our best hikes in Central America based on which hikes we enjoyed the most during our travels in the area. Hopefully, there is something to appeal to everyone there because let’s face it, Central America is incredibly diverse.
I hope you enjoy your hikes and let us know which ends up being your favourite!