1. Volcán Poás, Parque Nacional Volcán Poás
Standing proud in the centre of the park, Poás is one of the world’s more easily accessible active volcanoes – you can reach it by public transport from San José and Alajuela – with an eleven-million-year history of eruptions.
You can take your pick from the very well-maintained, short and unchallenging trails which weave through the park’s unusual dwarf cloudforest. The Crater Overlook Trail, which winds around the main crater along a paved road, is only 750m long and is accessible to wheelchairs and pushchairs.
Poás Volcano crater and lake © Styve Reineck/Shutterstock
2. Sendero Los Patos-Sirena, Parque Nacional Corcovado
This tough 20km trek through dense rainforest (allow 9 hours) gives experienced hikers the chance to spot some of Costa Rica’s more elusive large mammals, such as the tapir and collared peccary. The Los Patos-Sirena route starts near the village of Rincón de Osa, which runs a programme to train locals as naturalist guides.
Everyone trekking in Corcovado must be accompanied by a guide, and they tend to enrich your experience; the guides at Rincón are taught to identify some of the approximately 370 species of bird recorded in the area, not to mention the amphibians, reptiles, insects, mammals and plants. Ask in Rincón or at the Oficina de Área de Conservación Osa in Puerto Jiménez for details.
Tree frog, Corcovado National Park © Kit Korzun/Shutterstock
3. Cerro Chirripó, Parque Nacional Chirripó
The multi-day hike up Costa Rica’s highest peak – 3820m (12,533ft) – is a long but varied ascent through cloudforest and paramo to rocky mountaintop; on a clear morning, you can see right across to the Pacific.
The services of a guide can be both useful and illuminating, as they’ll be able to help you identify local species and interpret the landscapes you pass through; ask at the ranger station at the entrance for recommendations.
View from the summit of Cerro Chirripó © Kevin Wells Photography/Shutterstock
4. Reserva Rara Avis
Costa Rica’s premier ecotourism destination flourishes with primitive ferns and has more kinds of plants, birds and butterflies than the whole of Europe; 367 species of bird alone have been identified here. The wonderfully remote, wildlife-rich Reserva Rara Avis has a 30km network of excellent trails, which are well marked and offer walks of thirty minutes to several hours.
Given the effort it takes to reach the reserve, it’s worth staying for a couple of nights and exploring. The informative guided walks are a great opportunity for spotting some of the reserve’s abundant wildlife; night walks are also possible, and show you a different side of the rainforest.
Violet-headed hummingbird (Klais guimeti), Rara Avis Reserve © Salparadis/Shutterstock