Envision a land where verdant rainforests meet pristine beaches, where fiery volcanoes tower over bustling cityscapes, and where the call of exotic wildlife echoes in the air. This is Costa Rica, a small Central American country that boasts an astonishing variety of natural wonders and exciting adventures. It’s a place that invites you to embrace the “Pura Vida” lifestyle – a life of simple pleasures, tranquility, and reverence for nature. It’s easy to see why Costa Rica is one of the top backpacking destinations in the world.

Whether you’re an adrenaline junkie, a nature lover, or a history buff, Costa Rica has something to offer. However, navigating this rich landscape can be overwhelming, especially for first-time visitors. This guide will shed light on some of Costa Rica’s top destinations for backpackers, helping you plan a trip that will leave you enriched, exhilarated, and yearning for more.

The Jewel of the Pacific: Manuel Antonio National Park

Manuel Antonio National Park Beach

Manuel Antonio National Park Beach

Located on the Pacific coast, Manuel Antonio National Park is a cherished gem. Despite being the smallest national park in Costa Rica, it is one of the most biodiverse areas in the world. It’s home to white-faced capuchin monkeys, howler monkeys, two and three-toed sloths, and a myriad of bird species.

The park offers a unique blend of lush rainforest, white-sand beaches, and stunning coral reefs. Whether you choose to explore the park’s numerous hiking trails, enjoy a refreshing swim, or embark on a snorkeling adventure, Manuel Antonio is sure to captivate your senses.

Venture into the Clouds: Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve

Sky Bridge in Monteverde

Sky Bridge in Monteverde

If you’re intrigued by the mysterious allure of the cloud forest, Monteverde should top your list. The reserve is shrouded in a constant cover of clouds, creating a unique ecosystem brimming with endemic flora and fauna. Discover why Monteverde is a popular destination in Costa Rica for backpackers for many reasons.

From colorful orchids and bromeliads to the elusive quetzal and three-wattled bellbird, biodiversity abounds. Adventurous visitors can explore the forest from a unique perspective via hanging bridges or exhilarating zip-line tours. The serenity of the forest is broken only by the sounds of nature – a constant reminder of the vibrant life that thrives in these clouds.

A Glimpse into History: Guayabo National Monument

Guayabo, Costa Rica's Archaeological Treasure

Guayabo, Costa Rica’s Archaeological Treasure

For those interested in the rich history of Costa Rica, the Guayabo National Monument offers a fascinating glimpse into the past. As Costa Rica’s largest and most important archaeological site, Guayabo unveils the remnants of a pre-Columbian city that was home to a significant civilization until around 1400 AD.

Among the ruins, you can observe ancient aqueducts, tombs, petroglyphs, and mysterious stone paths. A visit to Guayabo is a journey back in time, an opportunity to understand the roots of Costa Rican culture and history.

The Gateway to Adventure: Arenal Volcano National Park

Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica

Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica

Arenal Volcano National Park is often synonymous with adventure for Costa Rica tours. Dominated by the impressive Arenal Volcano, the park offers an array of exciting activities. Embark on a hike through the lush forest, explore the ancient lava fields, soak in natural hot springs, or paddle a canoe on the serene Lake Arenal.

At night, you might even get to witness the awe-inspiring sight of lava flowing down the slopes of the volcano. The park also boasts an incredible diversity of wildlife, from vibrant toucans and parrots to sloths and various monkey species.

Relax and Unwind: The Beaches of Guanacaste

Playa Conchal, Guanacaste Costa Rica

Playa Conchal, Guanacaste Costa Rica

For those who long for sun, sand, and sea, the Guanacaste province’s stunning beaches are the perfect antidote to a busy life. This region, located in northwestern Costa Rica, is blessed with some of the country’s most beautiful beaches, each unique in its charm. It’s easy to see why Guanacaste is one of Costa Rica’s top destinations for backpackers.

Playa Conchal, with its shell-studded sand and crystalline waters, is ideal for snorkeling and swimming. Tamarindo Beach is a surfer’s paradise, boasting consistent waves and a lively nightlife scene. For a tranquil retreat, Playa Flamingo offers a serene environment and stunning sunsets.

While in Guanacaste, don’t miss out on a sea turtle nesting tour. The beaches of Ostional and Playa Grande are among the world’s most important nesting sites for various sea turtle species – a truly magical experience to witness.

Top Things to Do in Costa Rica for Backpackers – Final Thoughts

Costa Rica, with its myriad of wonders, beckons adventurers, nature lovers, and culture enthusiasts alike. Its vibrant landscapes promise an escape from the ordinary – a chance to immerse in the raw beauty of nature, indulge in thrilling adventures, and resonate with the rhythms of a rich, captivating culture. Whether you’re exploring the depths of the rainforest, soaking up history, or lazing on a sunny beach, every moment in Costa Rica brings you closer to the essence of ‘Pura Vida’ – the pure life. Pack your backpack and let the spirit of adventure guide you through this enchanting land.


Cartagena is well known as Colombia’s premier destination. The city’s lovely colonial atmosphere and historic charm pairs perfectly with the beautiful Caribbean beaches in the nearby islands. There is also a vibrant culture and fun nightlife.

Even being such a well known tourist town, there are some hidden gems in Cartagena that many travelers miss. Here you can learn about some of Cartagena’s hidden gems plus some great lesser-known restaurants and bars.

Visit the City’s Best but Lesser Known Museum

Cartagena’s city walls, one of the few examples of a near complete colonial city wall left anywhere, and well known Castillo San Felipe Fortress are among its most well known landmarks and testaments to the city’s fascinating history.

There is a city historical museum in the Palacio de la Inquisición, which doubles as a museum on the Spanish Inquisition and was, in fact, the home of the inquisition in the colony.

However, you can actually learn more about the city’s history at the lesser-known Museo Naval del Caribe, which is more off the beaten path in Cartagena.

Museo Naval de Caribe - a hidden gem in Cartagena

Museo Naval de Caribe

Here, you’ll find some terrific dioramas of the various attacks on the city like those by Francis Drake and Edward Vernon. They show the day by day events and also give lots of context on the city’s fortifications.

On the second floor of the museum, you can also learn more about Cartagena’s incredibly important role in Colombian independence. Finally, there are some interesting exhibits on Colombia’s modern navy, including its little known role in the Korean War. It’s a great place to learn more about the city’s history and is the best done museum in the city.

Visit the Lesser Known Fortifications in Bocachica

Going to the Naval Museum will give you a better understanding of the geography and how the city’s defenses worked in tandem. If you want to get an even better understanding and see some unique forts, head out to the entrance to the bay at Bocachica on the island of Tierra Bomba.

There are three forts here, two of them rebuilt after Vernon’s destruction of them in 1741. These are the Castillo San Fernando and the Fort San José, which created a crossfire through the narrow entrance to the bay. A third fort, Angel San Rafael was built on a nearby hill to protect the land approaches and prevent a siege of the forts as Vernon had done.

The City Walls of Cartagena

The City Walls of Cartagena

These forts were never attacked, and they have been very well preserved. They are also free to enter.

However, they are a bit difficult to reach. You can get boats to the nearby town from the main port near the Clocktower in Cartagena. The mock pirate boat La Fantastica also offers a tour that stops here, or you could plan for a day pass at the terrific nearby Blue Apple Beach Club and walk over the the forts. To see the inside of San José, you do have to hire a boat to take you across.

Stay at the Lovely Bungalows at IslaBela in the Rosario Islands

The beaches in the city of Cartagena proper are good but tend to be overrun with tourists and vendors. The beautiful Playa Blanca, once a Cartagena hidden gem in its own right, has suffered the same fate in recent years.

That means the best places to go to the beach off the beaten path in Cartagena are in the Rosario Islands. There are some great Rosario Islands resorts and it’s easy to arrange a day trip to the Rosario Islands from Cartagena. Lots of people like to rent private boats and head to party spot Cholón, while others like to do a day pass at the popular and fun Bora Bora Beach Club.

Isla Bela in Rosario Islands

IslaBela in Rosario Islands

However, if you’re looking for a bit more relaxed atmosphere, check out IslaBela Eco-Hotel. It’s located on the smaller Isleta island and has one of the best beach areas in the islands.

It also has a small handful of terrific bungalows for staying the night. They are also actually owned by natives of the island who have a profit share with the hotel, meaning they have a fairly sustainable model that also benefits the local islanders more than most of the other hotels in the islands.

Those on a tighter budget may also want to consider Secreto Hostel as a lesser-known and more budget-friendly place to stay in the islands.

Hang Out at Playa Azul in Town

If you don’t have the time or budget, or you just want some extra beach time at a beach in town, skip the crowded beaches in Bocagrande.

On the north end of town, just past the airport, you’ll find a beach known as Playa Azul. This is just before the larger area known as La Boquilla. While the beach doesn’t compare to those in the islands, its ok and is more off the beaten path in Cartagena, which makes it much less crowded.

Visit the Colombian National Aviary

Located on the island of Barú, not far from Playa Blanca, the Colombian National Aviary, or Aviario Nacional, is definitely a hidden gem in Cartagena. It’s very well done, and has some rare birds, including a harpy eagle and a family of condors.

It’s a bit difficult to get out here on your own, so it’s best to either hire a taxi for the day or to go with a tour. It’s also best to go early before it gets too hot when the birds will be more active.

Visit the Abaco Bookstore

Located in a charming historic building in the heart of Cartagena’s Walled City, the Abaco Bookstore is another unique hidden gem in Cartagena. There are plenty of great books here on Colombia and Cartagena, including a selection in English. They also sell some neat artwork and artisan crafts made by local artists.

Inside the Walled city in Cartagena

Inside the Walled city in Cartagena

You can also enjoy a coffee or drink here. It’s a neat and unique place to at least stop in and browse.

Tour the Mangroves in La Boquilla

North of the Playa Azul is the town of La Boquilla, nestled between the Caribbean and the mangrove swamps. This was a traditional fishing community, and there are some neat tours you can do here that take you out on canoe rides through the mangrove forests that look like little tunnels before opening up to big lagoons.

Some tours also include fishing, drum or dancing lessons, and even cooking lessons. It’s a unique thing to do in Cartagena off the beaten path. You can organize tours here through Ecotours Boquilla.

Sample an Arepa de Huevo from Donde Magola

Trying an arepa de huevo is obligatory in Cartagena. This snack that originates from the Caribbean coast makes for a good breakfast, afternoon snack, late night munchie, or even dinner on the go. It’s more similar to an empanada than a traditional arepa, round and fried to a golden crisp.

You’ll find street stalls all over the Walled City selling the traditional arepa de huevo, filled with ground beef and an egg. However, at Donde Magola, located near the Exito San Diego supermarket just inside the Walled City, you can find all sorts of neat variations. Instead of the ground beef, you can get it with chorizo, chicharrón, or even shrimp.

Get Some Ceviche at La Laguna Azul

Cartagena has plenty of terrific seafood, including ceviche. You’ve probably heard of La Cevichería, made famous after Anthony Bourdain’s visit and a mainstay in recommendations for the best Cartagena restaurants.

Another lesser known place to enjoy some great ceviche in Cartagena is La Laguna Azul. A tiny, unassuming, hole in the wall located at the entrance of the Centro Comercial Getsemaní, there are some terrific and unique takes on ceviche here.

Grab one of the small handful of little outdoor tables and a ice cold beer from the little store next door and enjoy this Cartagena hidden gem that is frequented more by locals than tourists.

Try a Craft Beer at Beer Lovers

Colombia has a growing craft beer scene. While in Bogotá, you’ll find lots of little brew pubs, Cartagena has more limited options.

Street Art in the Getsemani district of Cartagena

Street Art in the Getsemani district of Cartagena

The best place to try some Colombian craft beer in Cartagena is Beer Lovers, which has a solid bar in Getsemaní, a popular area full of neat cafés, bars, and restaurants. You’ll find both beers originating in Colombia and elsewhere here on their rotating taps.

Pretend You’re Jay Gatsby at Prohibition

There are a lot of terrific Cartagena bars and clubs. Perhaps the most unique is Prohibition, located on the bottom floor of Townhouse Boutique Hotel. Their upstairs rooftop bar is actually very popular and has great drinks.

However, the downstairs is a hidden gem in Cartagena and has a neat vibe for enjoying a cocktail or three. Beautiful, 1920s style sofas, frequent live jazz music, and even a burlesque show make it a place unlike anywhere else in Cartagena to enjoy a drink.

Or Salsa with the Locals at Quiebra Canto

If you’re looking for a more traditional Cartagena night out, you’ll probably be thinking of getting your dance on at a salsa club. The famous Café Havana, which Hillary Clinton once visited, is a popular place to do so. However, it tends to be crowded and is expensive.

Another good but lesser-known spot is Quiebra Canto, just a block and a half away. It is located on the 2nd floor directly across from the clocktower and tends to draw more of a local crowd than a tourist one. It’s a neat place to get a slightly more local vibe than many of the other popular nightclubs in town.

Cartagena Hidden Gems Conclusion

Now, you know about 12 hidden gems in Cartagena that are a bit off the tourist-beaten path and make great additions to a visit.

It’s time to dust off your backpack and think about where to go next. If you’re on a budget, you may be wondering about the cheapest backpacking destinations in the world. The thing is, especially if you’ve been aching to get back out there, ‘budget travel’ can be a bit of an oxymoron. People go traveling to see something new, and once you’re on the road, the last thing you want to do is restrict yourself.

The way to travel on a budget without feeling too limited is to go backpacking destinations where food, accommodation, and transport are cheap. This will allow you to stretch your budget and splurge on the occasional special activity to get the most out of your trip. The good news is, after you figure out a cheap way to get to your destination, it is possible to travel around some of the most beautiful destinations on earth for less than $20 a day. Believe it or not, it can sometimes be cheaper to be on the road than to stay at home considering your normal rent and daily expenses! 

So without further ado, here is our updated list of the cheapest backpacking destinations for 2023.

Bulgaria – The best Eastern European country for budget travel

Even though Bulgaria is the cheapest backpacking country to visit in Eastern Europe, it has an abundance of gorgeous landscapes that rival its neighbors. During our 5 days in Bulgaria were able to see Alpine mountains, forested countryside, sandy beaches on the Black Sea, plus beautiful cities like Sofia and Veliko Tărnovo.

The Rila Monastery near Sofia in Bulgaria, one of the cheapest backpacking countries in the world

The Rila Monastery near Sofia, Bulgaria

Because we were traveling in the off-season, we were able to splurge on the occasional high-end luxury accommodation for less than $100 a night. Of course, you can always find cheaper hostels in Bulgaria. Food and drink are also super affordable, with the average price of a beer being about a dollar.

Learn more: Backpacking in Bulgaria


India is one of those countries where budget travel is almost entirely dependent on your willingness to haggle. If you strike the right tone, India can be one of the cheapest backpacking destinations in the world.

When booking guesthouses, you’ll most certainly get a better price by booking directly with the guest house versus booking online through an agency. Transportation-wise, it is super cheap to get around in India. In the big cities, we recommend using Uber it’s actually much cheaper than the prices you’ll be quoted for a tuk-tuk ride. For intercity travel, trains cost between $8 – $30, and you can even find flights within that price range!

Learn more: Backpacking in India

Portugal – The cheapest backpacking destination in Western Europe

Portugal is a great option in Western Europe for travelers on a budget. You’ll be able to experience the vibrant European culture as well as world-famous food and wine at a fraction of the cost of what you’d pay in France or Spain. 

Learn more: Backpacking in Portugal


Cambodia has so much to offer, and you can travel there for about $20 a day. Private rooms in a nice guesthouse will cost you about $10, and tuk-tuk rides are a savvy way to get around. Our guest house helped us arrange a private tuk-tuk driver to help us visit the many temples of Angkor Wat for just $12!  You can even get a 30-day SIM card with 1.5 GB of data for $2.

Ta Prohm Temple in the Angkor Wat Temple Complex in Cambodia, one of the cheapest backpacking countries

Ta Prohm Temple in the Angkor Wat Temple Complex

Learn more: Backpacking in Cambodia


With medieval fortresses, majestic mountains, and friendly locals, the country of Georgia should be much higher on the list of top backpacking destinations. And with delicious meals starting at $3, and $1 local buses, it’s one of the best countries for budget travel. You don’t have to withhold on the cultural activities here, since most entrance tickets cost around $2.

The Caucasus Mountains in Georgia

The Caucasus Mountains in Georgia

Learn more: Backpacking in Georgia


In the Czechia, the old trope ‘beer is cheaper than water’ is actually true. While Czechia boasts much of the same beauty as its neighbors like Germany and Austria, it’s possible to travel here at a fraction of the cost.

Learn more: Backpacking in Czechia

Bolivia – the cheapest backpacking country in South America

Bolivia is one of the cheapest backpacking destinations in the world and is very popular with adventurers. Here, it is possible to get a 3-course meal for less than $2. Accommodation in a hostel dorm room costs between $8-$12 a night, and local and long-distance buses are a cheap way to get around. Even the most famous backpacker destination in Bolivia, the Uyuni Salt Flats, won’t break the bank, costing around $200 for 3 days, which is relatively cheap for this bucket-list destination!

Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia

Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia

Learn more: Backpacking in Bolivia


Trekking in Nepal doesn’t have to cost as much as you might imagine. Other than the Everest Base Camp Trek (an exorbitant expense), there are plenty of beautiful Himalayan treks where it is possible to go by yourself. The Short Annapurna Circuit, for example, is well-marked with guesthouses along the path for about $5 a night, so you won’t have to carry tons of gear. (If you want to go all the way to Annapurna Base Camp, you’ll need to go with a guide). Food and drink in Nepal are also very affordable, with meals costing between $2-$3.

Learn more: Backpacking in Nepal

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is certainly one of those countries where you can travel on a budget or live in the lap of luxury for relatively affordable prices. Their infamous train system (a bucket-list item in itself) is the cheapest way to get around the country. Or, you could hire a private taxi to travel between cities with a few other people from your hostel. Keep a special travel budget set aside for entrance fees to nature reserves and UNESCO Heritage sites!

Learn more: Backpacking in Sri Lanka


Colombia is one of our favorite backpacking destinations because of the friendly locals, diverse landscapes, and of course, affordability. You could easily backpack in Colombia for a month with just $1000 in your bank account. By taking long-distance buses, staying in hostel dorm rooms, and cooking your own food in the hostel kitchens, you can visit destinations like Medellín, Cartagena, and Salento on a budget.

The Cocora Valley near Salento, Colombia

The Cocora Valley near Salento, Colombia

Learn more: Backpacking in Colombia

Honorable Mention


This country certainly doesn’t scream ‘budget travel’ but it’s the cheapest destination in Scandinavia. If visiting this part of the world has been a dream of yours, we can definitely recommend Denmark in comparison with its more expensive Scandinavian neighbors Norway, Sweden, or Finland.

Nyhavn Canal in Copenhagen, Denmark, one of the cheapest backpacking countries in Scandinavia

Nyhavn Canal in Copenhagen, Denmark

Learn more: Backpacking in Denmark

With its picturesque, cobblestone streets and sceneries, Antigua is arguably one of the most beautiful towns to visit in all of Central America (let alone just Guatemala). Filled with colonial architecture, bustling markets, and spiraling volcanoes that assault from all corners, Antigua is an absolute must-visit.

In this guide, we’ll explore this Central American gem, including FIVE of the very best free things to do in Antigua, Guatemala. We’ll explore each individually, including everything you’ll need to know such as how to get there as well as the history behind each destination.

Free Thing 1: Explore The Plaza Central Park

As well the picture-perfect landmarks, Antigua is also known for its charming yet bustling plazas. For anyone backpacking Guatemala the Plaza Central Park is the heart of the town and is a great place to pass by during any time of the day. Exploring this plaza makes the top of our list as the best free thing to do in Antigua Guatemala.

Exploring the Plaza Central Park is one of our favorite free things to do in Antigua

Exploring the Plaza Central Park is one of our favorite things to do in Antigua

Within the park, you’ll find a large fountain, as well as many benches for you to sit on and watch local life unfold in front of your eyes. There are also lots of vendors around here, selling cheap ice creams, drinks, and typical dishes of Guatemala, all for a cheap price. 

Like many Latin American Plazas, this one is also surrounded by many important buildings on its outskirts, such as the Ayuntamiento and the Catedral San José. What is quaint and relaxing during the day quickly turns into atmospheric when the night comes. 

During the evening you’ll find tonnes more locals out and about, with public performances and activities on regularly. 

It is known that many street vendors work here and wait for tourists to arrive, so if you’re approached and not interested, simply a polite “no gracias” will suffice. 

For reference, the plaza is around two blocks away from the Santa Catalina arch, so it’s worthwhile combining both on a short walk around town.

Free Thing 2: Mercado Central Antigua

Guatemala is known for its unique and vibrant culture, and there’s no better introduction than through its bustling town markets. The Mercado Central Antigua is located on the western edge of town, at the end of 3a Calle Poniente. Wandering around the market is one of our favorite free things to do in Antigua, Guatemala.

Free things to do in Antigua - The bustling Mercado Central Antigua

The bustling Mercado Central Antigua

Here you’ll find locals selling everything from foods to artisanal products and electronics, however, the main experience is simply joining-in with the somewhat chaotic herd as you enter the busy ring of stalls. Here you can also spot many of the local “chicken buses” that Guatemala is famous for. 

Our main tip when visiting this market is to leave all valuables at home, and any phone and wallet in your front pockets or in a safe pouch in you. 

Like most Latin American countries, Guatemala also has a reputation for pickpocketing, so a little preparation before will ease most of your worries. 

Also, be sure to dress down and leave flashy accessories at home; not just to avoid any unwanted attention, but also to show locals respect as many live in poverty. 

Free Thing 3: Arco de Santa Catalina

Antigua truly is full of amazing architecture and beautiful landmarks. If you’re looking for free things to do in Antigua, Guatemala, you could simply wander around and take in the sights. However, the Arco de Santa Catalina has to be up there as one of the very best landmarks. Type ‘Antigua’ (followed by Guatemala of course – or else you’ll get the Caribbean island instead) into Google and this will most likely be the first image you’ll see. 

The iconic Arco de Santa Catalina in Antigua, Guatemala

The iconic Arco de Santa Catalina in Antigua, Guatemala

This faded yellow arch and clock tower is one of the very best things to see in town, and not just for the sight itself. Located along the busy 5th Avenue Norte, here you’ll also see many locals working as well as chicken buses riding through from time to time, giving a much more authentic view of everyday Guatemalan life. 

Whilst nowadays a snap-worthy site, the Santa Catalina arch used to be a walkway for the local nuns, so that they could pass into the convent without leaving the monastery. 

There are some backpacker hostels close by but if you stay outside the immediate area, we recommend heading there in the early morning when the mist from the previous night is still lingering which makes for a great photo. Another great time to visit is at dusk, especially if you’re lucky to see the red lava flows of Volcán Fuego in the distance. 

Whichever you decide, be sure to bring a couple of layers since temperatures plummet around these times in Antigua!

Constructed in the early 18th century, the Ayuntamiento (Town Hall in English) is one of the most stunning buildings to see in Antigua. 

Free Thing 4: Walk through the Ayuntamiento

With noticeable baroque features, rows of stone pillars, and looping arches, it’s quite intriguing to see the different eras of Antigua’s rich past combine here, where you’ll be able to see a variety of contrasting styles. 

Due to Guatemala’s hot tectonic activity, the town hall had been rattled by a series of earthquakes, which was then followed by restoration efforts in the 19th century. Whilst still used today by the municipal government, it’s open for viewing pleasure to the public from 8:00-12:00, and also from 14:00-18:00, making it one of the best things to do for free in Antigua Guatemala.

We recommend heading between 8:00-9:00, as you’ll beat all the crowds who come later and can have the place more or less to yourself. 

We also recommend combining this with a walk in the Plaza Central Park and also to the Santa Catalina arch, since they’re all within a stone’s throw of each other (not to mention the town of Antigua being pretty small anyhow).

Free Thing 5: Cerro de la Cruz

What makes Antigua especially great is its epic landscapes, with volcanoes looming pretty much everywhere you look! Volcán de Fuego is still active, meaning you’ll also be able to see puffs of smoke every now and then, and if you’re lucky, a hot red flow of lava at night. 

The Cerro de la Cruz with a view to Volcan Agua

The Cerro de la Cruz with a view to Volcan Agua

And as far as viewpoints go to see all of this beauty, Cerro de la Cruz is by far the best. Located just outside of Antigua on a hill (in the north), you can walk here in around 30 minutes from the town center.

As well as the views over the town, there’s also a giant cross which is great for a snap or two. Here you’ll find local vendors selling local Guatemalan dishes if you get peckish too. 

Be sure to bring lots of water, as it can get quite warm during the day when you’re hiking up to the viewpoint. The absolute best time to head here is around 5 pm, just as the afternoon draws to a close. 

You can thank us later! From here you can actually continue upwards into the highlands if you fancy. The path continues up to the road, and if you follow for around an hour (or get a taxi if you must!) you’ll come to a small village higher up with even better views.


And that’s all for our guide on free things to do in Antigua, Guatemala! This stunning colonial town is one of the best destinations to visit in Guatemala

With an abundance of volcanoes to be explored, and historical sights and landmarks aplenty, it rightfully so is a must-visit when in this area of Central America. 

In this guide, we’ve explored 5 of the very best things to see and do for free, which range from awesome viewpoints to picturesque buildings and sights. 

We’ve also given our own recommendations on each to help you have the best experience possible, as well as how to get to each individual attraction.

Living La Vida Loca? Sorry, Ricky Martin, it’s all about the Pura Vida (“Pure Life”) in Costa Rica. And the best way to experience this is by visiting the multitude of national parks — 28 in total. And, because the country’s so small, it’s easy to visit many of them in a short trip. 

Before you Go: To ensure you have a great hiking experience in Costa Rica, be sure to check out the AllTrails app. The app has an extensive list of the best trails for hiking in Costa Rica, with reviews from other hikers to keep you up to date on the latest trail conditions. You can filter by trail difficulty, length, and suitability and download trail maps to help keep you on track even when you’re offline.

So, let’s dive into the best hikes in Costa Rica for your next visit.

The Catarata del Toro Waterfall Hike


Catarata del Toro Waterfall cascading into a volcanic crater - hiking in costa rica

Catarata del Toro Waterfall cascades into a volcanic crater

About two hours outside San Jose is a towering waterfall you won’t want to miss.

As you hike, tropical rainforests engulf you like a pig-in-a-blanket. There are a few viewpoints you’ll pass before arriving at the waterfall. Snap some pictures along the way before you descend to the waterfall itself. 

If you were thinking this was an ordinary waterfall, you’d be wrong. This waterfall is an astounding 270 feet high, and it sits inside the crater of a now-extinct volcano. The impressive waterfall alone makes this one of the best hikes in Costa Rica.

Because this waterfall isn’t as visited as other sights, you’ll experience wildlife living undisturbed by civilization. Hummingbirds, butterflies, and more zip from tree to tree as you wander the trail.

So, take your time and enjoy the experience; it’s sure to be good.

Hike Details

Length: 1 mile

Difficulty: Easy

Getting to the trail: The start of the hike is located between San Jose and La Fortuna. Two hours driving from San Jose, this trail is easily accessed for anyone staying in the capital. The closest town is Bajas del Toro, which is a good starting point. You can find the start of the trail on Google Maps here.

Rio Celeste Hike

The other-worldly colors of the Rio Celeste - one of the best hikes in Costa Rica

The other-worldly colors of the Rio Celeste – one of the best hikes in Costa Rica

Timing is essential to this hike. It’s straightforward, and signs are posted to help you stay on the trail. But, to experience the magic of what makes this one of the best hikes in Costa Rica, you’ll want to visit during the dry season — from December to April.

Why go during this time?

When it rains, mud mixes into the water and turns it a dark brown. But, when it’s a clear day, the water turns to Cool Blue Gatorade, and it’s beautiful.

Whether you get to catch the blue waters or not, the hike itself is full of flora and fauna for you to observe. Snakes, birds, and rare plants litter this hike, so keep your eyes peeled for any animals or plants who may be hiding just out of view.

Hike Details

Length: 4 miles

Difficulty: Moderate

Getting to the trail: Rio Celeste is located inside Tenorio Volcano National Park. The closest town is Bijagua de Upala. However, trips can be arranged from La Fortuna, a more popular option for visitors to Costa Rica. La Fortuna is 29 miles from the national park.

You can find the start of the trail on Google Maps here.

La Leona Madrigal Trail

Parque Nacional Corcovado - one of the best hikes in Costa Rica to experience wildlife

Parque Nacional Corcovado – one of the best hikes in Costa Rica to experience wildlife

National Geographic labeled Corcovado National Park as the most biologically intense place on the planet. And it contains a plethora of hiking options. 

So, you’re sure to have a close-up experience with various wildlife, making this one of the best places to go hiking in Costa Rica.

What type of wildlife exactly? Tapirs, monkeys, jaguars, and eagles are some animals you’re sure to see on your hike.

I recommend the La Leona Madrigal Trail if you’re looking for a hike that will give you a dose of all that this park has to offer.

This out-and-back trail will take you along the coast, where you can enjoy the stunning beaches of Costa Rica. But that’s not all. It also takes you inland to the jungles, so you can live out your inner Indiana Jones.

You can book overnight stays in the park, which will give you an immersive experience in the wild. Or, you can stay in one of the nearby towns for easy access. The closest towns are Puerto Jimenez and Drake Bay.

Hike Details

Length: 6 miles

Difficulty: Moderate

Getting to the trail: The trail begins between Carate Mixeo Wildlife Refuge and Playa Madrigal, located on the southern end of Corcovado National Park. You can follow National Route 245 to easily access the area.

You can find the trail start on Google Maps here.

Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges

One of the many hanging bridges on the trail in Arenal

One of the many hanging bridges on the trail in Arenal

The area around Arenal is known for it’s many hiking options. A shorter hike near the Arenal Volcano offers a more accessible way to experience the cloud forest. But that doesn’t mean it’s not still full of novelty and intrigue.

The Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges hike consists of 15 total bridges, six of which are hanging. As you navigate the forest, you’ll get fantastic views of the volcano and the occasional visit from monkeys, birds, and other wildlife.

This hike would be excellent to pair with another hike near the Arenal Volcano — which are plentiful.

I’d recommend the Los Tucanes hike, a 2.5-mile hike across hanging bridges and lava fields. Wildlife fills Arenal National Park, so you’ll encounter unique animals on this hike.

Hike Details

Length: 2 miles

Difficulty: Easy

Getting to the trail: Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park is located on the northern side of Arenal Volcano. From La Fortuna, it’s about a 30-minute drive via Route 142. The park contains a large parking lot, so renting a car is an excellent option.

You can find the start on Google Maps here.

Cerro Chirripo

View of San Gerardo de Rivas and Cerro Chirripó National Park in the background

View of San Gerardo de Rivas and Cerro Chirripó National Park in the background

Up for a more significant challenge? How about climbing to the top of the tallest mountain when hiking in Costa Rica?

This one isn’t for the faint-hearted, as it’s over 12 miles one way. That doesn’t sound bad until you add over 7,000 feet of elevation gain. Yeah, this one is going to challenge you.

But, you don’t have to do it all in one day. Most people choose to do a two or three-day option. Three miles away from the summit, most hikers will stay at the Crestones Base Camp lodge.

Once you reach the top, though, you’re greeted with views out over Costa Rica — from the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean on each side. It is easy to see what makes this one of the best hikes in Costa Rica – especially for experienced backpackers who are looking to get off the beaten path.

Hike Details

Length: 24 miles (round trip)

Difficulty: Difficult

Getting to the trail: To get to the beginning of the trail, you will start in the nearby town of San Gerardo de Rivas. Booking a stay in this small town is an excellent option so you can have easy access at the beginning and end of your hike. From there, it’s a short drive to the park entrance.

You can find the start on Google Maps here.

Best Hikes in Costa Rica – Final Thoughts

Costa Rica doesn’t see almost two million tourists a year because it lacks options. In fact, around 80% of its visitors come to experience the staggering amount of ecology on offer.

And there’s no better way to experience that ecological beauty than hitting the trails and leaving civilization behind.

You’re equipped to do exactly that on your next visit with this guide to the best hikes in Costa Rica. Now go get a taste of that Pura Vida!