With over 100 volcanoes stretching throughout Central America and some of the lushest jungle and rainforests, there are endless opportunities for hiking – anything from week long treks over rough terrain and along pristine beaches to overnight camping near the mouth of active volcanoes. For those who are strapped on time, or just looking for a few easier days of adventuring, here are 5 of my favorite day hikes throughout Central America:
Indian Nose, Lago Atitlan, Guatemala
La Nariz del Indio, or Indian Nose, is one of the more popular hikes around Lake Atitlan in the Guatemalan highlands. While there are literally hundreds of hikes to do in Guatemala, many are strenuous multi-day treks up volcanoes. If you’re looking for something a bit easier, and much less time consuming, but still offering some stunning views, this is a perfect hike – only about an hour hike up to the top of the “nose” will give you a gorgeous panoramic view of the lake, with its three surrounding volcanoes. If you’re lucky, you may even get a glimpse of one of them erupting!
I strongly suggest getting up extra early to hike up in the dark (bring a headlamp, as the top of the hike gets a bit rocky), and you’ll step to the top just as the sun begins to rise over the lake. Bring along a mug of local Mayan cacao and some snacks, and enjoy the calm and serenity while the sun begins to warm your bones. Take caution, though: the route is known to be terrorized by thieves, so do yourself a favor and hire a local guide.
Los Chorros de la Calera, Juayúa, El Salvador
A stroll through charming coffee plantations? Check. Beautifully verdant greens and vibrantly colored flowers? Check. Refreshing, cold, clear waterfalls? Check. Check. This quick little hike (only 45 minutes from the center of Juayúa) is a perfect compact representation of what is the Ruta de los Flores, or Route of the Flowers, in northern El Salvador. We hired a local guide from the village who taught us about the history of the coffee farms in the area, fed us great information on the local flora, and guided us safely through what is private land to a series of waterfalls contained by stone pools. The water was perfectly clear, and we couldn’t resist spending a few hours splashing in the cool waters, being refreshed by the powerful falls, and even exploring one of the tunnels that connects the pools.
Cascada de San Ramon, Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua
More waterfalls? Don’t mind if I do. This hike is a bit more strenuous, but well worth it. The San Ramon waterfall is located on the Maderas Volcano on Ometepe Island, which is an island in the middle of the biggest freshwater lake in Central America. Most people who find themselves on the island will end up hiking one of the two volcanoes that make up the island – there’s Concepción, which is a challenging 14-mile hike up barren slopes into the clouds that consistently surround the volcano’s peak, or the smaller, jungle coated Volcan Maderas, which has plenty of different hikes all around.
The hike to the San Ramon waterfall is just one of these hikes on Maderas, and is a 6-mile round trip jaunt through rolling farmland into steep, jungle terrain, following the sound of the waterfall up and up until you pop out into a beautiful, sunny glade. Even in the dry season, the waterfall crashes down into a lovely pool – a welcome sight after the hot and sticky climb through the jungle.
If you’re really feeling up for it, you can continue on past the waterfall for a few more hours to find yourself at the top of the volcano, or what used to be – the summit is now a crater lagoon surrounded by a cloud forest, and is now a UNESCO biosphere reserve.
Volcano Boarding on Cerro Negro, Nicaragua
Who wouldn’t want to race down a volcano at 50 MPH sitting on a slab of wood? Alright, so this adventure may not be for the faint of heart, or really be that much of a hike, but I couldn’t resist putting this on my list – it’s too fun! The 30-minute hike to the top of Cerro Negro is steep and windy, but the reward of sledding down is well worth it. Go through one of the many local guide services out of León, and you’re provided with goggles and jumpsuits, but make sure to bring closed shoes, and maybe a bandana to cover your mouth. Then it’s time to jump on the wooden toboggan and see how fast you can go! Some of the top speed racers have maxed out at over 70 MPH! Just be sure to keep your feet on the board, or you’ll find yourself tumbling in a high-speed rock slide down the mountain.
Manual Antonio National Park, Costa Rica
Costa Rica has long been the adventure capital of Central America, and it is hard to choose from the hundreds of day trips to be had, but Manuel Antonio National Park is said to be one of the best parks in the country, and I can’t disagree. Just south of Quepos, the park covers over 680 hectares of pristine rain forest and beaches. It is supposedly one of the most biodiverse areas in the world.
You could spend days hiking around the park, all on beautifully maintained trails and walkways. Meander through the jungle at your own pace, keeping a keen eye out for everything from sloths and monkeys to colorful birds of all kinds, iguanas, and raccoons or hire a guide to do the looking for you. Also, be sure to leave some time after your hike to relax on one of the beaches. Just be sure to keep an eye on your belongings – unlike many of the other hikes in this list, it’s not the people who will snatch your stuff, it’s the monkeys!