Getting the most out of Costa Rica’s many hiking trails
Costa Rica boasts some of the greatest hiking and eco-exploration opportunities in the world. With its abundance of flora and fauna, there are a plethora of new discoveries to be made by hikers and adventurers every day when visiting Costa Rica.
In this series, Hiking Costa Rica, we will explore some of the best hiking destinations that Costa Rica has to offer, starting with some tips and tools that every hiker in Costa Rica should have in their virtual, and physical, backpack.
Prepare for Anything When Hiking Costa Rica
You’ll be amazed at the bounty of microclimates in Costa Rica and the quick changes in weather- sometimes from one minute to the next- that you’ll experience when hiking. You should be prepared for this by planning to wear layers when hiking. Hiking pants that convert into shorts with a quick zip and good, sturdy hiking shoes are an absolute must.
When looking into the perfect hiking shoe, go for one that will do well on wet surfaces or even submerged in water; you are going to come across a lot of those, especially when hiking the cloud forest reserves.
Regardless of whether your vacation baggage consists of a giant backpacker’s pack or good old fashioned luggage, you’ll want a lighter weight backpack that is strictly for exploring- don’t plan to lug all your stuff along with you on these hiking trails. Most of the trails in this country are moderate to difficult, and you won’t be able to deal with all that. Plan on having something that will allow you to carry the essentials you need for a day’s hike only.
Be Aware of Your Environmental Impact
The lush natural habitat you have the privileged of trekking through in Costa Rica is often fragile. Unconscious hikers sometimes accidently destroy the environments they enjoy. While the actions of just one hiker may not make a huge impact, the massive effect of large numbers of visitors to the forest can degrade the environment.
Here are a few things to keep in mind while in the forest:
- You are a guest in the forest. Respect the animals that live there. Do not feed them food that could damage their systems. Do not remove them from their homes. Do not taunt them or try to pick them up. Do not destroy or remove their homes or nests.
- Leave no trace. Whatever you take into the forest, you must take out. Even if you don’t see signs or regulations, follow strict guidelines for dealing with food waste, packaging, or anything else that might alter the environment. This includes even human waste, which is often a major source of environmental impact from hikers. Human waste can contaminate the watershed and make other hikers ill. You can deal with this problem by using “catholes” and covering them up; try to create and use these at least 200 feet away from water sources and trails to minimize the risk of contamination.
- Obey the rules and regulations of the area, and, if none are given, use good common sense and care. Fires and other hazards such as injuries or getting lost can be avoided in this way.
The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics offers a set of guidelines for low-impact hiking: “Leave nothing but footprints. Take nothing but photos. Kill nothing but time. Keep nothing but memories”.
Hiking in a group can be fun and increase safety. However, sometimes groups of hikers can interfere with the good experience of other hikers. Here are a few rules for hiking etiquette that are universally beneficial.
- When you or your group of hikers meets another on a steep trail, it is customary to allow the “right of way” to the group that is moving up the hill.
- Conscious hikers typically avoid making loud noises or taking part in loud, boisterous conversations when hiking. Leave your cell phone conversations for emergencies only, and stay present, safe and considerate by leaving music listening (even with headphones- you need to be able to hear when you are in the forest) for another time and space. One caveat to this rule is when hiking in bear country, but that’s not something you need to think about when hiking in Costa Rica.
- Stay on established trails; this helps to avoid impact on the land and its natural environment.
- Hiking faster than your natural pace can increase fatigue and may even cause injury. If in a large group, slower hikers could be left behind or get lost. When in a group, it is a good practice to encourage the slower hikers to lead, while all the others match that speed. Another good safety tip is to have more experienced hikers take up the rear to ensure that everyone is safe.
In this series, Hiking Costa Rica, you will discover some of the best hiking trails that Costa Rica has to offer, as well as what to look for through our Spot This! Flora & Fauna of Costa Rica.