The hiking I have been doing this winter in Korea is a HUGE difference from the hiking I was doing last winter in Central America. This time last year I was summiting volcanoes and jumping off waterfalls. This year, I am layering up and trekking through snow to get to the top of a mountain! What a difference a year makes!
Central America is an area of the world I really love, and will always have a special place in my heart. One of my favorite things about traveling through Central America was the opportunities for active travel. We did a lot of hiking, biking, swimming, kayaking and walking during our 3 1/2 months in the region.
The abundance of volcanoes makes hiking a very popular activity. There are so many hikes to do in the region. Tons that I didn’t do, but many that I did.
These 5 impressive Central American hikes are ones to not miss!
Pacaya Volcano – Antigua, Guatemala
One of the more accessible hikes around Antigua, a hike up active Pacaya Volcano provides you with a great workout, fantastic views of three volcanoes, and possibly some lava! It is do-able for most fitness levels; if the hiking is too hard, locals with horses follow behind and offer (paid) rides to the top!
Ten dollars gets you a bus to Pacaya, a guide up the mountain, and a ride home. The hike itself should take about three-four hours round trip. Tours are offered two times a day, in the morning and late afternoon. I recommend the late afternoon hike so you can watch the sunset from the top of the volcano!
Hike from Santa Cruz to San Marcos – Lake Atitlan,
A remote, and easy-moderate hike, walking from Santa cruz to San Marcos is an alternative to hiking the volcanoes that surround Lake Atitlan. The trail, frequented by locals heading to work, leads you up and down the hills providing amazing views of the lake and the volcanoes surrounding. It should take about 4 hours from start to finish.
Start in Santa Cruz and head south along the bridges and footpaths along the water, eventually the path will head inland and up. After about 30-40 minutes of walking, you will come to the village of Jaibalito. A very tiny village, refuel at Hans’ with a cheap, filling and delicious meal. Walk through the village of Jaibalito to continue on the trail.
For the next 2 hours, enjoy the views as you pass family homes, packs of dogs (they never bothered us, though we didn’t engage with them), and workers. Eventually the dirt trail turns into a road as you enter another small village (Tzununa, I think). There are a couple of roadside shops where you can refill your water supply. From here its another hour along the road to San Marcos. There isn’t any signage letting you know you are going the right way, we would occasionally stop and ask someone to double check!
Once you arrive in San Marcos, take a water taxi back to Santa Cruz, or wherever on the lake you are staying!
Cerro Negro – Leon, Nicaragua
If you want a major adrenaline rush accompanying your hike, Cerro Negro is for you. The hike takes you up the side of the volcano, along the ridge, and is a quick 45 minutes up a gravely volcanic rock trail. At the top, strap on your very cool jumpsuits and protective eyewear, hop on the wooden sled you carried up with you, and sled down the side of the volcano hitting speeds up to 90K an hour. A major adrenaline rush and popular activity in Nicaragua, you can read all about my experience here.
Viento Fresco Waterfalls – Costa Rica
The Viento Fresco Waterfalls are a group of five cascading falls and swimming holes in Tilaran, a small town near Lake Arenal and on the road to Monteverde. The falls are on a private farm and cost $15 per person to enter (though if you talk to your hotel, they may be able to strike a deal, we only paid $10 each). The highest waterfall is 312 feet, and even in the dry season, was quite the majestic sight.
The hike itself starts out easy as you walk down to the falls. I recommend going all the way to the bottom (the 4th waterfall) first, then on your way back, stop at each waterfall. If you hiked from bottom to top without stopping it would take about an hour, but stopping and swimming in the falls makes the hike much more fun! Plan to spend a few hours hiking, swimming and exploring the area.
Cacao Farm – Panama
One of my favorite hikes in all of Central America; it includes fitness, nature, history and…food! Just outside Almirante is Orebas Chocolate Farm Tour. It is necessary to take a guided tour of this cacao farm, where you will learn all about the nature, food and people that inhabit the land. The hike is moderate, about 45 minutes straight up the mountain, with well placed benches for resting, and stops to view the wildlife and try some food.
At the top, try your hand at making some chocolate the traditional way, then head back down the mountain and enjoy a very filling meal made with all ingredients found on the farm. I took this hike and visited the farm in 2011 when it first opened. Now it is one of the most popular activities in the area!
Out of the 10+ hikes we took in Central America, these 5 remain my favorites, and ones I will do again when I return to the area!