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The best Central America hikes are certainly not your average walk in the park. For those who seek the “road less traveled” Central America is the place to visit and explore. Lush jungles, hidden waterfalls, breathtaking mountain vistas and untapped natural beauty make this part of the world a veritable hiker’s dream.

best central america hikes

Wood Buildings-Cusuco National Park

Best Central America Hikes – Many Choices from Mild to Wild

You don’t have to be a hard-core experienced trekker to enjoy the wonders of hiking in Central America. There are many options throughout the region ranging from downhill jungle paths to rugged volcano trails and everything in between. The only hard part might be having to make a choice between the wonderful and diverse locations of the best Central America hikes.

Cusuco National Park, Honduras

If hiking along lush jungle paths, seeking out hidden waterfalls, and discovering exotic animals in their natural state sounds like your kind of adventure, then Cusuco National Park in Honduras is certainly the place for you. The primal force of Pulhapanzak Waterfall with its 140 foot drop, the mystery of the Taulabe Caves, and rich biodiversity of the jungle itself make this one of the best Central America hikes.

Chimborazo Circuit, Ecuador

On the other end of the hiking spectrum is Chimborazo Circuit in Ecuador. This multi-day experience along the “avenue of the volcanoes” is home to several peaks above 16,400 feet including mighty Chimborazo whose 20,564 height makes it the farthest point from the Earth’s surface at the Earth’s center.

Camping in tents, exploring glaciers and local villages, and become immersed in the culture and lifestyle of the Andean highlands are just some of the reasons that make this one of the best Central America hikes.

best central america hikes

The Quetzal Trail, Panama

The Quetzal Trail, Panama

Panama’s foremost day hiking trail is the Quetzal Trail. Winding through the Volcán Barú National Park along the northeastern side of the volcano, this jungle path is home to its namesake, the stunning Resplendent Quetzal.

The trail is mostly a downhill trek through unspoiled primary jungle from Cerra Punta to the village of Boquete. Travelers can actually have their luggage sent ahead from Cerra Punta to their next lodging in Boquete which is just another feature making this one of the best Central America hikes.

best central america hikes

Miguel Vieira

Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica

If true biodiversity is what you are looking for in a hiking experience, the Corcovado National Park in Costa Rica is the perfect destination.

From empty beaches along the Pacific Ocean, lush coastal forests filled with exotic jungle life such as monkeys, sloths, and the elusive jaguar with flocks of scarlet macaws in the trees, Corcovado may be one of the most unique and special hiking locations on Earth. With a ranger station that welcomes campers, Corcovado is clearly one of the best Central America hikes.

Maribos Volcanic Range, Nicaragua

Imagine hiking 21 volcanoes in seven days! The Maribos Volcanic range near Leon, Nicaragua can provide just that kind of adventure. With trails that can vary in difficulty depending on your preference and skill level, the Maribos Range, including the daunting Momotombo Volcano is just the kind of challenge hikers love to embrace, making another of the best Central America hikes.

Best Central America hikes

Arenal Volcano

Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica

For sheer beauty, the Arenal Volcano and the surrounding area in Costa Rica is nearly impossible to beat. With a huge reservoir, a 2900-hectare national park, numerous accessible trails running through cloud and rain forests that surround it, hiking Arenal is definitely a must-do as part of the best Central America hikes.

Lake Atitlan Volcanoes, Guatemala

The three volcanoes that surround Lake Atitlan in Guatemala provide a variety of hiking adventures in one of the most picturesque locations in the world.

The tallest of the three, Atitlan (11,601 ft.) offers an 8 hour trek to a summit that provides a stunning view of the Pacific Coast; San Pedro (9,906 ft.) will allow those who make the 4 hour climb a chance to view and discover plants and animals rarely seen elsewhere; Toliman (10,358 ft.) has a forest area near the summit for camping. Having three different hiking choices in one location is unique among the best Central America hikes.

Best Central America Hikes

Monteverde Cloud Forest

Monteverde/St. Elena Cloud Forest Reserve, Costa Rica

No list of the best Central America hikes would be complete without including the Monteverde/St. Elena Cloud Forest Reserve. Filled with numerous trails that are well maintained and easy to navigate, Monteverde offers unparalleled natural beauty, a chance to see flora and fauna that are both unusual and rare including the Resplendent Quetzal.  Lodging choices nearby complete a near perfect picture of nature hiking at its finest.

Guanacaste National Park, Belize

This 50 acre preserve is a birdwatcher’s paradise and another of the best Central America hikes. Located in the center of Belize, just 2 miles from the capital city of Belmopan, the small size and easy access makes it convenient for casual nature hikes as well as the opportunity to enjoy both the natural features, in terms of exotic plants and animals, and the cultural aspects of life in Belize today along with its Mayan past.

best central america hikes

Brian B.

Pico Bonito Park, Honduras

Meaning ‘beautiful peak”, Pico Bonito is definitely a hike for those with expedition experience and a love of adventure. The over 300 species of birds, jaguars, pumas, and the every present howler monkeys make this journey one that is not easily forgotten and clearly, one of the best Central America hikes.

Pirre Mountain, Panama

The hike to the summit of Pirre Mountain, Panama follows a challenging jungle trail in one of the country’s most remote regions. Monkeys, sloths, exotic birds, and a great collection of trees and flowers make this difficult trek more than worth the effort and certainly worthy of being considered one of the best Central American hikes.

Get Close to the Best Central America Hikes

With some many choices for hiking adventures throughout Central America, the best way to experience them all is to find your own “base camp” to allow you to visit and explore on your schedule. Finding places to live, short term, long term, or even purchase is easier than you might imagine and just a mouse-click away. Let your trek start now!


Stephanie Sykora

There are a lot of options for what your life as an expat in the Latin tropics could look like.  Maybe you envision yourself growing fresh fruits and veggies in the back yard of your garden home situated in a gated community full of other expats.

Or maybe your dream involves watching monkeys swing overhead as you lie in a hammock on the porch of your private cabana on a sparsely populated island.

No matter what your setting, you’re eventually going to find yourself in need of some equipment to handle basic tasks around the house.

And whether it’s chopping down an orange tree in your yard or blazing a trail through the jungle in an attempt to find undiscovered Aztec ruins, a good machete is all you need for the job.

Don’t Try to Overcompensate with Fancy Gadgets

When people aren’t familiar with how to live and function in tropical surroundings, they often try to make up for their lack of experience by wielding really complicated or scary-looking contraptions.  These might range from a Swiss Army-type gadget with 17 accessories, including a corkscrew and a toothpick, all the way to a large rigid-blade knife with sharp saw-teeth.  And those both certainly have their appropriate uses.

But when it comes to Central American adventure and exploration, there’s no better choice than the simple, inexpensive, multi-function machete.  Its design allows it to be used for numerous purposes, making it an appropriate substitute for probably a dozen of the knives and saws you have hanging in your garage right now.

Anyone who’s spent some time in the area will tell you how useful these things are. Their long, thin blade allows them to cut easily through brush and undergrowth.  They can also be used to swiftly split open a coconut or chop up some wood for a fire pit. Due to their sword-like design, they can also be used as a weapon in the unlikely case of an unexpected encounter with the wrong kind of critter.

Sound pretty tough?  You betcha.  It should come as no surprise that the word “machete” is a form of the word “macho.”

The locals are certainly well aware of the machete’s value.  They never seem to leave home without one.  They’re as ubiquitous in Central America as tattoos are among hipsters.

So, since you’re likely going to have to use one at some point or another during your time in Latin America, you’d better know what you’re doing.  It’s all in the technique.

Step One: Get a Grip.

How to Use a Machete

Sustainable Harvest International

This first step is by far the most important.  If you don’t hold the machete properly your efforts will be less effective.  Plus you’re likely to get blisters and tire out sooner. With the wrong grip, you also run the risk of losing a toe or, even worse, a traveling companion.

Start by wrapping your thumb and forefinger (pointer) around opposite sides of the handle and pinching them together tightly, as if you were making the “OK” sign.  Then just let your other three fingers wrap loosely around the base of the handle.

The handle should be able to wiggle around in your hand a small amount, so don’t put a death grip on it (a common beginner mistake).  If you’re concerned it might slip out of your hand, especially given the heat and humidity throughout much of Central America, you can wear a glove or even attach the handle to your wrist by slipping a lanyard through the hole in the base (Think Wii controller.).

Step Two: Use Proper Form.

Don’t let the machete’s thin, rudimentary construction fool you.  It’s a powerful tool when used correctly.  This is largely due to the fact that using a machete does not require the strength of your wrist or even your shoulders.

When you swing a machete, you rely on the momentum of your core.  

You do this by dropping your shoulder and allowing your core to whip your arm and the machete around for maximum thrust.  As your arm comes around, let your elbow lead.  Your wrist should hang back until the last second when you’ll give it a flick just before you make contact.

If it helps, pretend you’re trying to skip rocks across a body of water.  Then put your whole body into it.  Using proper form will save you a lot of wasted energy and also prevent unnecessary strain on your wrist.

Step Three:  It’s All About the Angle.

Nothing says “gringo” like a guy trying to hack perpendicularly through a log or fallen tree.  If you do that, several things are going to happen.  1.) You’re going to be there all day.  2.) Your machete is going to get stuck, probably a number of times, and 3.) Any locals or seasoned expats nearby will probably start laughing.  Hopefully to themselves.

Instead of a perpendicular approach, use at least a 45 degree angle.  And adjust your method to whatever it is that you’re cutting.  If you’re slashing through vegetation like grasses or vines, use swift strokes with an upward flick.  For thicker or woodier stuff, slash downward.

To tackle tougher, thicker tasks (like branches or small trees), cut a V-shaped notch alternating upward and downward strokes.  Keep chopping slivers off each side, widening the notch until you get through the entire trunk.

Safety Tips:  Because Common Sense Isn’t All that Common

Machete’s can be just as dangerous as they are useful, especially if your inexperience causes you to overlook any important precautions.  Here are a few general tips to protect you and your fellow explorers from harm.

Some of these probably go without saying, but we’re going to say them anyway.

  • Always make sure the area within range of your swing is clear of anything or anybody that could either be injured or damaged by the machete, or that might deflect the blade.

  • When clearing trails, make sure to cut far enough away from your body that you don’t endanger your own legs and feet.

  • If you get tired, take a break.  Fatigue can lead to accidents and injuries.  You can also switch to your weaker arm, but only if you’re reasonably coordinated with it.

  • Always have a well-stocked first aid kit handy.

So, while machetes may not look like much alongside some of those widely marketed North American knives with all the bells and whistles, in the right hands they can be far more effective and versatile.  Pick one up and start practicing.  Then when you grab one to start chopping down that orange tree, you’ll look like you’ve been doing it all your life.