The Best Hiking in Central America

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Part 10 of the Series: The Best Hiking in the World

The Best Hiking in Central America

The Best Hiking in Central America follows some intrepid travel writers describing their favorite hikes between the two continents that make up the Americas.

Of course they have jungles and beaches and mountains and volcanoes. But they’re not only about epic adventures.

Within these habitats you will find some incredible flora and fauna. Among them are the Monarch Butterflies where you can join them at their final stop on a long migration.

Take a look at these suggestions and see if you would want to explore some of the best hikes in Central America.

Acatenango, Guatemala

by Deborah from Passport The World

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Acantangango volcano actively erupts along this hike in Guatemala, some of the best hiking in Central America
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Ever thought about going on a hike and watching an erupting volcano just in front of you? 

One of the best things to do in Guatemala is to hike to the Acatenango volcano, a two day hike that will take you through 4 different micro climates. 

You will sleep in a tent along the way and have the chance to enjoy views of the adjacent Fuego volcano, wich is erupting every 20 minutes. Both by day and night! Besides that you will experience incredible views over entire Guatemala!

The Acatenango volcano hike leaves from the city of Antigua to a small village, located on the slopes of the volcano. The hike will bring you through fields with corn and beans, a lush tropical cloud forest, a coniferous forest until you find yourself above the clouds, overlooking the tops of the surrounding Pacaya, Agua and Fuego volcano. 

After more or less 6 hours you’ll reach the 3500 meters high base camp of the Acatenango volcano. This is the place where you’ll spend the night in a tent, enjoying views of the erupting Fuego.

As soon as it gets dark, you’ll be able to see the red lava spouting, while sitting in front of your tent. An indescribable feeling! Be aware that it can get really cold up there. 

Because of the lack of oxygen (the altitude!) and the overwhelming sounds of the rumbling volcano, you’ll not get a lot of sleep. 

You’ll be leaving to the top of the volcano the next morning around 4 AM. This is probably the hardest part of the tour, as you’ll be walking up a sand dune for an hour and a half. But at the top, you’ll be rewarded with a breathtaking 360degree view of Guatemala. 

This hike is not for everyone and it can be hard at times. It is the altitude in particular that makes this hike challenging. But with a normal physical condition and the right mindset, it is one of the most incredible hikes on this planet. 

Where in the world will you be able to see an active volcano smoking and spouting lava from that close! 

Deborah

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Volcán Masaya, Nicaragua

by Jenn from Sick Girl Travels

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Photo credit: Jenn from Sick Girl Travels

Volcán Masaya National Park contains one of the most active volcanoes in Nicaragua. Termed the “mouth of hell” by Spaniards, the Masaya Volcano emits an almost constant plume of smoke, sulfurous gas, and occasional ash visible from as far away as the Managua airport. 

The volcano’s slope contains several hiking trails where visitors may climb for a better view of the incandescent rock and magma inside. 

Hiking these trails will give you a view of the Santiago crater, which is inhabited by a remarkable species of parakeet called the chocoyos del cráter, or crater parakeet. These birds are somehow able to survive the intensely sulfurous environment. 

The coyote trail offers visitors the opportunity to cross paths with some of the park’s other wildlife, including deer, iguanas, opossums, coyotes, and monkeys. This trail leads to Lake Masaya and provides a stunning view of the city of Masya below.

Most visitors choose to drive up from the entrance gates and snap a few photos from the crater’s edge, but the 5km hike uphill will take you through a landscape of stunning lava formations and scrubby vegetation where you’ll experience views most visitors don’t get to appreciate. 

Entrance to the park is $3 USD. It is recommended hikers carry lots of water and sunscreen as shaded areas are scarce. Open daily from 9:00 am to 4:45 pm, the park is a 30-minute drive from Managua and an easy day trip from Grenada and the popular beach area of San Juan del Sur.

Jenn

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Irazu Volcano, Costa Rica

By Kerry Hanson from VeggTravel

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Photo credit: Kerry from VeggTravel

Volcan Irazu (Irazu Volcano) in Costa Rica is a great place for a light hike in Central America. Located in Cordillera Central, close to the city of Cartago, you will most likely do this hike as a day-trip from San Jose. 

Whether you go there by rental car, taxi or public bus, you will start your hike from the car park which is located on the active volcano itself.

What makes this hike so great is that it is accessible for travelers of all abilities and skill levels. The Irazu (thunder peak) volcano trail is only 2.1km long with a 51m elevation gain. Due to the short distance, this hike is great for those who don’t do well at high altitudes. Its also a perfect spot to go running if you’d like to pick up the pace in beautiful surroundings.

The views from Irazu are simply amazing. See the potato, onion, cabbage fields sloping down the volcano and the dairy farms in the villages beyond. 

There are several impressive craters, so you will want to head there on a clear enough day so that you can see the green lake at the bottom. However, it will also be wonderful if it is slightly cloudy, as you will have the unique feeling of being above the clouds.

If you’re traveling Central America, make sure you add a hike to the Irazu Volcano on your Costa Rica Itinerary. You won’t be disappointed.

Kerry

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Sierra Chincua and El Rosario Monarch Butterfly Sanctuaries, Mexico

by Astrid from Mexico Family Travel

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Photo credit: Astrid from Mexico Family Travel

For travelers looking for a unique hiking experience, exploring the mountains of Mexico to see the monarch butterflies is an absolute must! 

Every year, from November to March, monarch butterflies migrate to Michoacan state in Mexico to spend the winter months among the mountains. The trees of these mountains are literally covered by butterflies during these months!

The best hiking trails for seeing the monarch butterflies are at the monarch butterfly sanctuaries. Specifically, hikers can visit the sanctuaries of Sierra Chincua and El Rosario, near the town of Angangueo. Entrance to these sanctuaries cost 80 pesos per person, and include a mandatory guide. 

Besides seeing the stunning natural phenomena of being surrounded by millions of monarch butterflies, the hike itself is beautiful, with its lush mountainous vegetation. 

Though the trail is steep and challenging, it’s also satisfying at the end. At Sierra Chincua, the elevation gain is approximately 590 feet (180 m). And at El Rosario, the elevation gain is approximately 885 feet (270 m). 

If the hike is too steep, travelers can opt to ride horses up the mountain and then hike down. Horses cost approximately 100-150 pesos per one way ride. Regardless of what method is taken to get up the mountain, seeing the monarch butterflies at the top is definitely worth the effort. Be sure to also take a moment and observe the breathtaking view from the top of the mountain. 

Astrid

Santa Ana Volcano, El Salvador

by Bradley from Dream Big Travel Far

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Photo credit: Bradley from Dream Big Travel Far

Standing at 2,400m tall, Santa Ana Volcano is not only the highest volcano in El Salvador; it is also its most active one. It features a beautiful crater lake in an ethereal green-blue color that belongs to the storybooks. 

While it’s unsafe to swim here because the water contains sulphur, the sight alone of this lake among the rolling landscapes of the nearby towns and mountains are truly breathtaking.

The view from the summit of Santa Ana Volcano is nothing short of spectacular. When a cloud rolls in, it can feel like being on top of the world. There are also other smaller volcanoes around it, which make for a pretty impressive sight.

Begin your journey at Cerro Verde National Park, which is easily accessible from Santa Ana through a 2-hour bus ride. Most visitors like to spend overnight in this city so they can take their time hiking the volcano without having to rush.

The hike itself is not too challenging and is suitable for anyone with a moderate fitness level. There are lots of places to rest along the way and it’s always recommended to hike at your own pace. It takes around 4 hours to climb the volcano and spend some time at the top, while the beginning of the route consists of pleasant flat areas.

Bradley

Holbox, Mexico

by Victoria from Guide Your Travels

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Photo credit: Victoria from Guide Your Travels

Holbox is a small island located off the shore of Yucatan in Mexico. There are no cars allowed on the island except for a few needed for maintenance works.

 Most tourists get around either by golf cart or by hiking which is the perfect way to explore this beautiful little island. Holbox is known for its incredible wildlife and natural beauty. 

Spot flamingos, rare birds and lots of fish. In the evenings you can even see bioluminescent plankton along the beaches when the season is right. 

One of the best hikes on the island is to the Punta Mosquito. This is one of the most beautiful spots on the island and a great way to explore. The total distance of the hike from the harbour is around 8 miles although you can do only parts of it and take a golf cart instead if you’re feeling tired. 

There are lots of beautiful beaches on the way with beach bars and restaurants. Have a cold coconut to cool down and enjoy the stunning views. 

Of course, no trip to Holbox is complete without trying some of Mexico’s best street food which is made right on the island.
Victoria

Wrap Up

Doesn’t this make you want to pack your backpack and just start trekking along Central America to find these awesome hikes?

Thank you to our contributors for writing these vivid posts to get us excited for a Central American hiking trip.

To read more from these stellar writers, be sure to visit their websites by following the links in their posts.

Did we miss any? Comment below or send us an email. We would love to make this a complete list of the best hiking in Central America.

More Great Hikes

We have tons of other hiking suggestions and the gear to make it more comfortable.

In fact, this is part of a series exploring great trails around the world.

You can find Hiking in South America suggestions in this post.

Or go a bit north for the best hiking in the USA here.

Explore Canada’s best trails here.

In fact, all of our hiking suggestions can be found on our Hiking page here.

And if you want to turn some of these trails into overnight backpacking trips, be sure to read our Wild Camping Checklist that includes a free downloadable PDF

If you would like to download it now, you can by signing up for our non-spammy newsletter.

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