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Hiking in Costa Rica: The Miravalles Volcano

You need to wear these rubber boots, Pablo our host at La Finca Anita Rainforest Ranch explains – to guard against snake bites. Oh great I’m thinking. John and I are both wondering what we’ve got ourselves into hiking in Costa Rica.

We have elected to do a guided hike of beautiful cone-shaped Miravalles Volcano – one of the 61 volcanoes in Costa Rica that is dormant. If you’re planning to go hiking in Costa Rica, it’s sometimes worth having a guide – and this is one of those times. Not only are the trails ill-defined but there are snakes – both venomous and non-venomous and we want a local who knows the lay of the land.

Our guide lives right beside the unmarked trailhead and this is the third time he’s climbing it this week. I’m not sure though if he’s guided many middle-aged women before because he certainly gives me the once over – and I’m betting he figures he has a long day on his hands.

Miravalles Volcano seen from the highway
Miravalles Volcano seen from the highway

Hiking in Costa Rica to the top of Miravalles Volcano 

The trail to Miravalles Volcano starting in a field 14 kilometres north of Bagaces in northern Costa Rica. It heads first through cow pastures and then up very steeply into dense cloud forest. It’s reportedly an 8 hour return hike but we’re psyched to do it and ready for some exercise after too many days of travel and preparation.

Hiking in Costa Rica on the only flat section of trail
Hiking in Costa Rica on the only flat section of trail for the whole day

Don’t touch a thing when you go hiking

Climb up through the rainforest – where you dare not touch or grab anything unless you’ve checked it out. Initially we are very uptight. Our head would sway back and forth monitoring every perceived movement. But by the middle of the afternoon we get blasé about the whole thing – as nothing bad had happened.

After about 40 minutes of climbing we get some views out to the Pacific Ocean
After about 40 minutes of climbing we get some views out to the Pacific Ocean
Our Spanish speaking guide pointing out a nest of some sort
Our Spanish speaking guide pointing out a nest of some sort
Hiking in Costa Rica past very strange vegetation
Hiking in Costa Rica past very strange vegetation
There were only a few arrows on the trail
There were only a few arrows on the trail
Some of the vines climbing the trees are reportedly 1000 years old
Some of the vines climbing the trees are reportedly 1000 years old
The only butterfly that stood still long enough for a photo
The only butterfly that stood still long enough for a photo
It was a relief to have a few minutes out in the open - and views of the valley were amazing
It was a relief to have a few minutes out in the open – and views of the valley were amazing
Hiking in Costa Rica with the dog in front as an early warning system for snakes
Hiking in Costa Rica with the dog in front as our early warning system for snakes
The rainforest gets thicker the higher we climb
The rainforest gets thicker the higher we climb
Hiking in Costa Rica with a view of Lake Nicaragua & the Pacific Ocean
Hiking in Costa Rica with a view of Lake Nicaragua & the Pacific Ocean
Colourful succulents at the summit
Colourful succulents at the summit
There's a massive drop down into the crater - but it's disguised by vegetation
There’s a massive drop down into the crater – but it’s disguised by vegetation
The dog has his favourite nest at the summit - but just another foot away is a drop of hundreds of feet
The dog has his favourite nest at the summit – but just another foot away is a drop of hundreds of feet
The bromeliads grow on the limbs of a tree
The bromeliads grow on the limbs of a tree
Go hiking in Costa Rica and you'll find bromeliads in the rainforest
Go hiking in Costa Rica and you’ll find bromeliads in the rainforest
Looks like a member of the morning glory family
Looks like a member of the morning glory family
Hiking in Costa Rica and I'm one hot, sweaty mess by mid-afternoon
I’m one hot, sweaty mess by mid-afternoon

Our only snake sighting

It’s not until we’re 20 minutes from the car that we see our one and only snake sighting. It’s a green snake about 6 feet long but fortunately non-venomous and uninterested in us. 

The dog jumped over it, and the guide just jumped. Would you have seen this snake?
The dog jumped over it, and the guide just jumped. Would you have seen this snake?
Hiking in Costa Rica means watching for snakes
Perfect camouflage – can you spot the snake?
Hiking in Costa Rica through cow pastures
Hiking in Costa Rica through cow pastures
Getting the hairy eyeball from the cows
Getting the hairy eyeball from the cows
The last of the views - to Nicaragua - before we reach the car
The last of the views – to Nicaragua – before we reach the car

Hiking in Costa Rica can be tough

This hike to the summit of the volcano is a hard one. The combination of heat and humidity as well as considerable foot discomfort, especially as the day went on – on account of ill-fitting rubber boots – made the 1000 metres up and down feel harder than it should have.

Fortunately there are benefits – that wonderful feeling of happy hormones coursing through your body after a physically tough day and the phenomenal views of Nicaragua and the Pacific Ocean.

And much do our guide’s relief we were up and down in just over six hours.

Would you climb Miravalles Volcano given the chance?

Further reading on things to do in Central America

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

Climbing Miravalles Volcano in Costa Rica

 

 

 

Leigh McAdam

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 61,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 43 Comments

  1. That is so cool that you climbed to the top, Leigh! Wow it’s so beautiful and the incredible lush green colors. Not a fan of snakes but I admit that it sure has some pretty colors. Did I just call a snake pretty? That dog is gorgeous and of course thank you for including him/her 🙂

    1. @Mike I was hoping you’d see this post because I did include the dog. I was very impressed with this dog’s energy for the duration of the trip and you could tell he’d been to the summit a lot with that nest carved into the bushes.
      I loathe snakes but I didn’t want them to stop me from going. In my experience it’s a rare day that you actually encounter a snake even if they are around in great numbers.

  2. What a gorgeous hike. Great that you got to hike through such cool vegetation and then rewarded with a great view.

    There are two green snakes in Thailand. One is nonvenomous and the other deadly. They don’t recommend messing around with green snakes. Amazing camouflage.

    1. @Ted It was an outstanding hike but really tough at times when it got steep. I would have loved a smoking volcano burping mud at the top but there aren’t too many active volcanoes that you can safely climb in Costa Rica.
      I think Thailand has a lot of snake bite deaths from what I’ve heard.

  3. Hi Leigh, I really enjoyed this post. And you gave me some chuckle. I’m sure the guide learned not to underestimate any middle-aged hiker after meeting you:) I could feel your initial trepidation about the snake. You’re lucky you didn’t see one until the end. Wow, that camouflage is amazing! And your shot of it is great. I really enjoyed a lot about this hike – the sceneries, the vegetation, the cows (what a hilarious shot), and the dog. Yes, I’ll love to climb this volcano to follow your footstep!

    1. @Marisol I actually like being underestimated when I hike. Our driver also thought I was off my rocker for attempting the hike but after it was over it was all smiles, pats on the back and a holy shit – this woman can hike – kind of attitude. I am very happy we didn’t see the snake till the end or I would have been on high alert for the whole hike.

  4. That is one beautiful hike. I was just thinking that it must have been hot and sweaty when your hot and sweaty photo appeared! I would not like to do this hike in ill fitting shoes. It would no doubt take me way longer than yourself. I would not have noticed the snake, it was certainly well camouflaged. We have green tree snakes in Australia but they are not that green!

    1. @Jan Looking back at the photos in the depths of a Calgary winter (& -27C tonight), I find that the green jumps out at me and the lushness which is just so foreign in most of Canada. I think I was still in good shape from a summer of hard physical activity so I felt really good.
      I still can’t get over how well that snake blended in. I have to fight my fear of them to do hikes like this.

    2. @Jan I am a stickler for comfortable footwear because I have problem feet. I prefer to hike in scandals or light weight running shoes so I was not happy about rain boots. Plus they give you little in the way of support. But considering the circumstances it was the right thing to do. Tree snakes and water snakes are even worse than the ones on land in my opinion.

    1. @Jenny It took a few hours to get comfortable hiking through such thick vegetation. I think the fact the dog jumped over the snake was as much early warning as our guide was going to get. I expected more barking.

  5. Wow what an amazing hike Leigh. I would love to do it, and I also like being challenged when I hike, although I bitch and moan when the going gets tough!! The snake would have scared the living daylights out of me, although we see a lot in WA, and my hubby often says, “Oops, you’ve just stepped over another snake Jo!”

    1. @Johanna I would think that an Australian would be somewhat immune to snake sightings but you’ve proved me wrong. I don’t think I ever bitched – only because I was breathing so hard and I couldn’t waste the energy on words.

  6. Absolutely gorgeous hike, Leigh. I’d love to do this hike but my kids will most likely protest especially with the heat and humidity that go along. Glad you got to see the snake towards the end. That camouflage is amazing. Loved the scenery and views and all the beautiful vegetation especially the bromeliads on the trees. I’m so happy you proved that guide wrong about middle-aged women. 🙂

    1. @Mary This would have been a really hard hike for a kid – but about half way up there was a hose from a spring so you could cool off with that. Isn’t that camouflage incredible? Really I’m thinking we passed more snakes but we just didn’t see them. Ditto my feelings about proving the guide wrong.

  7. You were smart to go with a guide, Leigh. There’s no way you’d have found the path in that dense vegetation. Glad you only saw one snake — is that the one in the photo? If you hadn’t said, I would have thought it was a lizard.

    The views are amazing and that, plus the exhilaration you feel when you’re finished, must put a huge smile on your face.

    1. @Marcia Once we were through the cow pastures the trail became more apparent – generally but as it was very poorly marked I’m glad we had a guide. He spoke Spanish and John has enough Spanish so that we learned some interesting things along the way.

  8. This looks like a great experience. we did a similar climb in Bali, but in the pitch black (the goal was to watch the sun rise from the top). We were back at the hotel by 9:00 am and useless for the rest of the day!

    1. @Lisa We lucked out in that we had no rain on our hiking day. That could make the descent a little harry with the steep muddy sections. Snakes are a big deterrent and it’s a little bit of mind over matter and putting your fears in a little corner of your brain.

  9. … and I’m betting he figures he has a long day on his hands. LOL!
    Excellent photos and kudos for the effort, personally i’d be too lazy and unfit for such a climb.Thankfully that snake is not venomous, it does however resemble a green mamba one of the most venomous snakes in Africa.

  10. Were the boots rubber hiking boots? I am picturing you hiking up and down in big, rubber rain boots which I think would be rather difficult. I’m loving the views as well as the close up shots. No, I would not have spotted that snake. We have to watch out for pythons and cobras on our Malaysian jungle hikes.

    1. @Michele They were rubber boots – big, sweaty, uncomfortable rubber boots. It wasn’t so bad going up but it was hard on the toes on the descent. Cobras and pythons sound very nasty!

  11. I’d go anytime. The colours are so bright they hurt the eyes, but for now I’m content to know that I’ve got bromeliads growing in my garden.

  12. Wow wow WOW! Those views are so breathtaking! The vines on the trees that are 1000 years old and all of the plants that grow there…you got some amazing photographs and some wonderful memories to match! Another place to mark down on my list of places to travel!

    1. @Lauren It was an outstanding hike but there were times when I was breathing really hard that I wondered what I had got myself into. I also thought it was great that the vines were so old.

  13. Love the vegetation and the views! If I had seen that snake I would have set a new record getting down the hill; poisonous or not! I would not be waiting around to ask. I love the cows. They really were giving you the eye.

    1. @Nancie I think there are a lot of people out there that would be sailing down the hill at full speed. As much as I hate snakes this one didn’t throw me for a loop the way most do – perhaps because it was prettier than most. I totally agree re the cows. I felt like our every move was being watched.

  14. This is amazing, I would definitely give this a climb! Honestly, I think the fact that you saw a 6 foot snake is scarier to me than the fact that it’s a volcano, lol. I admire your ability to stay calm enough to snap a photo, wow!!!

        1. @Tom It isn’t climbed a lot but someone out there has probably entered all that info. I’m sorry I’m not more help. Perhaps you could contact the people at Costa Rica Tourism for help in finding out this info.

  15. Wow Leigh, those are some beautiful pics. Hike to the top of the Miravalles Volcano is just one of the hidden gems tucked away in the area. The foothills around the volcano are transitioning from agriculture to eco-tourism. I’ve been coming down here since 1987 and moved here two years ago to develop “Turismo Comunitario”

  16. Hello! The hike looks beautiful! Where did you find a guide, or do you know of any places that offer guides/tours? I would appreciate any help!

    1. @Kyla We stayed at La Anita Rainforest Ranch and they organized the guide who basically lived at the start of the trail. Locals in the nearby town probably know about him. He doesn’t speak much English.

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