My husband and I would consider ourselves novice-to-average hikers, we are capable of walking/climbing for a few miles at a time and know how to prepare for each journey. We’ve hiked some of the most scenic places in the world together: Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat, the ancient city walls of Dubrovnik, and almost every National Park in the USA west of the Mississippi.
Hiking in Costa Rica is in a league of its own. The relentless and intense sun, coupled with drastic elevation changes and extreme humidity, can turn even the shortest most-innocent hike into a scary situation. Let me give you an example from our most recent “waterfall hunt”.
After a two-hour drive on an uneven dirt road, up and down a small mountain, and crossing two suspension bridges that probably weren’t supposed to be driven on, we finally made it to Eco-Chantilles waterfall! All that was left was an easy 300 meter walk down a hill. We brought a decent-sized bottle of water, music, some fruit, and of course our machete.
It was a steep descent and the ground was very wet. On the last leg of the hike, I slipped on a rock and dropped our water bottle down a mysterious hole and it could not be retrieved. We thought it was no big deal since we were only three football fields away from our car. We decided to head back after an hour at the waterfall. Halfway up the mountain, we were dripping sweat and over-heating. We made frequent stops to try and cool down, but there was no shade in sight.
What would happen if one or both of us passed out? Who would come looking for us? Would we wake up? These thoughts were clouding up our minds which caused me to slightly panic. As you probably guessed, we made it out alive but we definitely learned our lesson.
NEVER UNDERESTIMATE A SHORT HIKE IN COSTA RICA!
Here are our top 5 tips for hiking in Costa Rica or similar tropical climates!
Don’t carry your water bottle
If you can, ditch the water bottle all together and invest in a Camelback. Besides having hands-free access to a larger amount of water, it will also stay much cooler and is really difficult to drop! Some also double as backpacks, two birds – one stone. If you aren’t down with the CB, or it just isn’t in the budget, carry your water bottle in a backpack instead of your hands. Besides having both hands free, and keeping your water bottle “safe”, your water will stay cooler.
Pro-tip: Go without the morning coffee or energy drink. I know, how are you supposed to get motivated right!? Here’s the reality: caffeine will dehydrate you quickly and make you crash while you are hiking. Try starting your morning with natural juices or if you must, tea. You will still get the energy you need without dehydrating yourself or crashing on the side of a mountain.
Trade in lotions and sprays for long sleeves
Sure, Dan is extremely tempted to go shirtless or wear his “suns out guns out” tank I bought him last Christmas, but all it takes is a brutal sunburn or bug spray rubbed in his eye to remind him why he wears long sleeves and pants. Try to cover any exposed skin you can and supplement sunscreen where you aren’t able to cover. Stick to lightweight, breathable fabric. We recommend anything dry-fit, pants with zip-off legs that can double as swimming trunks, and fly-fishing shirts with SPF protection built in. Also, if you’re a bug-magnet like me, tuck your pants into your shoes. You may feel like a dork at the time but you wont be itching all night either. Also, sunscreen is thick and makes you feel hotter and stickier then sleeves do, any day of the week.
Pro-tip: Toss a damp bandana in the freezer the night before. Roll up a few ice-cubes inside the bandana and tie around your neck so that the ice is located on the back of your neck. Besides protecting your most vulnerable spot on your body for sunburn, you will have ice cold water dripping down your back for at least an hour. This is also the best spot on your body to cool you down since nearly all of your blood passes through here.
Start your day of hiking with an ample breakfast and bring snacks
We broke this rule on our last hike and believe it to be one of the reason we found ourselves in a “not so great” situation. Eat a hearty and well-balanced breakfast, something that won’t be burned off in the first 30 minutes of your hike. Our go-to is oatmeal with blueberries and bananas with a few scrambled eggs on the side. Ditch the common snacks and bring a good blend of proteins and energy-filled snacks, make sure to consider foods that wont spoil or melt. Packing almonds or your favorite energy bar comes in handy, just as long as it’s not coated in chocolate!
Pro-tip: Costa Rica also has plenty of fruits that are excellent sources of vitamins and energy. “Mammones” happen to be our favorite, which are easily accessible everywhere in Costa Rica (pictured above). If you happen to be visiting when they aren’t in season, try their tart counterpart, “Mamonchinos”. These tiny fruits are both packed with juices that also quench your thirst and enough energy to keep you going. They are delicious so give them a try!
Always remain calm and never panic
There are several things that can go wrong, even on the shortest hike. Injuring yourself and being unable to walk, heat exhaustion, dehydration, getting lost in the jungle, a venomous snake bite, just to name a few. Sorry to freak you out but these are the realities of hiking without a guide, in the jungle. No matter what happens it is extremely important to stay calm and not panic. Panic causes your heart to race which can be very stressful on your body especially if you are already physically drained. Panicking also causes you to make poor decisions. If you find yourself in a scary situation with your life on the line, it will become very important to make sound decisions.
Pro-Tip: Be prepared and always cover your bases. Make sure somebody knows where you are and when to expect you back. If you aren’t back when you say you are supposed to be, instruct them to come looking for you. Also, leave a trail for yourself so that you can always find your way back. You can do this by marking trees or breaking branches.
Keep your items dry
You are in the jungle. The Costa Rican jungle where it is humid, wet, and rains when you least expect it. Our last item to pack is a waterproof bag for your belongings. Waterproof bags are not only great for hiking in unpredictable weather but is also a great thing to bring while enjoying water sports. However, a waterproof bag sometimes lose its waterproof quality and things can get wet; a sad ending to a wonderful adventure. Supplement your waterproof bag with Ziplock bags for all of the items in your waterproof bag. Not only is it great to have a backup plan, but it’s nice in case you want to leave the bag somewhere and only bring a few items. This tip has successfully saved us from ruining our smart devices and money. Plus, you can still take photos and videos with your phone while it is a baggie.
Pro-tip: Keep your feet dry too! Nothing screams ewww like soggy shoes. It is essential to have a good pair of hiking boots, preferably waterproof. Besides being more comfortable and having better traction, they provide great ankle support. If you want to take this to the next level, put your foot inside a plastic grocery bag before putting your shoes on.