Hiking in Costa Rica is an extraordinary experience, especially when you can go with a group of fellow hikers and have access to reliable transportation to reach spots off the public bus routes. I have been fortunate enough to find both with the Blue Valley School Hiking Club, a hiking club for teachers and students that was started by teacher and avid hiker Richard Hicks.
One of the nicest hikes we’ve taken was to Barva Volcano above Heredia, north of San José, and inside BraulioCarrilloNational Park. The drive from the capital takes about an hour. From the mountain village of Sacramento, north of Heredia, signs direct travelers to Volcán Barva. At Sacramento the road goes from paved to dirt, and is a bit steep. A four-wheel-drive vehicle is recommended, but won’t be necessary if you are willing to begin your hike before entering the national park, along the picturesque mountain road.
The price to enter the national park is ¢600 ($1.10) for residents and Ticos and $7 for tourists, which is revenue generated to support national park maintenance and upkeep.
Hicks rates the difficulty of the hike as “moderate.” The trip can take a total of five hours to the crater and back, depending on pace. The trail is well marked, wide in most parts and in good condition. During the rainy season it can be muddy, and we did have a hiker lose his shoe in the mud! But the beautiful trail definitely makes it worthwhile.
“On this hike there are beautiful examples of rain forest with moss on trees,” Hicks described. “As hikes go, it’s a good place to start.”
Getting to the crater, which is 540 feet in diameter, is the goal of the hike. The volcano has been dormant for 300 years, and the crater is filled with water, making it a tranquil lake surrounded by lush jungle. At the top there is a wooden platform from which you can look down on the crater. This was where our group sat to break bread together – perhaps the most important part of the hike. A trail leads down to the water, where hikers will find another wooden platform to pause at and take in the natural beauty.
Weather conditions can be rainy, misty and cool, though our group has always encountered shining sun.
“We’ve been really lucky up there,” Hicks said.
However, hikers need to be well prepared for Costa Rica’s weather extremes, and should carry both rain gear and layers.
Hiking boots are the best footwear. Bug repellent, sunscreen and water are all essential; Hicks recommends bringing two liters of water for this hike.
I highly recommend taking advantage of the hiking trails in Costa Rica’s national parks, and the Barva Volcano hike is close to San José, not too difficult and a breathtaking experience – literally