Cerro Pelado is the best place in all of Costa Rica to see the sunrise.
Costa Rica is crammed full of adventures. I mean, where else can you swim in waterfalls this blue or take a hike on hanging bridges over the thick jungle? Hiking up to Cerro Pelado is one more thing to do while you're adventuring all around Costa Rica. This volcano hike isn't too intense, has stunning colors no matter what time you visit, and 360° views of the rising sun if you time your visit right. It's a total dream.
There's way too much to see in Costa Rica on a short visit!
Volunteering here for a semester means plenty of time to see it all.
We've talked with a past group of ILP volunteers who tackled this hike during their semester abroad and are sharing their advice (and stunning photos). Hopefully, with this guide, you'll have all the info you need to hike Cerro Pelado on your own trip here!
About Cerro Pelado
Cerro Pelado is an extinct volcano that towers almost 3,000 feet in the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica. This stunning peak has grown in popularity over the years, thanks to all the showstopping photos people are posting about it! Cerro Pelado is actually found on private property that remained pretty hush-hush until around 2007, when trails up the peak were established and people started to visit.
Hiking The Volcano (+ Going With A Guide)
What To Expect
The hike itself isn't very difficult — past alumni have said it's a moderate hike that's around 3.5 miles roundtrip. The hike does start with some steeper switchbacks but then levels out for the rest of the climb. There are loose rocks on the trail, so wear sturdy shoes.
It typically takes most groups 1.5 hours to hike up, if that helps you budget out your time. Some say to plan about 3.5–4 hours (hiking, taking breaks, and taking pictures at the top, then hiking down), plus travel time.
There is a small entrance fee that goes towards maintaining the services.
- Entrance per person: ₡3.000
- Parking: ₡2.000 (If you arrange transportation with a guide, double check with your guide to see if these costs are included in your tour cost or if you need to bring cash to pay yourself).
Hiking Routes + A Few Tips
This is less of a question when you're hiking with a guide, but you can see the trail mapped out here if that's helpful to bring with you while you hike.
Bring a headlamp if you're hiking for sunrise or sunset. There are walking sticks available at the trailhead if you'd like to borrow one for your hike. Bathrooms are also available before you start your hike.
The hike does have a stunning viewpoint after about 30 minutes of hiking. That first stop off is a pretty picturesque place to take a little break before you finish the rest of the hike.
The trailhead for this hike is pretty remote, and you'll need to arrive in a high-clearance vehicle (we have some more tips on arranging a guide/transportation below).
You Have To Have A Guide
If you want to make the hike at sunrise, you must go with a guide. The dark morning hours make the trails hard to navigate. Plus, as we mentioned, the road there is pretty demanding so you'll want to make sure you're in the right kind of car, rather than just a regular taxi.
A past ILP group went with this company. They arranged a driver to pick them up at a predetermined hotel (in Cañas, more on that below) which was very convenient. You can check out their Facebook page, or message Gerald on WhatsApp: +506 8509 0180
When Should I Plan My Hike?
The landscape changes dramatically depending on when you visit. We've had a group tackle the hike in March during the Spring semester, when the hills were covered in waving golden grass — that gold touch adds quite a bit to the colors of the sunset. Seriously, the views here are amazing! However, the peak is supposedly at its greenest from November to January (though some say it's also the windiest time to climb).
You'll want to be aware of the weather conditions when you hike. In the rainy season in this part of Costa Rica (June to October), you'll encounter muddy roads to the trailhead and a muddy trail. It's not recommended to climb during a heavy downpour, as the elevation climb can get very muddy and slippery. Make sure you're wearing the right shoes for the weather you're hiking in.
This is a very popular hike in the summer months, so if you go in that time of year, prepare for crowds. It will be very hot, so be prepared with a hat, lots of water, and sunscreen. Go slow if you're hiking in the heat of the day to take lots of water breaks.
The hike is open year round at any time of the day, but you'll get the best views at sunrise or sunset.
Getting Here + Staying Nearby
Groups in the past have added this hike to their vacation while they're nearby, in cities like Liberia and Punteranas.
The peak itself is about an hour away from the nearest town of Cañas. One group stayed in this hotel, which was about an hour's drive away from the trailhead.
There aren't buses in this area, so you'll need to get to the volcano by car. Check to see if your guide can arrange a pick-up service where you are staying, or if you will need to arrange a high-clearance vehicle to take you to the trailhead to meet your guide (remember, guides are only required for the sunrise hike . . . but going with a tour that can arrange your transportation takes a lot of the headache out of the logistics).
You'll want to time out when sunrise (or sunset) is to determine when to leave your hotel and make the climb to the summit. One group hiking in March left their hotel before 3:00 AM, made the hike in about 1.5 hours, and got up there in time to see the sunrise, take pictures, and hike back down.
Ready for a trip to Costa Rica?
How about spending a whole semester there? Come volunteer in Costa Rica as a part-time English teacher, with every weekend off and vacation time to explore all of our favorite vacation spots in this country. ILP (that's us — International Language Programs) sets you up with a peer-aged group, arranges your housing, flight, and provides training (plus a few other perks). Learn more here: