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Chasing the Sunrise at Cerro Pelado, Costa Rica: A Hiker’s Dream

Cerro Pelado Tilaran Costa Rica

In Costa Rica, a weekend is never a dull moment. The amount of places to choose from to spend those two precious days off work is limitless. My cousins and I never waste a minute of time off, every outing is a new adventure. Recently my cousin Felipe visited Cerro Pelado. Breathtaking sunrises are only just 1 of the reasons why he believes this was one of the best hikes he has ever been on in Costa Rica. So, let's dive right into everything you need to know to plan your visit to Cerro Pelado perfectly. To make things more exciting, we will have a guest writer for the first time! I will be handing it over to my cousin to give you a local insight into this destination guide. Take it away Felipe!

Pura Vida! Felipe here, and I’m thrilled to take you through one of my favorite hikes in Costa Rica—Cerro Pelado. Having grown up in this beautiful country, I’ve had the chance to explore its many wonders, but Cerro Pelado holds a special place in my heart. Let’s dive into everything you need to know for an unforgettable sunrise hike.

About Cerro Pelado

Nestled in the Guanacaste region, Cerro Pelado is an extinct volcano that rises almost 3,000 feet. Its allure has grown significantly, thanks to the stunning snapshots shared by visitors. This peak, previously a well-kept secret on private property, saw its trails open up around 2007, welcoming adventurers like you and me.

The Hike

The trail to Cerro Pelado’s summit is a moderate 3.5-mile roundtrip journey. The beginning is a bit challenging with steeper switchbacks, but it quickly levels out, making it a manageable hike for most. With loose rocks scattered along the trail, I always recommend wearing sturdy shoes.

On average, it takes about 1.5 hours to reach the top, giving you a comfortable time window of 3.5–4 hours to hike up, take breaks, and soak in the views before heading back down. The entrance fee is ₡3,000 per person, with parking available for an additional ₡2,000. If you’ve arranged transportation with a guide, check if these costs are covered in your tour fee or if you’ll need to bring cash.

Hiking Cerro Pelado Costa Rica

Hiking Routes and Tips

Guided hikes eliminate the guesswork, but if you're setting out on your own, it’s helpful to have a map. Bringing a headlamp is essential if you're aiming for a sunrise or sunset hike. Walking sticks are available at the trailhead, and there are bathrooms to freshen up before you begin.

After about 30 minutes of hiking, you’ll reach a viewpoint—perfect for a picturesque break before tackling the remainder of the trail. The trailhead is remote, requiring a high-clearance vehicle to reach. Ensuring your guide can provide transportation is highly recommended to avoid logistical hassles.

When to Visit

The landscape at Cerro Pelado transforms dramatically with the seasons. March offers golden grass-covered hills, adding a rich hue to the sunrise. From November to January, the scenery is lush and green, albeit windier. Hiking during the rainy season (June to October) isn’t advised due to muddy and slippery conditions.

Summer months are popular, bringing crowds and heat. Equip yourself with a hat, sunscreen, plenty of water, and take frequent breaks to stay hydrated.

Horses in Cerro Pelado Costa Rica
You might get lucky and catch some horses walking around! Remember to keep your distance and don't bother them.

Logistics and Nearby Stays

The hike is about an hour from the nearest town, Cañas. Some groups opt to stay in Liberia or Puntarenas, integrating the hike into a broader itinerary. As there are no bus routes, a high-clearance vehicle or guided transportation is essential.

Timing your hike to coincide with sunrise or sunset maximizes the scenic rewards. For a sunrise hike, plan to leave your hotel around 3:00 AM, allowing enough time for the ascent and to capture those first rays of light.


Location: Cañas/Tilarán, Guanacaste

How to Get There: Use Waze for navigation

Entrance Fee: ₡3,000 per person, parking ₡2,000

Difficulty: Intermediate

Pet-Friendly: Yes

What to Bring: Hydration, cold-weather clothing, headlamp, snacks, sunscreen, insect repellent, backpack, cash for entrance fees

Practical Advice

From San José, the drive takes approximately 3 hours in the early morning, extending to nearly 4 hours during the day. The route involves a turn towards Cañas, with the last 10 km paved but requiring a reliable vehicle.

The hike splits into two segments: a 1 km trek to the upper part of the hill and an additional 3 km trail leading to the peak, offering the best sunset views. No reservations are needed; parking and on-site facilities, including restrooms and snacks, make for a convenient start. Staff are available around the clock, ensuring you can begin your hike at any hour.

Final Thoughts

Cerro Pelado’s captivating vistas, irrespective of the time of day, make it a place to relish and ascend at your own pace. Close to Cerro Pelado, the Pozas Los Coyotes is another must-visit, offering a perfect complement to your adventure. So, lace up your hiking boots and get ready to discover one of Costa Rica’s most enchanting sunrise spots.

Until next time!

Felipe | Your local Costa Rican guide


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