The Arenal volcano is the icon of Arenal National Park in Costa Rica. This nature reserve is home to the active, 1,657-meter high volcano, with cooled lava steams along its flanks. You can explore El Arenal, as the volcano is officially called, and the national park in different ways. Hiking is a good option to see the volcano and the surrounding rugged landscape.
Visibility of the Arenal volcano
The Arenal volcano has a beautiful shape and is one of the most beautiful volcanoes on earth. But it is not always visible. Due to its height of 1,670 meters, clouds often hang low against the volcano. From Lake Arenal, you have the best chance to admire El Arenal. This side of the volcano is much sunnier which can also be detected from the lush vegetation.
The rainforest surrounding the famous volcano is perfect for exploring yourself. There are various hiking trails. You have a good chance to encounter wildlife like howler monkeys, white-faced capuchin monkeys and coatis.
The volcano was known to be special in the evening as hot, red lava would flow and flying debris was regularly seen until 1980. You could even see this from the nearby village of La Fortuna. But, as the volcano is now “sleeping”, it is quiet and there is no activity of hot lava flowing. Nonetheless, you can still occasionally see steam clouds emerging from the volcano.
More information: www.arenal.net
Things to see and do around Arenal Volcano:
Arenal National park
Part of the volcano is protected as a national park. Here, you can explore various hiking trails through the park where you have a chance to see wildlife like coatis, various types of monkeys, toucans and other bird species. You do have to pay an entrance fee to explore the park.
– Sendero Las Coladas
The Sendero Las Coladas is a 4 kilometres long trail where you walk to the lava fields from the last eruption in 1992. During this hike, you can stop at different viewpoints where you can have a good view of the Arenal volcano (if weather permits).
– Sendero La Ceiba
Sendero La Ceiba is 2.3 kilometres long trail and strikingly flat. You will walk through the rainforest that has started to grow after the many eruptions. This trail can be combined with the Sendero Las Coladas so you can hike a nice loop.
– Sendero Heliconia
Sendero Heliconia is 600 meters long. It starts at the Ranger Station and runs through the rainforest. On this path, you will see a striking number of butterflies and numerous birds.
– La Peninsula Sector
The La Peninsula Sector has recently been opened and is also accessible to the disabled. The path is 1.3 kilometres long. This part of the park is less visited so you have a greater chance of spotting wildlife. The viewpoint is seen as one of the best places for the view of the volcano.
More information: www.arenal.net
Lava fields from 1968
In 1968 was one of the last major eruptions. It produced an immense new lava field, where various hiking trails run through. Officially, it is not part of the national park, but a private organisation. You have to pay an entrance fee to explore the hiking trails.
The Arenal 1968 Trail will take about two hours. You first walk through the rainforest before you end up at a viewpoint with a beautiful view of the volcano as well as the Arenal Lake.
More information: arenal1968.com
The Arenal waterfall is 70 meters high and the water is strikingly blue due to the many minerals. The waterfall is in private hands so you have to pay a hefty entrance fee to visit the waterfall. If you like you can also swim here in the strikingly warm water. Be aware that only a maximum number of tourists are allowed daily so be on time.
The walk is not very easy; you have to descend 570 steps to get to the waterfall. Thus 570 steps up on your way back.
More information: cataratalafortuna.com
The Cerro Chato volcano
Few people know that there is another volcano in the national park; the Cerro Chato. It is a dormant volcano that last erupted about 5,000 years ago. Unlike the Arenal, Cerro Chato does not have a nice round cone. The top of the volcano has completely disappeared due to an eruption.
The crater has a striking blue-coloured lake which you could climb to and swim in. As too many tourists visited the crater and the lake, the Costa Rican government has closed the walkway to preserve this part of the park.
Because of the underground lava, you can find countless hot springs in the surrounding. Many hotels offer thermal baths, from free to super luxurious. Well-known is Tabacón Thermal Resort & Spa, with multiple natural thermal baths and spa treatments. Just next to this resort, you can find free natural baths in the river. Do keep in mind that it is the “wastewater” that flows from the hot springs of Tabacón.
Lake Arenal is the largest reservoir in Costa Rica. When driving along the lake you see the volcano slowly showing itself. There are also many restaurants as well as hotels and lodges around the lake.
In the town of La Fortuna, officially La Fortuna de San Carlos, you will find numerous restaurants as well as tour operators for the various excursions that you can do. It is a good starting point for many tours as you can get well informed and compare different tours easily.
Sloths along the Bogarin Trail
The Bogarin Trail is a private reserve where the local community tries to restore rainforest. It is home to wildlife species like sloths, toucans and the famous red-eyed frog. Especially sloths can be spotted here frequently and from up close. I also saw poison dart frogs along the walkway and numerous birds upon entering who were eating plane trees and other fruit.
You have options for a tour: with or without a guide. Without a guide, it is a lot cheaper, but you also see possibly less. The choice is yours.
Místico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park
Místico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park is a recreational park where you can discover the rainforest through all kinds of hanging bridges. You have the option to go on your own or with a guide. There is also a night tour possible, where you discover countless nocturnal animals.
More information: www.misticopark.com