Arenal Volcano National Park

Arenal Volcano National Park – Unbelievable landscape and adventure

Consistently flowing lava since July 29, 1968, Arenal Volcano in Arenal Volcano National Park is one of two volcanoes there. The other, Chato Volcano, is inactive and contains a beautiful lagoon in its collapsed crater.

Quick facts

Location: Near the town of La Fortuna in the Northern region, which is a 3-4 hour drive from San José
Hours: Daily, 8 am to 4 pm, year-round
Admission: $15 per person
Recommended: In addition to the park, this is the area to visit for many of Costa Rica’s famous adventures: White water rafting, Canopy tours (zip lines), and some of the best hikes in the country.

Both are located in the Arenal Conservation Area of Costa Rica, which sits between the Tilaran and Guanacaste mountain ranges in the northwestern part of the country.

As the most active volcano in Costa Rica, Arenal has three craters on its western flank, one of which is spewing pyroclastic material and gas. Smoke and cinder blocks spew from the top and at night the brilliant red lava flow can be clearly viewed if there is no cloud cover.

The mighty Arenal.

Getting to the park

La Fortuna, a quaint town on the eastern side of the Arenal Volcano, is the entry point for the main road through Arenal Volcano National Park.

In this area, the climate and culture are exclusive in Costa Rica, as it experiences little rain and is consistently warm from November to April. This dry heat brings many tourists to the area during the North American winters. From May to October, there are daily showers (usually short and in the afternoon) and moderate temperatures.

A drive from San José, the country’s capital, to La Fortuna takes about three to four hours. It presents an opportunity to see two other interesting sights on the way, the Poas Volcano, one of Costa Rica’s most active, and the La Paz Waterfall Gardens. Besides the five magnificent waterfalls, La Paz offers up its cloud and rain forests, a butterfly conservatory, and a serpentarium (snakes, lizards, and frogs oh my!)

Visiting Arenal Volcano National Park

At the entrance of the park, visit the main ranger station for maps of the area. The park is open from 8am to 4pm and there is an entrance fee of $10 per person.

There are short trails in the Arenal Volcano National Park that take hikers through forests and lava fields. Lake Arenal, at the base of the Arenal Volcano, is a manmade lake that supplies some of the country’s hydroelectric energy. It contains two fish species, machaca, and bass, along with a great variety of birds that attract birdwatchers for the hummingbirds, woodpeckers, kingfishers, toucans, and striking quetzals.

Lava fields in the park and Lake Arenal viewed off in the distance.

Jaguars, tapirs, and howler monkeys are among some of the mammals in the area.

In the winter months windsurfers are attracted to the western end of the lake due to the winds, making it a foremost windsurfing area, along with fishing and kayaking.

Attractions in the area

Arenal Volcano National Park and its namesake are a big draw for the area but this region is probably even more famous for its many opportunities for fun and adventure.

White water rafting is popular on the three rivers near Arenal: the Toro, the Balsa, and Penas Blancas. Tours include experienced guides, transportation, and lunch.

A number of natural hot springs are in the area, some with waterslides and swim-up bars. Tabacon Hot Springs is well-known and a real treat. It’s easy to get lost exploring the area and soaking in the numerous secluded hot springs or sitting under some of the smaller waterfalls. Other hot springs in the area include Baldi, Eco Thermales, and Tabaconcito (which is now free.)

Canopy tours (also known as zip line tours) are available at the base of the Arenal Volcano. Cables soar visitors over the trees, pastures, hillsides, and streams. This area is known for the best zip line tours in the country, so if you’re planning on doing this in Costa Rica, do it here.

There’s also the Arenal Hanging Bridges. Here you’ll hike through the canopy over long suspended bridges. By all means, take a guided tour. It’s easy to find an English-speaking tour guide and quite honestly, you’ll miss quite a bit without one!

Most tour guides have years of experience and will be pointing out all the elusive creatures that can be found in the rain forest canopy, such as sloths, howler and spider monkeys, pit vipers, and many, many colorful birds. Some guides will carry a spotting scope with them to let you get an up close and personal view.

If you want to get REALLY up close and personal, there’s Proyecto Asis. It’s an animal rescue center that rehabilitates injured wild animals. As you tour the facility, it’s likely you’ll have an opportunity to feed and hold some of the animals. This is a great tour for the kids.

There is also a 200 foot waterfall near La Fortuna, which can be reached either by foot or by horseback. Visitors can swim in the water at the base of the falls or picnic along the shore while viewing a variety of wildlife like monkeys and toucans.

La Fortuna accommodations

La Fortuna has a great variety of hotels from five-star to two-star, along with many restaurants, internet cafes, banks, grocery stores, pharmacies, souvenir shops and many other businesses. Some of the hotels that are just outside of the town center have magnificent views of the volcanoes.

With so many activities available at Arenal Volcano National Park, I’d suggest that a three-day stay be planned in order to enjoy it all.