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La Fortuna, El Castillo, Provincia de Alajuela, Costa Rica

GPS: 10.461261335243, -84.727911475158

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The Arenal Volcano National Park is located in the north of Costa Rica, in the mountainous region of the Cordillera de Tilarán. With an area of 5,000 km², it is the largest conservation area in the country. This volcanic land is part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, a huge seismic belt with more than 450 volcanoes worldwide. In Costa Rica, it is symbolized by the explosive activity and frequent lava flows of the Arenal volcano, one of the most dangerous hot spots in Central America.

A natural habitat for many species of fauna and flora, including hundreds of birds, the Arenal Volcano National Park is home to the country’s largest lake (Lake Arenal, 42 km long). The latter has become a very popular tourist destination for windsurfers. The park’s territory offers a multitude of outdoor attractions and activities, starting with hiking amidst wet vegetation, prolific wild life tropical forests, hot springs heated by underground volcanic activity, waterfalls, zip-line routes, suspension bridges in the canopy, abseiling, the Tilarán Mountain Range, waterways and ancient lava flows.

Established in 1991, this natural area encompasses two major volcanoes that are very close to each other geographically: the dormant Chato volcano (or Cerro Chato) and the Arenal volcano, the youngest and most active in Costa Rica. Cerro Chato has been extinct for over 3,000 years. Its crater is home to a lagoon that is popular with hikers for its emerald colour and dense rainforests. Surrounded by a thick mantle of clouds, the Arenal volcano shines with its majestic and perfectly conical shape. Its flanks preserve traces of ancient lava flows that bear witness to frenetic activity. It owns three craters since its devastating eruption in 1968, putting an end to three centuries of dormancy. The volcanic activity has lasted more than forty years in a row, only to cease recently, at the end of 2010 (gas and steam emissions are sometimes still visible today). The Arenal volcano is therefore now considered to be in a resting phase, although there is still a great deal of activity underground. Not approachable because of its potential lava projections, this 1,720-metre high stratovolcano is a living laboratory for volcanologists, following the example of its Reunionese counterpart, Piton de la Fournaise.

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  • The remains of the ancient lava flows and eruptions of the Arenal volcano; clouds of steam escaping from the ground (up to 140 °C) and pools of boiling mud (visible on the slopes of the volcano); one of the largest areas of biodiversity on the planet
  • The rivers and streams of the park; the 70-metre-high La Fortuna waterfall (catarata); the emerald lagoon nestled at the bottom of the crater of the extinct volcano Cerro Chato; Lake Arenal and Venado Cave
  • The Tabacón Hot Springs (a series of natural pools and waterfalls); the Baldi Hot Springs thermal pools; the Eco Termales Hot Springs (spa in La Fortuna)
  • The rich biodiversity of the park (tropical forest, secondary forest, savannah, volcanic land…) thanks to a rich soil considered to be one of the most fertile in the world; the layers of vegetation favouring a wide variety of animals
  • The footpaths through the forest and the old lava fields (El Ceibo, Heliconias, Las Coladas, Los Miradores and Los Tucanes trails); outdoor activities around Lake Arenal (boat trips, water skiing, fishing, windsurfing, mountain biking…). ); outdoor activities within the park (rafting, horseback riding…); suspension bridges in the canopy; adventure activities within the Sky Adventures Arenal Park and the Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park (zip line, guided hikes…); the Arenal Mundo Aventura treetop adventure trail
  • The variety of fauna (howler monkeys, jaguars, coatis, quetzals, snakes, birds of all sizes, multicoloured parrots…) and flora (orchids, ferns, palms, endemic plants, hundred-year-old trees with multiple ramifications, flowering trees of various colours and shapes…)
  • The variety of fauna (howler monkeys, jaguars, coatis, quetzals, snakes, birds of all sizes, multicoloured parrots…) and flora (orchids, ferns, palms, endemic plants, hundred-year-old trees with multiple ramifications, flowering trees of various colours and shapes…)
  • The road leading to the Monteverde rainforest area to the south of the park (superb biological reserve with a cloud forest shrouded in mist); the volcanic mountain range of the Cordillera de Guanacaste, the Tenorio Volcano National Park and the wilderness conservation area of the Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge to the north of Lake Arenal; the Reserva Bosque Nuboso Santa Elena to the south (humid trails with dense vegetation and an observatory overlooking the Arenal volcano)
  • The annual Fiestas de la Fortuna (two weeks of festivities in the municipality of La Fortuna in February); the Vuelta al Lago race in March (a two-day, 150-kilometre mountain bike and foot race); the Festival de Música de Monteverde, which takes place every year in the nearby town of Monteverde during the dry season (a series of concerts between December and early April)
  • Symbol of Costa Rica, Arenal is one of the 10 most active volcanoes in the world (this young volcano is only 7,000 years old).
  • In the modern era, the Arenal volcano erupted for the first time in 1968, causing the destruction of three small villages (Tabacón, Pueblo Nuevo and San Luis) and the death of 87 people as a result of rockslides, lava and ash. As a sign of the power of this eruption, some stones were expelled more than a kilometre away. Before this sudden and devastating event, the Arenal volcano was considered a simple mountain.
  • Lake Arenal, formed in a caldera following the eruption of 1968, is an important water reserve in Costa Rica. Its dam, built in 1974, produces most of the country’s hydroelectric power and covers about 25% of the country’s electricity needs. The lake’s waters are also used for agricultural purposes, particularly for rice cultivation.
  • The strangler fig is one of the tallest trees in the canopy surrounding the Arenal volcano (it can reach heights of over 60 metres). One of its main characteristics is that it grows towards the ground and not upwards. In fact, the seeds of this tree are carried by birds or fruit-eating animals to the upper branches of another tree before germinating. Then the aerial roots wrap themselves around the host tree until they reach the ground. The growth of the choke fig tree can lead to the death of the supporting tree by suffocation.
  • Plate tectonics is at the origin of the formation of Costa Rica and its islands. Moreover, the country continues to rise to the rhythm of the movements of the Cocos, Panama and Caribbean plates.
  • The country’s volcanic massif, made up of about ten volcanoes, straddles the continental divide in central Costa Rica. This divides the rivers that flow into the Pacific Ocean from those that end up in the Caribbean Sea.
  • The best time to visit this region of Costa Rica is during the dry season (February to April), as the top of the volcano is often hidden by clouds during the rest of the year.
  • The small town of La Fortuna, the closest to the volcano (20 km), is accessible by bus from the towns of San José and Ciudad Quesada.
  • When you arrive, start by going to the Visitor Information Centre, located at the entrance to the park, to find out how active the volcano is and whether the trails are passable.
  • For your safety, take care not to leave the marked paths and stay in the authorized areas of the park (the old lava flows, which are still accessible, should be climbed with caution).
  • Keep rain gear with you, even on sunny days, and make sure you have suitable footwear for muddy ground before you set off on an excursion.

Where to eat

  • Down to Earth Coffee Shop
    (large choice of coffees)
  • La Ventanita
    (local specialities)
  • El Gran Abuelo Parrillada y...
    (the meat is tasty)

Where to go out

  • Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
    (in the clouds)
  • Selvatura Adventure Park
    (ecological theme park)
  • Rio Celeste Waterfall
    (natural gem)

Where to sleep

  • Cabinas Los Tucanes
    (economic and well-exposed)
  • Rancho Margot
    (at the forefront of ecotourism)
  • Arenal Observatory Lodge & Spa
    (close to the volcano)

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