Costa Rica Travel - Arenal Volcano National Park (Everything you need to know)
Located in the fertile northern lowlands of Costa Rica, Arenal Volcano National Park, one of Costa Rica's premier highlights, spearheads the country's tourism scene by offering an abundance of thrill-junkie adventure activities and the stuff of dreams for even the casual sightseer. Perhaps the main draw of this natural reserve is the staggering beauty of the symmetrical cone-shaped Arenal Volcano, but its plethora of other activities like hiking, whitewater rafting, and canopy tours, your trip is surely bound to be one of non-stop excitement.
Connect with Costa Rican travel experts, who will ensure that you cover and enjoy every bit of wonder this adventure hub has to throw at you.
Stretching over 12000 hectares of land, Arenal Volcano National Park was established in 1991 and is most notable as home to the imposing Arenal Volcano, adventure activities and an overall staggering natural beauty being close seconds. Travelers typically make it part of a larger itinerary that covers the country's other wonders; plan the duration of your stay here depending on what you wish to get out of it.
In July 1968, Arenal showed its most catastrophic side when its violent eruptions killed over 87 people and destroyed 3 small villages. Arenal spewed lava and ash on a regular basis till 2010, after which it entered into a resting phase. Although the visitors are deprived of the amazing view of the flaming volcano in the night sky, Arenal still doesn’t fail in charming visitors with its now placid beauty.
Arenal Volcano National Park is situated in the Alajuela Province and is a scenic 3.5-hour drive from the capital city of San Jose (and 3-hour drive from Liberia International airport). There are also a number of direct buses operating from San Jose to the small town of La Fortuna de San Carlos, aka the Gateway to the Arenal Volcano National Park.
Important tip: If on a self-drive tour, equip yourself with a GPS or a map, as the trails are not well marked here.
Things to do
Probably the best way of getting up close and personal with the park’s rich biodiversity and exploring its varying ecosystems is by hiking through it. Sadly, trekking the smokey volcano is strictly prohibited, but given the abundance of other sights like the Cerro Chato volcano and Lake Arenal, hiking the park is a truly pleasurable experience.
A hike to the La Fortuna Waterfall is another noteworthy trail, hardly taking you more than 15 minutes and rewarding you with its crystal-clear waters; most recommended is diving in and cooling off in its plunge pool.
Apart from its jaw-dropping natural marvels, what attracts the visitors to this park is its thriving wildlife population. Arenal is a protected nature reserve and is well-known for inhabiting hundreds of aerial species, most notably the brilliantly colored toucans and hummingbirds, along with reptiles, monkeys, sloths, iguanas, and coatis.
Wildlife afficionados looking to explore more of the native species can head over to the habitat centers of Arenal Oasis Wildlife Refuge, and Club Rio Wildlife Sanctuary, both of which are inside the park’s territory.
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A unique way to admire the lush rainforests of the park and get some thrills along the way is to embark on a canopy zip lining tour. Ziplining probably offers the best and most exclusive aerial views of the rainforests, along with the adrenaline surge of swooping over the forest.
For those not inclined for such adventurous acts can take a nature walking tour over the park’s famed hanging bridges, thus exploring the gigantic trees and their swinging vines, all in atmosphere of rich oxygenated air that acts as a tonic boost for the rest of the day.
Soak in the natural hot springs
It is impossible to return from Arenal Volcano without soaking in its illustrious natural hot springs. Although most of these springs are on hotel/resort premises, it is not necessary that you have to stay at one of them; many resorts offer day guest passes for visitors.
After a long, tiring adventurous day, what could be better than a warm, rejuvenating bath amidst thick jungle?
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Another must-do activity that goes on the list is a horseback ride towards the majestic waterfalls of La Fortuna. Equipped with a guide, this tour takes you through flourishing green country of sloths, monkeys, coatis and colorful tropical birds.
This horseback ride ultimately ends at the trail that leads to the La Fortuna Waterfall, after which you hike for a bit and earn your dip in the chilly plunge-pool at the base of the waterfall.
Not all of the park's beauty is above ground. Below the surface lie the ancient Venado Caves, limestone wonders presumed to be 20 million years old. Journey towards the centre of the earth and discover underground waterfalls, timeless stalactites and stalagmites, and learn all about the fascinating natural history from a trained guide.
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When it comes to overnight stays while exploring the park, the nearby quaint town of La Fortuna offers a wide array of hotels to choose from. Budget-restricted travelers can opt for hotels/cabins for less than $25, while the luxury seekers can stay at extravagant resorts for $400 a night. Since the hot springs are a huge hit here, it is recommended to stay at hotels equipped with such springs.
Best time to visit
Arenal is one of those destinations that can be visited any time of the year, but in order to avoid rains, it is best explored in the dry months of December to March. Check with your expert about the best time to go to get the most out of your visit.
Important tip: Since the dry season also happens to be the busiest time of the year, book your stay earlier (at least 8 months) to avoid disappointment.
Interested enough? Start customizing your itinerary here and head over to this natural gem of Costa Rica.