Arenal Volcano Nat'l Park
Arenal Volcano Fireworks
One of the most spectacular and awe inspiring displays of natural beauty is the Arenal Volcano (Volcán Arenal). Don’t be surprised if you hear a hearty rumble, at 5,389 ft (1,643 m), Costa Rica’s most active volcano erupts constantly, giving spectators a healthy dose of fireworks and puffs of steam into the air. Laying dormant for hundreds of years, the sleeping giant unexpectedly exploded in 1968, revealing its hidden fury. The Arenal volcano left the nearby town of Tabacón and its inhabitants in ruins, completely destroying and covering in ash whatever had been there.
Arenal Volcano and La Fortuna is located in The Northern Lowlands Region of Costa Rica.
If you get the chance to visit the nearby region, including the charming town of La Fortuna, what waits for you is a stunning visual exhibition. Currently best seen from the north and west on a clear night are red-hot lava rocks spewing down the steep slopes of the almost perfectly conical Arenal Volcano. Watching the skyline explode to life is truly something to remember.
The majestic, symmetrical volcano sits to the north of the 29,960 acre (12,124 ha) Arenal Volcano National Park (Parque Nacional Volcán Arenal). Encompassing 4 different life zones, the park is made of mostly primary rain forest as the various habitats harbor a tremendous amount of flora and fauna. Close to ¾ of the 850 total species of birds identified in Costa Rica can be found in the area, including the endangered resplendent quetzal. That’s a lot of birds. Also found here are moose, jaguar, sloths, white-faced monkeys, coati, deer, and snakes like the infamous fer-de-lance, parrot snake and boa constrictor. The plant life includes guayabo de monte, laurel, cirri, and various species of palms, orchids, heliconias, ferns and bromeliads, among others. Arenal’s smaller sibling, the Chato Volcano (Volcán Chato), reaches heights up to 3,609 ft (1,100 m) as its water filled crater lays inactive. The park is open from 8 am to 6 pm and an entrance fee of $6 applies.
The quiet town of La Fortuna is just 4 miles (6.4 km) away from the Arenal Volcano and provides a great base for exploring Arenal and the surrounding area. La Fortuna is situated 16 miles (26 km) from Ciudad Quesada and 75 miles (120 km) from San José. From San José, expect around a 3 hour drive. Various lodging accommodations and activities are offered from La Fortuna, including relaxing in the various hot-springs, horse-back riding and white-water rafting on the Peñas Blancas River (Río Peñas Blancas). Also available are various water sports on Lake Arenal (Laguna de Arenal) such as canoeing, fishing, and kite surfing, and tons of inland activities such as hiking, waterfall repelling, canopy tours and hanging bridges. There is something for everyone!
Relaxing in the nearby Tabacón Hot Springs can leave you speechless and as relaxed as ever. The Tabacón Hot Springs are the most luxurious in the area, supplying a view of the volcano among the dense vegetation and picturesque waterfalls. There are numerous other hot springs like the beautiful Baldí Hot Springs which are located nearby.
La Fortuna Waterfall (Catarata La Fortuna) is a breathtaking 230 ft (70 m) cascade which feeds into a natural pool at the base. Head 3 miles (5 km) south of La Fortuna to reach this amazing sight. A short hike will take you down to the pool where you can swim, take photos and enjoy the scenery. Horseback tours are also available to the falls.
Although close to the Arenal, a trip to the Venado Caves (Cavernas de Venado) will give you the impression that you have arrived at a different planet. Located just 1.9 miles (3 km) outside of the town of Venado, about 45 minutes from La Fortuna, the caves are a spelunking enthusiast and adventure-seekers dream. The 1.5-miles of cave featuring stalagmites, stalactites and subterranean streams are the perfect habitat for various animals. Looking around, you might see bats hanging from the ceiling above, blind fish swimming in the streams below and colorless frogs hopping about.
For the adrenaline junkies, plenty of class I-V white-water rafting is available on the Sarapiquí River. From La Fortuna, head east approximately 47 miles (75 km) along Hwy 4 through San Miguel until you’ve arrived in Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí. You’re guaranteed not to leave the river with dry clothes!
Nature buffs will love a day trip to Caño Negro National Wildlife Refuge. Exploring the vast networks of wetlands and the huge Caño Negro Lake won’t leave you disappointed. It’s also a great locale for birding! To get there, head east from La Fortuna until the town of Muelle, then head north along Hwy 35 towards Los Chiles.
Don’t miss the Arenal Botanical Gardens (Jardín Botánico de Arenal) which are just a couple miles out of town. Here is where you’ll find 2,500 species of tropical plants, many of which are rare, including bromeliads, many different orchids, ferns and roses. Inside, there is even an attractive Asian garden with waterfalls. Butterflies and birds can be seen all over as they are drawn to the enchanting grounds.