Arenal National Park
From Costa Rica Travel Guide: Vacation and Travel tips
Costa Rica's Arenal Volcano National Park
The lake is very famous among local fishermen and travelers, because its waters are loaded with rainbow bass. This fish is known by the locals as Guapote (handsome one). It is not only beautiful, but very flavorful as well. Lake Arenal is also one of the world's top destinations for travelers to enjoy windsurfing and sail boarding, due to its year-round steady and strong winds. There is a small but bustling windsurfing community, containing schools for amateur travelers, at the northwest end of the lake. Although, the winds are year around, the prime time of year for the serious windsurfers to visit is during the windy season which is from November to April.hot springs heated by the peak of the volcano.
The weather can be erratic with clouds covering the volcano at a moment's notice, hiding any view travelers could have had. This is truer during the wet season. Visitors stand a reasonable chance in the dry season, although, clear nights are still possible at this time. Morning hours seem to be a better time to witness the top before the afternoon clouds arrive. Travelers should know that viewing Volcan Arenal is never a sure thing and in all actuality, the worse time for viewing Volcan Arenal is during December and January. We know, we live here.
The Arenal National Park will get travelers the closest (legal) viewing of Volcan Arenal, and trust me, it's close enough. Hiking is only permitted on the marked trails that are within the park. Due to safety concerns from the ever erupting volcano, visitors are not allowed to hike near the crater at the top of the volcano. In the past, a number of visitors and unauthorized tour guides have died from hiking too close to the summit.
The park has a small mirador (lookout) which offers spectacular panoramic views of the volcano, Areanl Lake and the Tileran Mountain Range, although you may need to catch it on a sunny, clear day for optimum viewing. The park also has three hiking trails that cover 2.1 miles (3.4 kilometers). The hiking trails in the park will take you through rainforest, secondary rainforest, savanna and over old lava flows, with the mighty volcano rumbling at your feet. Most of the hiking in this area is fairly easy, so there's not too much climbing involved, although you need to be careful traversing the lava field.
- Trail #1: The Heliconias Trail - this is a .6214 mile (1 kilometer) loop around hike. Travelers can access the .93 mile (1.5 kilometer) hiking path to the main lookout from this trail.
- Trail #2: The Las Coladas Trail - this is a mostly flat hike and is a 1.242 mile (2 kilometer) hike that snakes around the base of the Arenal Volcano and has views of old lava flows from the last major eruption in 1992.
- Trail #3: The Los Tucanes Trail - this trail starts with the Las Coladas Trail and continues for another 1.864 miles (3 kilometers) through lush forest, ending around the old lava beds from previous eruptions.
The Main Lookout is located at the base of the volcano where visitors can view the 1968 and 1992 lava flows.
It is worth mentioning that the old lava flows are pleasant to trek, but the flows are made up of enormous rocks and visitors should climb with caution. It's easy to lose your footing when you don't want to miss the huge fiery-red boulders and volcanic ash flowing from the Arenal Volcano. That said, viewing the volcano from inside the park is no better than on the road just outside the park that goes towards Observatory Lodge, SkyTram, and El Castillo. (In fact, we recommend saving your money from park entrance fees and use this road for viewing the volcano.)
The park contains a second volcano, located 1.864 miles (3 kilometers) southeast of the Arenal Volcano. This volcano is called Cerro Chato (Mount Chato), and has been inactive for around 3500 years. This time line coincides with the creation and growth of the Arenal Volcano itself. The Cerro Chato volcano contains a collapsed crater that is now home to an amazing emerald green color lagoon surrounded by dense forest. The area surrounding the volcano has a few different
If you don't have a rental car and are staying in the La Fortuna area, just about any hotel or tour operator offers night tours to the volcano. Most of these tours do NOT go into the park; they stop on the outlining road (really the only one) that heads to the Arenal Observatory Lodge. A taxi will also take you there, but it's often not as cost effective as taking a tour.
Park Rangers are available to advise visitors on current safety concerns, and will close the park down if they feel that conditions are becoming too dangerous. . The visitor’s center near the entrance of the park has an exhibition hall, an auditorium, a souvenir store, a mirador (look out), restrooms, and a museum that is currently under construction, but should be opening soon.
Getting to Arenal National Park
You can get to the park by public bus service which runs from San José and Ciudad Quesada to the town of La Fortuna.
Another route, and just as scenic, for those coming from the Guanacaste Province, is to take the PanAmerican Highway to Cañas, and then proceed to the town of Tilarán, then continue around the northern shores of Lake Arenal till you get to the base of the Arenal Volcano.
A dirt road leads north 1.5 km to a parking lot and hiking trails.