Visit Costa Rica – Arenal Volcano and its surroundings

Costa Rica Arenal national park mirador view

The Arenal volcano, like the Monteverde cloud forest, is one of the 7 natural wonders of Costa Rica according to a popular vote. La Fortuna is the city located at the foot of the volcano.

Arenal Volcano

The Arenal volcano is located in northwestern Costa Rica about 90 km from San José, in the province of Alajuela. It rises to 1,633 meters, has a conical shape with a crater 140 meters in diameter. Geologically, the Arenal volcano is considered young, as it is estimated to be less than 7,500 years old. It was dormant for several hundred years until 1968 when it erupted unexpectedly for several days, destroying 3 small villages: Tabacon, Pueblo Nuevo and San Lus.

Until 1998, several lava flows, ash explosions and avalanches took place. Since 2010, the volcano has been considered dormant.

Potrero to La Fortuna

Costa Rica Arenal lake 3
Costa Rica Arenal lake 2

It took us 4 hours to get to the foot of the volcano.

After a first part of the road in the plain, we finally begin our ascent in the mountains. The change of scenery is fast and radical. It starts to rain, and the dry and burnt vegetation makes way for the lush green vegetation.

We reach Lake Arenal and stop for a café on the terrace to admire the view.

Arenal lake

Costa Rica Arenal lake 4
Costa Rica Arenal lake 1

Lake Arenal is currently the largest lake in Costa Rica with 85 km2 and represents the largest hydroelectric project in Costa Rica thanks to a dam built in 1979 at its eastern end. Depending on the season, its depth varies between 30 and 60 meters.

During the construction of the dam, the town of Arenal was moved to a higher ground to the northeast on the lake. The ancient towns of Arenal and Tronadora are now drowned at the bottom of the lake. 😔

Initially, 70% of the country’s electricity was generated by this dam, compared to 17% today. Costa Rica has committed to using only renewable energy. In 2019, 67.5% of its energy comes from hydropower, 17% from wind, 13.5% from geothermal and 0.84% from biomass and solar panels. The remaining 1.16% is not green energy and serves as energy backup.

Costa Rica Arenal lake wind turbine 1
Costa Rica Arenal lake wind turbine 2

In fact, on this side of the lake, there are wind farms in operation.

And to tell you the truth, there’s so much wind here that the trees grow leaning. But the wind also has its followers…

Wind sports at Lake Arenal

Due to strong and reliable winds between November and April the village of Piedras is the spot for windsurfers and kite-surfers. All information on the website of TicoWind.
Many consider Lake Arenal to be one of the most important windsurfing and kitesurfing regions in the world.

Another growing activity in the area is fishing from kayaks in shallow, secluded coves. Notice to amateurs.

But it won’t be for us.

La Fortuna

Costa Rica Arenal La Fortuna town 6
Costa Rica Arenal La Fortuna town 1

We continue our route to finally arrive in La Fortuna, a city in the region where you can find lots of hotels and restaurants. It’s the local tourist landmark.

Costa Rica Arenal La Fortuna town 3
Costa Rica Arenal La Fortuna town 5
Costa Rica Arenal La Fortuna town 4
For the record, “La Fortuna” means “The Fortune” because it is located on flat and fertile land compared to the rugged and mountainous terrain that surrounds the volcano. The story has it that the city was renamed after the eruption of 1968 because it was spared by the disaster… It’s a nice legend!
Costa Rica Arenal La Fortuna flower 3

Flowers in the park

Costa Rica Arenal La Fortuna flower 2
Costa Rica Arenal La Fortuna flower 1

We pick up our room, a meal in a SODA, and get started on our exploration of the surroundings.

Of course, there are many activities available. Hiking in the forest, accompanied or not, to discover the fauna and flora and for the more adventurous rafting or canyoning. You can learn all about coffee or chocolate as well, but the main attraction of the region are the natural hot springs created by the still active volcano.

Our plan for the weekend:

  • Saturday afternoon:
    • Discovery of Arenal Volcano National Park
  • Sunday morning:
    • La Fortuna waterfall and ascent of Cerro Chato
    • Public hot water source

Arenal Volcano National Park

Costa Rica Arenal national park map

Admission fee 15 euros.
As the Arenal volcano is still active, it is forbidden to climb to its summit.
There are 2 options in the park: the volcano part and the peninsula part.
We only did the Volcano part with a round trip to a watchtower and a 5 km walk through the forest.

Costa Rica Arenal national park mirador road
Costa Rica Arenal La Fortuna volcano view 1

I confess that I was disappointed when we arrived at the parking lot. The way to the watchtower is a dirt road. So we’re being overtaken by cars all the way through. To see animals, it’s a bit tricky. We still saw a hummingbird ballet which is always beautiful.

On the other hand, the part in the forest that leads to the century-old tree and lava flows is much more interesting. We strolled there for 2 hours!

The path

Costa Rica Arenal national park trail 0
Costa Rica Arenal national park trail 1
Costa Rica Arenal national park trail 5

1968 lava flow

Costa Rica Arenal national park trail 2
Costa Rica Arenal national park trail 4
Costa Rica Arenal national park trail 3

The Kapok tree 400 years old and 30 m height

Costa Rica Arenal national park tree 1
Costa Rica Arenal national park tree 2

We left the park 2 hours after the closing hour, but the gate was still open. Phew! In fact, we did not look at the closing time. And deep in our quest for wild animals, it was the nightfall that reminded us that it was time to go. I discovered a new passion for wildlife watching. It’s really relaxing. And also stressful! Because I want to see animals, but when they are a little bigger than birds, I’m not really reassured! We were 15 meters away from a horde of peccaries (that’s what they looked like to me 🤨), and I confess that I was not proud… 🤣

Our discoveries 😊

Costa Rica Arenal national park bird 4
Costa Rica Arenal national park bird 2
Costa Rica Arenal national park bird 1
Costa Rica Arenal national park bird 3
Costa Rica Arenal national park pumba
Costa Rica Arenal national park flower 3
Costa Rica Arenal national park flower 2
Costa Rica Arenal national park flower 1

La Fortuna Waterfall

On Sunday morning, we leave equipped with our towel and swimsuit towards the Fortuna waterfall. Everything is well indicated, so after 15 minutes of driving we arrive. Unfortunately, we cancelled… $18 per person for a short 15-minute walk through the jungle to the waterfall. We are told that everything is equipped with toilets and changing rooms and that there is a restaurant. But the price is really too high, and that’s not what we’re looking for.

So we’re going to climb the Cerro Chato directly.

The Chato Volcano

Costa Rica Arenal Cerro Chato map

This extinct volcano is also located in the Volcano Arena National Park, and the departure is 200m from the Blue Lagoon Hotel.
In fact, the hotel offers a walk on their property to an observatory. The entry fee is $10. The climb to the top of the volcano is not included, because as we learned much later, it is prohibited by the “National System of Conservation Areas of Arenal”. However, the receptionist did not forbid us the climb, but only told us that if we did, it was at our peril. This did not surprise us, because this is the case for the hikes that we usually do in the mountains. To do knowingly.

The climb. Estimated time 2 hours

Costa Rica Arenal Cerro Chato trail up 1
Costa Rica Arenal Cerro Chato trail up 3
Costa Rica Arenal Cerro Chato trail up 5
Costa Rica Arenal Cerro Chato trail up 8
Costa Rica Arenal Cerro Chato trail up 9
At the top, we can see the lagoon 😃
Costa Rica Arenal Cerro Chato trail cratere 1
The path to reach the shores of the lake on the inner flank of the crater 🤨
Costa Rica Arenal Cerro Chato trail down 0
Switching between hiking and climbing in the mud. Pretty perilous and difficult. But we succeed. Muddy, but happy!
Costa Rica Arenal Cerro Chato trail cratere 2
Costa Rica Arenal Cerro Chato trail cratere 3
And it’s time for the return
Costa Rica Arenal Cerro Chato trail down 4

Now I have information about the hike: 9.8 km, 758 m elevation. We made the round trip in 4 hours.

Hot springs…

And what better after this walk than a nice hot bath 😁
There is a river nearby fed by a hot spring which is easy to find. You have to park at the side of the road next to the “Tabacon Resort”. It’s best to get in your bathing suit and take only the minimum. There is no real place to put your stuff.
Once parked, you have to go down the road towards the river and take a small road on the right for 100 meters. All that remains is to discover and appreciate. It’s a bit crowded, but it’s nice. And you can find your place in peace anyway.

Costa Rica Arenal Hot Springs 2
Costa Rica Arenal Hot Springs 3
Costa Rica Arenal Hot Springs 4
Costa Rica Arenal Hot Springs 5

One hour to recharge our batteries, and it’s time to leave.

To conclude

As everywhere in the mountains of Costa Rica, nature is beautiful. It’s a real mess of trees, plants and flowers and I can’t get enough. The region around the Arenal volcano is a perfect example. But I always remain frustrated by the fact that everything has a price, relatively expensive, and that even a walk in the jungle is paid for. And it’s a shame!

Comments

  1. Great post, love the greenery and the photos. OOh, and the font too! 🙂

    1. Thank you. Yes, this part of the Costa Rica is really green compare to the coast during the dry season.

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