Visting Costa Rica’s Most Active Volcano

With a storied history of eruptions and nightly lava flows for over 43 years, a visit to Costa Rica’s top tourist attraction, the Arenal Volcano, is high on the must-see list. While the volcano itself has now entered a dormant stage, the town is chock full of tours and activities that will keep you busy during your stay.

Arenal Volano, Costa Rica
A rare sight on a clear day of the Arenal Volcano. Photo: Wiki Commons

The Arenal National Park is located just outside the town of La Fortuna, where all of the hostels, hotels and restaurants are located. Your best option to take advantage of the surrounding area is to hire your own wheels to get around as public transportation is non-existent to the park and back. If you do find yourself in town without a hired car, there are dozens of tour options that will allow you to get up close and personal with the volcano.

Arenal Volcano Lava Fields
Hiking through the lava fields on Arenal Volcano

One of the most popular tour options includes a hike around the old lava flows on Arenal, a visit to the observation platform and finally a dip in one of the many free hot springs throughout La Fortuna. This option allows you to see a good portion of the volcano, learn about the volcano’s recent eruptions and finally enjoy the naturally heated hot water that runs in the streams surrounding the town.

Hot Springs, La Fortuna
Enjoying the natural free hotsprings in La Fortuna

If the natural hot springs experience isn’t for you, there are three high end hot spring resorts surrounding Arenal including the luxurious Tabacon Hot Springs and the very popular Baldi Hot Springs Resort in the center of town. Both offer dinner and hot springs packages for those looking to indulge in some serious relaxation.

Baldi Hot Springs, La Fortuna
Baldi Hot Springs offers a luxurious way to relax in the natural hot springs of La Fortuna

After you’ve spent a day relaxing, grab your hiking shoes and hail a taxi to the base of Cerro Chato Volcano; a dormant volcano that sits next to Arenal and offers specular views, hiking and a dip in its crater lake at the top.

Hiking Cerro Chato, Costa Rica
Start of the Cerro Chato Hike

It’s a fairly steep and very muddy two hour hike to the lookout point. From here if your luck is right you’ll have spectacular views of the Arenal volcano. However, more often than not the top portion of Arenal is surrounded in clouds, making the view point at the start of the hike, just as good as the one at the top – but at least you’ll be in better shape right?

Cerro Chato Hike, Costa Rica
View from the top – more clouds than volcano!

After you’ve reached the summit you can climb down another steep, muddy trail to the crater lake below. It’s a nice spot to stop for a rest, grab a bit to eat and wash up in water. The hike back down to the base only takes about an hour. Afterwards you can visit the waterfalls of La Fortuna for a refreshing plunge in its perfect swimming holes. Both the hike and the waterfall have an entrance fee of $10 US each.

La Fortuna Waterfall, Costa Rica
La Fortuna Waterfall

One thing to note about La Fortuna & the Arenal National Park is that it’s one of the more expensive places to visit in Costa Rica. Tourism is the town’s main income earner and everything except perhaps the free hot springs costs money to enjoy. If you’re on a tight budget, be sure to pay Gringo Pete’s a visit. Perhaps the cheapest hostel in all of Costa Rica with private double rooms at $12 /night, this charming purple building near the beginning of the town strip offers the most affordable tours in town. Pete himself is a great resource and source of information and reminds me of jolly old St. Nick. He’s got discount vouchers available for some of the attractions in town including the Cerro Chato hike mentioned above and he takes no commission on any of the other tour options he sells through his hostel. You won’t be disappointed staying here.

Getting in to town is fairly straightforward. We managed to bus from Puerto Viejo to La Fortuna in about half a day’s travel with two bus connnections. If you don’t feel like taking local transist, a private or shared shuttle can be arranged from any of the other major cities across Costa Rica that will whisk you to La Fortuna town in only a few hours.  However you arrive to town, you’ll find plenty of opportunities once you arrive to stand in awe of this mamoth volcano while resting you’re aching limbs in the one of the naturally heated volcano fed hotsprings.

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