Arenal Volcano – Practical Visitors Guide

arenal hanging bridge
about us

Hi! We’re Thomas (the German) and Sarah (the US-er).

We met in Virginia, moved to Germany, and now live in sunny Costa Rica.

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Arenal Volcano located in La Fortuna, Costa Rica is an impressive active conical volcano that serves as a beautiful backdrop to the town.

There are also plenty of ways to enjoy this magnificent sight from hiking to ziplining to kayaking in the lake at its base. 

We created this guide to give you all the practical info for getting the most out of your time in the Arenal area. 

Info About Visiting

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How to Get Here

The drive here is fairly easy from both San Jose and from the Liberia International Airport. For detailed driving directions check out our complete La Fortuna guide

Best Time of Year to Visit

The most popular time to visit is during the dry season (late December through mid-April). During this time of year, the weather will be warm and you most likely won’t experience any rain. 

This also means you should have great volcano visibility during this season. However, it is also the most popular time of year to travel so things book out fast. Also, because there is no rain you won’t get the lush green landscape that often makes this area look so beautiful.

The La Fortuna area is somewhat of a toss-up though. We have visited many times in July and August and had amazing weather despite the fact that it was peak rainy season.

We have also heard locals say that they think the best weather here is usually in September.

I would say, that no matter what time of year you visit Costa Rica, it is always worth adding the Arenal area to your agenda. 

Sometimes the volcano is most visible in the morning before clouds have had the chance to settle and sometimes it is best in the afternoon after the clouds have had a chance to clear out. 

Basically, I am absolutely no help in predicting when you can experience the best views.

Sorry!

Staying in La Fortuna

la fortuna

La Fortuna has tons of hotel options for all price ranges. Further into this post, we will tell you some of our favorite options at all price points with volcano views.

Length of Stay

We suggest spending three to six nights in La Fortuna. There is so much to do here that you definitely won’t get bored quickly. However, Costa Rica is filled with amazing places so, if you have a limited time we suggest at least three nights. 

Day Trip from San Jose

We don’t really suggest taking a day trip from San Jose to La Fortuna. It is a three to four-hour drive and there is so much to see in this area that we think La Fortuna deserves a longer amount of time.

However, we get it. Sometimes you are limited on time and want to soak up all that you can.

If you do opt to take a day trip to La Fortuna, we included some great combo tours below. This is a good way to see a lot in a condensed amount of time and you won’t have to worry about driving/ organizing everything yourself. 

Arenal Volcano History

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Arenal is relatively young for a volcano. It is estimated that it was formed about 7,500 years ago. 

For hundreds of years, it was dormant until it started suddenly erupting on July 29, 1968. The eruption continued for several days and buried about five miles of land under ash and lava. Unfortunately, this eruption killed 87 people and destroyed three villages.

Although the lava only covered five miles of land, the effects were felt over a hundred miles away. Crops were destroyed, homes damaged, and livestock killed due to the ash and flying rocks.

Somehow, the small town of La Fortuna on the east side of the volcano remained untouched. This allowed it to prosper into the thriving tourism destination that it is today.

Since 1968 there have been several more eruptions with the last one being in 2010. 

If you are interested in learning more about the history of the volcano, ask any of the guides in the area if you take a tour. Most guides grew up in the area and can most likely tell you plenty of interesting stories. 

Hiking Near the Volcano

1968 trail

There are three good hiking options near the Arenal volcano. These are; the Arenal 1968 trail, the Arenal National Park, and the trails at Arenal Observatory Lodge & Spa.

Keep in mind that it is not allowed to hike up the side of the volcano. All of these hikes are at its base and most deliver amazing views.

We have detailed each one to help you plan.

Arenal Observatory Lodge & Spa

arenal volcano

The Arenal Observatory Lodge & Spa is not just a great hotel option for your stay in La Fortuna, they also have several miles of trails that are great for enjoying volcanic views.

If you book your stay at the lodge these trails are free to access. Alternatively, you can purchase a day pass for $12 per person. This will give you access to all trails, their observation tower, hanging bridges, visitors center, and observatory museum.

In total, the property has about seven miles of trails.

Get directions to the lodge below.

If you are looking to rent a car while in this area we strongly suggest renting with our favorite local company, Adobe. Rent through us and get a 10% discount plus some other amazing perks.

BOOK YOUR COSTA RICA RENTAL CAR AND SAVE 10%

The Adobe Rent-A-Car discount includes…..

– A 10% DISCOUNT  

– FREE SECOND DRIVER 

– FREE ROOF RACKS TO USE 

– 0% DEDUCTIBLE ON LIABILITY PROTECTION

– DISCOUNTED SMARTPHONE USAGE WITH UNLIMITED DATA

The Arenal Volcano National Park

arenal volcano

The Arenal Volcano National Park features two sectors; Sector Volcan and Sector Peninsula.

Cost

Entrance is $15 for adults and $5 for children. For Costa Rican residents it is 1,000 colones for adults and 500 colones for children.

This fee can be paid at the ranger station. Keep your admission ticket because it gives you access to both sectors within that day.

Hours

The park is open from 8am to 4pm seven days a week. Just keep in mind that the last entrance they allow is at 2:30pm.

Directions

From downtown La Fortuna it will take about twenty minutes to drive to the parking lot of both sectors. Keep in mind that the road near the volcano is not paved. However, you don’t need a 4×4 car. You will be just fine with a car or SUV with decent clearance.

It is best to drive between each sector. It will take about ten minutes.

Parking

There is a parking area at the entrance to both sectors.

Facilities

There are bathroom facilities, picnic areas, and potable water at both entrances.

Sector Volcan

The volcan sector of the national park is located at the base of the volcano and consists of three trails. It is possible to hike all three trails in a nice loop. This is a little over three miles long.

It is a nice hike with a few great volcanic viewpoints.

Sector Penisula

This sector of the park consists of two trails; Los Miradores Trail and El Tororoi Trail.

Los Miradores Trail is about .75 miles long. El Tororoi trail is .4 miles long.

We suggest walking the Los Miradores Trail to the end and looping back along El Tororoi Trail.

Los Miradores Trail is well maintained and has some very nice view points of Lake Arenal including an observation tower.

El Tororoi Trail is a bit more rustic and has one elevated bridge.

The Arenal 1968 Trail

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Cost

$19 for adults.

It is possible to pay this entrance fee in dollars, colones, or with a credit card at the ranger station.

Directions

From downtown La Fortuna it will take about twenty minutes to drive to the ranger station where your hike will begin.

Parking

There is a parking lot located next to the ranger station. Please don’t leave anything of value in your car. We have never heard of anyone having their car broken into here, but it is always a good idea to be a bit cautious. 

Facilities

There is a bathroom with showers and a nice cafe located near the entrance to the trail. 

The Hike

The hike is fairly strenuous mostly due to the climate. The heat and humidity make every hike seem a lot more challenging than usual.

The trails are relatively well maintained (actually every time I have hiked this trail I have run into maintenance crews). 

If you would like to visit the 1968 Trail please check out their official website for more info.

What to Wear When Hiking Near Arenal

– Shoes you feel comfortable hiking in (keep in mind that during the rainy season it might be a bit muddy)

– breathable pants or lightweight shorts

– a breathable t-shirt

– a hat that will protect you from the sun

We usually also wear a lightweight long sleeve shirt. You will be in the woods with forest cover for most of the hike, but the sun is powerful here. A long sleeve shirt will help cover your arms and protect you from all the UV. 

What to Bring for Your Hike

A full water bottle, some snacks, sunscreen, bug spray, your camera, pocket binoculars

Check out our Full Costa Rica National Park Packing List on Amazon for everything you need!

Our Opinion on All Three Hikes

In our opinion, the Arenal Observatory Lodge or the national park trails are the way to go. I think that for the price point the Arenal Observatory Lodge has the most to offer.

We have done the 1968 hike a handful of times and in all honesty, I don’t think it is worth the high price tag.

The flaura and fauna is interesting to see, but unless you hire a guide you most likely won’t see too many animals.

In other words, if you are looking for a hike in La Fortuna this is a good option, but don’t expect to be blown away by it. 

If you opt to hire a guide, you can have a very different experience because you might see a lot of wildlife and learn a lot about the volcano. 

Also, if you are traveling with people with limited mobility, they should not be deterred. The roads near the Arenal Volcano National Park have plenty of great viewpoints of both the volcano and lake.

Go for a nice leisurely drive and explore the roads for some nice scenery!

Other Ways to Enjoy the Volcano View

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Hot Springs

One of our absolute favorite things to do in this area is enjoying a relaxing soak at a hot spring park.

There are several hot springs in this area at various price points and geared towards different interests.

For example, there are places that are perfect for families with kid’s pools and waterslides. And then there are some hot springs facilities that are for adults only. There are some places with bbq facilities and some with high-end dining restaurants.

Whatever your vibe, you’ll find it here!

Check out our complete guide to the La Fortuna hot springs to find the perfect place based on your specific needs.

Ziplining

Soar through the sky and admire the volcano in the distance!

Ziplining is one of the most popular activities in the La Fortuna area. There are several companies which offer this activity.

A few of the most reputable are: SkyTrek which offers zip lining and a tram with amazing views. Ecoglide which has great volcano views and a Tarzan swing. And Arenal Mundo which has nice views of the La Fortuna waterfall to zip over.

SkyTram

SkyTram is a tram system located at SkyTrek. It is a fun adventure with nice views and perfect for people of all ages. We suggest visiting this as part of a combo tour with SkyTrek. It is a great way to combine a few different activities in one fun day.

Horseback Riding

Go with an experienced guide for a ride along the base of the volcano. Along the way your guide will be happy to answer any questions you have and you may even spot some wildlife!

Hanging Bridges

hanging bridges

Mistico Hanging Bridge park is a great place to enjoy a nice nature walk with views of the volcano. We suggest this activity for people of all ages. The hike is easy to moderate and well maintained. Plus the views are top notch. 

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Lake Arenal Kayaking

lake arenal

Take a leisurely paddle along the lake and admire the impressive views. Your guide will be able to answer all your questions about the volcano and will hopefully be able to point out some wildlife.

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Fishing on Lake Arenal

On Lake Arenal, it is possible to go kayak fishing or go out in a small boat to fish.

Along the way, you might catch rainbow bass, tilapia, and more!

We suggest booking your trip with Captain Marc on his 19’ Sea Pro boat. He’s the best and I guarantee you’ll have a great time.

Or if you prefer kayak fishing, you can book your trip here

Combo Tours

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The La Fortuna area is a prime destination for combo tours. A combo tour is a full day of adventure organized by experienced guides. 

In La Fortuna some of the activities you might enjoy are zip lining, relaxing in hot springs, hiking the 1968 trail, and swimming under the La Fortuna waterfall.

Hotels with Arenal Volcano Views

hotel arenal

High End

Royal Corin Resort

Experience the amazing grounds which feature pools, spa services, a restaurant, a bar, and more!

Tabacón Thermal Resort & Spa

A beautiful resort featuring hot springs, pools, a spa, multiple restaurants, and tons of other activities.

Arenal Manoa & Hot Springs

This hotel features hot springs, spa treatments, and beautiful volcano views!

Mid-Range

Casona Rústica & Bungalow

Super cute cabins with a swimming pool and a really beautiful view of Arenal Volcano. This spot is great because it’s out of the downtown area and really nature-y.

Arenal the Volcano Lodge

The perfect place to stay a bit out of the downtown area. The facilities include a nice pool with Arenal volcano views.

Arenal Observatory Lodge & Spa

Located outside of the downtown area, the volcano views here are great. There is an on-site restaurant, bird sanctuary, spa, walking trails, restaurant, and more!

Budget-Friendly

Hotel Secreto La Fortuna

Simple rooms, but all rooms are clean and modern. There is a pool for guests to use. 

Hotel Roca Negra Del Arenal

​​Located close enough to the action of downtown but still has a natural peaceful feel to it. Also, all the rooms have a fridge! There is a pool and a hot tub on the property as well. 

If you still have some questions about visiting Arenal Volcano, leave them in the comment section below. We are always happy to help you out!

Also, don’t forget to check out our complete guide to the La Fortuna area. This will answer all your questions on the best restaurants in the area, other fun things to do, other hotel suggestions, and more!

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