Costa Rica is a country of stunning beauty that features rugged mountain peaks, dense cloud forests, sun-soaked beaches and extraordinary natural biodiversity. There’s a lot to see in this little country, but few locations stand out – both literally and figuratively – more than the towering Arenal volcano. It’s one of the most popular destinations in all of Central America, and whether you’re traveling Costa Rica by yourself, as a couple or with your whole family, Arenal deserves to be at the top of your list.
A Slumbering Giant
Rising some 5,437 feet above the pastoral hills and verdant rainforests that spread out from its flanks, Arenal is certainly an imposing sight. The stratovolcano is the youngest and most active of all the volcanoes in Costa Rica, emerging less than 7,500 years ago from the remnants of older volcanoes. Though it has been dormant since its last eruption ceased in 2010, Arenal is still a fiery youth in geologic terms. As recently as a decade ago, it was widely known as one of the ten most active volcanoes in the world. Lava no longer streams from its peak, but Arenal still restlessly belches smoke and gas, indicating that its volcanic slumber is only temporary.
Exploring the Region
Though Arenal itself is the main attraction, the towering peak is located in the middle of a gorgeous and expansive region called the Arenal Volcano National Park.
The Park, in addition to the Arenal Volcano sprawling out from its base, is also home to an extremely rich biodiversity. The lush natural landscapes host a spectacular array of tropical flora and fauna, and as a visitor you get to see and experience it all for yourself. The national park is part of the larger Arenal Tilaran Conservation Area, which protects eight of Costa Rica’s 12 life zones and 16 protected reserves. Nearly 850 species of birds live in the park, including the ever-elusive, brilliantly-colored quetzal, not to mention coati, jaguars, monkeys, sloths and more. There are plenty of opportunities for exploration scattered throughout its nearly 30,000 acres, with hot springs, waterfalls, abundant wildlife, dense vegetation and even a second volcano named Chato. Cerro Chato has long been dormant, but its rugged terrain and green, lagoon-filled crater nonetheless make for a sight worth seeing.
The weather is best during the dry season, which runs from December through April. Most days are sunny and clear with temperatures typically ranging from about 82 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. If you don’t mind the precipitation, the rainy season is a great time to visit Arenal as well. Running from May through November, the rainy season offers slightly milder weather and thinner crowds.
The cone-shaped peak of Arenal is nestled into the spectacular terrain of Costa Rica’s Northern Lowlands. Located in the province of Alajuela, about 56 miles northwest of San José, Arenal is technically part of the Guanacaste Range. You can reach Arenal in several ways. The most popular is simply renting a vehicle in the capital of San José and driving the Pan-American Highway, which typically takes a little over three hours. Shuttle services and public bus transportation are also available, though these methods of travel may add a couple of hours to your journey. Finally, depending on your departure location, you may also be able to fly directly into the airport at nearby La Fortuna.
Things to Do
If you’re visiting the Arenal region, a trip to view the volcano itself is surely at the top of your to-do list. Though the peak can be seen from all over the region, your best chance at a spectacular view is to visit an observatory or lodge near the mountain and wake early to watch the sun rise over the area. Arenal volcano tours are especially popular with adventurous couples and solo travelers, though some also cater to families and people with more limited physical abilities. In addition to organized Arenal volcano tours, a tremendous number of public hiking trails are scattered throughout the area.
An attraction that’s particularly popular with families and retirees is fishing on Lake Arenal. The lake is home to many varieties of freshwater fish, but the most prized species is the large and feisty rainbow bass. More daring travelers will also find fantastic windsurfing and kite surfing conditions on the lake, especially from December to April. Spelunking at the Venado Caves is sure to be a unique and memorable experience, while the Cano Negro National Wildlife Refuge is an unforgettable attraction for nature lovers of all ages. Other outdoor recreational opportunities include biking, horseback riding, rafting, zip lining and much more.
Where to Stay
Along with its extraordinary diversity of wildlife, terrain and recreational opportunities, the Arenal area also features a diverse assortment of places to stay during your travels. The Arenal volcano hotels include some of the best hotels in all of Costa Rica. Hotel Arenal Manoa, Arenal Observatory Lodge and Arenal Springs Resort and Spa all provide breathtaking views and rustic, peaceful surroundings. The observatory also offers great opportunities to learn about the history and geology of the volcano. The Springs Resort is a go-to choice for family vacations, featuring on-site hot springs, an animal rescue center, an outdoor recreation center and other facilities that cater specifically to children and families.
Couples looking for a memorable getaway will find plenty of options as well. The gorgeous views, intimate rooms and luxurious amenities at the Lost Iguana Resort & Spa are always a hit with romantic partners. Arenal Kioro Suites & Spa surpasses expectations as well, featuring tranquil surroundings, upscale amenities and on-site hot springs where you can enjoy your most cherished company. If you’re in search of all-inclusive Arenal volcano hotels, look no further than the Tabacon Thermal Resort & Spa. This stunning five-star resort offers everything you need for the quintessential Costa Rican experience. Gigantic suites, relaxing pools, natural hot springs and meticulously manicured natural surroundings combine to create an experience you won’t soon forget.
Costa Rica is one of the most beautiful and naturally diverse places on Earth. There’s a great deal to see and do, but Arenal volcano is undoubtedly one of the country’s greatest highlights. Its unique geography makes it a paradise for people of all ages and walks of life, from solo travelers and love-struck couples to bustling families and retirees in search of the perfect place to unwind. There are hotels and activities to cater to all budgets and interests, and the temperate tropical climate means there’s never a bad time to visit. Just make sure you leave enough time to explore all that the Arenal area has to offer – you won’t regret it!
If you are interested in more information about Costa Rica Volcanoes, we recommend reading the following articles:
Active Volcanoes in Costa Rica
Costa Rica Volcanoes – How many are there?
Rincon de la Vieja Volcano