Updated: Feb 3, 2020
The fearsome, magnificent Arenal is Costa Rica’s most active volcano and arguably the most famous. Standing 5,357-foot (1,633-meters) high, this serene seeming peak is actually not only one of the most active Costa Rican volcano, but also one of the most active in the world, ranking in the top 10. Its last eruption was in 2010 and its largest in modern times spread about 10 square miles (16 kilometers) outward. Arenal shares its national park area with the smaller and inactive Chato Volcano, a second peak which can be seen standing at a still impressive 3,740-foot (1,140-meter).
Arenal Volcano National Park is an area of nearly 30,000 acres located within the even larger Arenal Conservation Area, a 500,000+ acre reserve which protects a unique and expansive zone of geological and biological variety and complexity. Admission to the park costs $15 for adults and $5 for children, and there are a variety of hiking trails to choose from where you can reach some of the old lava flow areas and view wildlife along the way. Guided tours are also available, and a good half day should be allotted to ensure sufficient time to hike and observe. Parking is free and friendly attendants will direct you in your car. Bathrooms are available near the entrance and trails are clearly marked, plus maps are given out when you arrive. Close toed shoes like sneakers are definitely required.
Weather was bad and our time was limited when we visited Arenal Volcano National Park, so while we stopped by the official national park, we opted instead to visit Arenal 1968, a private trail named for the largest eruption of modern times which offers guided tours and a path which leads over portions of that historic eruption. We took the short trail to the scenic viewing point (I believe it was about $5 rather than the full price of the trail, which was more like $15-20), and we enjoyed lunch and drinks at the 1968 café at the viewing point site, where we could hide from the rain when it came and enjoy the volcano view when it let up.
For Photos: The volcano is very often cloudy, so sunrise is generally the best time to get a good image, and images can be taken from a wide variety of different points around the volcano, some at official, designated spots in national parks but many just along the side of the road looked just as incredible. We took ours from the scenic viewpoint of Arenal 1968. It was a rainy, cloudy day and we did not arrive early, but the clouds did provide some cover from the harshness of the sun and they do move very quickly, so if you wait you may end up with a brief point at which the volcano is partially or even entirely cloudless. Don’t wait to take the shot because the clouds will certainly come right back! The viewing point at Arenal 1968 made a great area to take our time and wait for the clouds and rain to break and allow us to get a good image.
Arenal Volcano National Park
-Hikes ranging from the easy 10 minute walk (less than ½ mile/1 km) to the scenic viewpoint to 1 mile (2km) hikes over varied terrain to longer 2+ mile (3+ km) hikes, some over difficult or rugged areas
-Hikes can be taken from the official national park or on nearby private trails (such as Arenal 1968)
-Hike the well-marked trails by yourself or opt for a guided tour
-$15 entrance fee/$5 for children (Fees vary but are similar for private trails)