Arenal Volcano Tours and Travel Guide
Arenal Volcano Attractions & Landmarks Guide
Costa Rica’s 5,400-foot-high, symmetrically shaped Arenal Volcano – still active and given to frequent eruptions in recent decades – forms the centerpiece of a recreation area that dominates the northern reaches of the country. Whitewater rafting, waterfall viewing, hiking, birding, caving, horseback riding, canyoning and soaking in hot springs are all popular adventure-oriented pursuits in and around the Arenal region.
Arenal is one of Costa Rica’s six major volcanoes. Dormant since 2010, it was the country’s most active volcano for more than 40 years before that – and could erupt again at any time. Tours to Costa Rica very often feature Arenal, but know that due to several accidents that have occured over the years involving tourists, hiking is around the perimeter only.
Volcanic Activity at Arenal
Arenal literally exploded into the news back in 1968 with a violent eruption after lying dormant for some 450 years – destroying three nearby villages and killing more than 80 people. It was the largest eruption in Arenal’s long history.
For much of the next 43 years, it remained Costa Rica’s most active volcano, spewing lava, ash, smoke, and rock in often spectacular fashion. While it has been inactive since 2010, it is definitely not extinct.
While witnessing a volcanic eruption can be memorable, visiting Arenal in its resting phase – and no one knows how long that will be – means you can enjoy more activities there, while still savoring great views.
It is a beauty to behold – with a 5,479-foot-high summit and 7,000 years in the making, Arenal boasts the classic conical shape that a volcano seemingly should have. And it’s only about 55 miles northwest of San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital and largest city.
Beware though! The volcano is often encased in fog, and your chances of glimpsing the lava spewing portion of Arenal can be hit or miss. That said, the Arenal experience is far more than just volcanos. There are several outdoor activities to enjoy and if you limit your vacation to just seeing the volcano you will be missing out.
Adventure Activities Around Arenal Volcano
Come prepared for adventure. Some of the outdoor activities you may encounter on your Arenal Volcano tour include:
1. Rainforest hikes
Arenal Volcano is surrounded by Arenal Volcano National Park - 46 square miles of beautiful rainforest, with ample hiking trails, and the volcano visible from almost everywhere. You can also spot it from the canopy if you choose to do the Arenal Hanging Bridges hike. This is one of the best opportunities to spot Arenal wildlife up close.
2. Rappelling down waterfalls and into canyons
Waterfall rappelling is one of the most exhilarating adventure travel activities, and gaining popularity. In Arenal, you’ll take a hike through the forest to the waterfall, making this a very active day, but extremely rewarding.
3. Rafting or floating on three local rivers, ranging from Class I-2 gentle rapids to Class IV whitewater.
Costa Rica is home to some of the world’s most intense whitewater rafter - another tick in the box of why it is is a classic adventure travel destination. The consistent and heavy wet season rains make for year round steadily flowing rivers - the perfect conditions for whitewater rafting.
Near Arenal, three main rivers lend themselves to distinct rafting levels. So don’t worry if you’re not super into the adrenaline pumping kind of rafting. You can enjoy a leisuring floating experience down the Peñas Blancas River, which travels through the gorgeous Tilarán Mountain Range. This is the perfect rafting trip for wildlife spotting.
The other rivers near Arenal are the Balsa River and Toro River. Balsa will involve class II and III rapids, as well as nice stretches of calm waters. This is the perfect river for beginner whitewater rafters, as well as those more experienced who are looking for a well rounded rafting day.
Toro River is a full on advanced whitewater river, where some previous skill and experience will greatly help your enjoyment level. Mainly class III and class IV rapids, the river eventually empties into the Caribbean Sea, after passing through miles of forest and canyons.
4. Soaking in geothermal hot springs
After all that activity, you’ll want to relax. Luckily, Costa Rica is not only an adventure destination but provides ample opportunities for calming revitalization as well.
The geothermal activity from Arenal Volcano makes this a natural destination for hot springs. Enjoy the intensity of the day fading away as you prepare for another day of incredible activity and discovery tomorrow. There are several hot springs throughout Arenal, some public and some private.
(Tip! Hot springs are also a great activity to plan right before you leave - they get you nice and relaxed before your flight).
5. Horseback riding
Exploring the rainforest on horseback feels like traveling back in time as you experience the environment as early explorers would have. Ride to the beautiful La Fortuna Waterfall, which allows for a full day of canyon exploring, swimming, hiking, and enjoying the idyllic rainforest atmosphere.
Most horseback tours in Arenal cater to all different experience levels. The ride is typically about a half hour through the rainforest.
6. Cave exploration
The Venado Caves are located just forty minutes outside of La Fortuna. Beautiful in their own way, caves are an underground world of eerie wildlife, unique rock and limestone formations from the ground and ceiling, and ancient echoes of wind and water.
Thought to have been formed between 15 and 20 million years ago, these caves were first discovered by indigenous tribes of the area. Bats fly overhead, enormous spiders crawl lazily up the walls, frogs, and other insects make themselves known.
This tour (as is the case with most cave tours) is not recommended for those that get claustrophobic. The water levels fluctuate, but you will most certainly get wet, muddy, and dirty as you crawl through tight spaces. Prepare for an earthy day!
Arenal Volcano National Park
The national park, which borders Lake Arenal and protects the volcano and its surroundings, offers both excellent viewing of Arenal itself as well as good hiking trails through the area’s rainforests. The long-dormant 3,740-foot-high Chato Volcano is also within park boundaries.
Unbelievable scenic views can be found on a drive around the lake’s perimeter. There are many places to stop and enjoy the stunning scenery along the way.
What to Wear for Arenal Volcano
When you visit Arenal Volcano, you will be doing a lot of hiking and walking through sometimes rough terrain.
Close toed shoes are going to be essential for scrambling over lava rocks, or if you’re going horseback riding. You’ll also want long pants for horseback riding.
Many of the activities around Arenal will have you getting wet, so dressing in quick drying synthetic materials is advised. Packing an extra lightweight change of clothes is a good idea, as long as it doesn’t add too much bulk to your day pack.
Tours in Arenal tend to be full day excursions, so make sure you leave in the morning with everything you’ll need (camera, water, sunscreen, layers).
For caving, wear clothing you really don’t care about getting dirty.
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