Arenal Volcano National Park is famous for its almost continuous lava flows, volcanic landscapes, bellowing ‘pyroclastic’ plumes of ash, rock and gases, and wonderful cloud forest scenery. It is Costa Rica’s most active volcano and when the skies are clear, provides the opportunity for some memorable photographs of the volcano glowing at night. There are also a number of hot water thermal springs in the park where you can sit and relax your muscles after a long days hike.
Arenal’s Explosive Past and Present
At 1670m, Arenal almost perfect cone towers above the eastern shores of Lake Arenal. Geologists estimate that eruptions at Arenal began taking place 7000 years ago. Arenal's most recent eruptive period began with a devastating explosion in 1968. This was a particularly potent eruption as there were no seismic instruments stationed in the area and therefore no warning. Since this event, there has been continuous activity which involves slow lava flows and pyroclastic eruptions from vents at the summit.
Visiting the Arenal Volcano & Cloud Forests
The Arenal area is one of the most varied in Costa Rica, with some stunning scenery and diverse cloud forest, fauna and flora. There is an excellent networks of trails throughout the park enabling some wonderful hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding – all set to the impressive backdrop of the looming Arenal volcano.
Some of the hiking involves navigating across undulating lava fields above the current tree line. Another method of transportation is horse back riding – a method we often employ to take you to the 200 feet La Fortuna waterfall. But perhaps the best way to experience the wildlife and scenery of Arenal is the hanging bridges and canopy walks. From these vantage points you can be within or just above the forest canopy where the park’s many birds dwell and are at their most active. There are some excellent points too from which to view the cone of the volcano through lush green vegetation. For a more adrenaline fuelled take on the forest here, you can also experience flying through the rainforest on a ‘flying fox’ zip line, of which Arenal has one of the longest and most exhilarating in the country.
Please note that due to the explosive nature of the volcano, visitors are only allowed to climb so far up the sides of the volcano. A barbed wire fence has been set up by the national park authority to mark the recommended safe limit.
Wildlife & Birdlife
Arenal National Park is a bird watching paradise, not only for its resident hummingbirds, trogons and more, but for thousands of migrating birds which pass through the area to and from North and South America. Some of the species you might be able to see here include the Yellow-throated Euphonia, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Summer Tanager (Piranga rubra) and Passerini´s Tanager.
For more information about the volcanology of Arenal visit the Smithsonian Institute’s Global Volcanism Program website.