Arenal Volcano National Park


Location: 10 miles (16 km) W of La Fortuna, 85 miles (137km) NW of San Jose
Size: 29,692 acres (12,016 ha).
Hours: Daily 8 a. m. to 10 p. m.

Arenal is one of the world's most active volcanoes, thundering and blowing since 1968. Signs along the dirt road caution visitors to view tie fiery colossus from a safe distance. Climbing to the crater would be hazardous to your health; in fact, it could be fatal. Respect the warning signs.

The volcano, located in the Tilaran Mountains, dominates the landscape of this park and of the region. After a 400-year dormancy, Arenal devastated more than 4 square miles (10 sq km) in the last three days of July 1968. It has been continuously active ever since. The flow comes from a horse shoe shaped crater open to the northwest, west, and southwest. Eruptions send clouds of ash and fiery materials into the sky. Lava flows, visible with binoculars in daytime, are spectacular at night. Actually, the volcano has four craters, three new ones created on the west flank when it blew on July 29, 1968, at 7:30 a.m. Eighty-seven people from the villages of Tabacon and Pueblo Nuevo died; two days later, eight rescue workers died from a cloud of hot gases.

Las Colaclas Trail, which begins at the first park station from the highway, goes to a lava bed from a 1993 flow. Allow about 90 minutes for the 1.7-mile (2.8-km), mostly level trail. Los Tucanes Trail, named for the five species of toucans here, crosses the lava flow and continues into forest from this same entrance (allow about three hours) though you can enter it farther down the road. Howler and white-face monkeys also roam these parts. Heliconias Trail, which can be walked in 30 minutes, shows visitors some of the vegetation that has returned since the big eruption. It crosses Las Coladas Trail, for those who wish to continue to the lava flow.

Though Arenal Volcano is the most popular attraction, the park also includes habitat along Lake Arenal's shores and protects important watershed for Lake Arenal, whose waters feed the country's largest hydroelectric project and an irrigation project that encompasses some 172,970 acres (70,000 ha) in Guanacaste. Take Sendero Los Miradores Trail near the park's main entrance; less than a mile long (1.2 km), it leads to a lookout point for the lake, volcano, and dam.

Temperatures here are between 55'F and 64'F (12.6'C and 17.5'C); average annual rainfall, 138 to 197 inches (3,500 to 5,000 mm). Maximum elevation in the park is 5,538 feet (1,633 in).

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Though Arenal became a national park only in 1994, it had previously been in a protected zone. It is part of the Arenal Conservation Area. The park station has rest rooms, a parking area, and water. By the time you arrive, a visitor center should be open with a cafeteria, gift shop, small auditorium, and exhibits on the area's volcanology, biodiversity, history, energy potential, and cultural archaeology.

Getting There

By bus: San Carlos/Arenal/Turrialba bus passes about I mile (2 km) from the main park entrance. Get off at the road at the east end of the dam.
By car: From Pacific beach areas, take the Inter-American to canas go northeast to Tilaran and Nuevo Arenal. From San Jose, come either via San Ramon or Ciudad Quesada to La Fortuna and head west toward Tilaran. Road to entrance is at the east end of the dam. Other: Area hotels and tour agencies offer trips to the park, many with the option for nighttime viewing. Day trips from San Jose.

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