Arenal Volcano Costa Rica
Driving to La Fortuna, a cinder-gray mountain looms ahead, its somber slopes making an ominous statement in the surrounding landscape of verdant green. If there was ever an obvious volcano, this is it; Arenal Volcano. Its conical ashen slopes are undeniably volcanic and the mountain rumbles and belches smoke on a daily basis. No, Arenal volcano is not one of the dormant ones. The peak of highly active Arenal often glows red from slow-moving lava although you need a lucky, clear night to witness this display.
Location and how to get there
Arenal Volcano National Park is located in the northern Caribbean lowlands of Costa Rica just north of the Monteverde Reserve. It is a three hour drive from San Jose or a three to four hour drive from Liberia. From San Jose, follow the highway past the airport and take the exit to San Carlos. Once you cross the mountains and reach San Carlos (Ciudad Quesada), follow the signs to La Fortuna and the national park.
Despite the naturally deforested slopes of the volcano, the rest of the national park is composed of foothill and lowland Caribbean slope rainforest. The high annual rainfall of this forest type ensures a high degree of biodiversity; around 400 species of birds, dozens of reptiles and amphibians, a wide variety of mammals and countless arthropods and plant species. Arenal National Park’s connection to other protected areas such as the cloud forests of Monteverde helps maintain populations of rare animals such as Jaguar, Baird’s Tapir, Bare-necked Umbrellabird and others. The Arenal area is especially good for birding with parrots, toucans, tanagers and other rainforest birds quite common.
Watching a mountain might sound easy but seeing a volcano erupt requires a combination of patience and luck. Patience at Arenal Volcano National Park can be aided by staying at one of many comfortable hotels with a view of the volcano. You can increase your chances of seeing seismic sparks fly by planning your trip for the dry season. Although the volcano is active just about every day, so is the rainforest weather system. This means lots of clouds; clouds that obscure the top of the volcano and your view of the action. Plan your trip from February to April for the best views of the volcano’s eruptions. If you don’t want to watch from your hotel, there are signed viewing points in the national park.
Arenal Hanging Bridges
All that rain makes rainforest grow pretty tall. The height of the canopy and dense vegetation makes it very difficult to see the animals and birds that frequent this upper level of the forest. Close to Arenal National Park is one of the best trails in Costa Rica and a great place to experience the canopy; the Arenal Hanging Bridges. Easy, well-maintained trails march through beautiful forest with long, metal bridges offering views into the tree-tops. Ask staff about locations of sloths, snakes and other rainforest wildlife. The Hanging Bridges are found past Tabacon on the right.
Arenal Volcano Hotels
Many hotels are located in and around La Fortuna with others in nearby Ciudad Quesada.