When it comes to hiking in Arenal, there are several options. Though most people want to hike in the national park, there are other private reserves with trails that are just as nice. One of those private reserves is Arenal 1968, which is right next to the national park and offers impressive views of the Arenal Volcano and lava fields.
We have hiked both Arenal Volcano National Park and Arenal 1968 and though both are great, we prefer the Arenal 1968 reserve. You’ll read in this post why along with tips for visiting.
Arenal 1968 Park
This park got its name from the Arenal Volcano eruption of 1968 which was one of the most important and crucial events in Costa Rica’s history. The eruption destroyed 3 towns and killed several people, but it also changed the topography of the area. The forest on the west side of the volcano was gone as lava took over.
The reserve is one of the best places in the area to observe and witness these lava fields. With two trails going through the rain forest and lava fields, visitors can see the leftover lava rocks and boulders and walk through the forest to get impressive views of Arenal Volcano and the lake.
How to get to Arenal 1968 from La Fortuna:
There is no bus to this reserve. You can get there by taxi or drive if you rented a car. If you don’t have your own transportation, you will need to book a tour as the company will provide transportation. A taxi is more complicated since you will need to get the number of the driver or designate a time for them to pick you up and it will actually come out to be around the same cost as a tour, so we recommend booking a tour who also provides a guide and water.
If you’re driving, here are the directions.
It is on the same road to the Arenal Volcano National Park entrance. From La Fortuna, head east towards Arenal Volcano (Tilaran/Lake Arenal) about 15 kilometers and then turn left where you will see the signs for the national park. About 1.5 kilometers after the turn, turn left again at the Arenal 1968 entrance.
This is what the entrance looks like.
Arenal 1968 Entrance Fee and Hours
The Arenal 1968 entrance fee is $15 for adults, children under 12 are free. This reserve is open every day from 8 AM – 6 PM. This is one of the reasons why we prefer this place to hike near the volcano than the national park as the national park closes at 4 PM.
Arenal 1968 Hiking Trail Map
Here is the map of the hiking trails in the reserve.
The two trails, Lava flow 1968 and Trail Forest 1968 can both be done in one day. Combined, they are a distance of 7 kilometers. If you want to do both, go early in the morning so you will have plenty of time to enjoy the day. Also remember that it gets dark at 6 PM. In rainy season, there is a high possibility it will rain in the afternoon.
The trail tour companies will take you to is the Sendero Colada 1968 or the Trail Lava Flow 1968. The other one, Trail Forest 1968 goes around to the Lake “Los Patos” and through the rain forest. It is a little bit more challenging so I recommend it for those in better physical condition.
Since tour companies usually visit in the afternoon and only have a couple of hours, they go to the Lava Flow Trail instead. This is an excellent hike for families, not too long yet not too short.
Lava Flow 1968 Trail (2.5 kilometers)
The lava flow 1968 trail is extremely interesting for visitors since it’s not often they get to hike through lava! The walk starts off fairly easy, going past open fields but once you enter the rain forest, you will start seeing the trail getting steeper and steeper.
Tip: If you have trouble walking or aren’t in the best physical condition, there are walking sticks at the entrance by the sign free of use. Just make sure to return it so others can use them 🙂
You’ll see large lava rocks along the path and then you will start walking through a large lava field. This part of the hike gets fairly steep so make sure you have water and go slow because you will get sweaty, especially on a hot day!
There is a nice viewpoint along the way of Lake Arenal but head all the way to the top for the best view point of both Arenal Volcano and the lake. If you’re lucky, the volcano won’t be covered by clouds and you’ll have one of the best views of Arenal Volcano in the entire area!
Unfortunately when we visited, it was very cloudy so we only saw about half of the volcano. However, it was still a beautiful viewpoint since you can see the lake and the volcano on both sides.
The hike back is a lot easier as you’re going down. Just make sure to watch where you are walking because there are a lot of loose rocks!
Towards the end of the hike, you’ll start walking through extremely tall grass, making you feel like you’re in Honey I Shrunk the Kids! I love this part of the hike since it’s amazing how tall grass can grow. It’s at least 10 feet high!
One funny thing about this hike is that you’ll come upon an open field where you’ll see what looks like a large weird white rock covered in dirt. It’s actually one of the props left behind when they filmed the movie After Earth with Will Smith!
Hiking Arenal 1968 Without a Guide
We have always gone with a guide to Arenal 1968 for a couple of reasons. We appreciated having a knowledgeable guide so that we learned more about the volcano and forest and point out wildlife. After the eruption in 1968, the topography of Arenal has changed immensely so it is very interesting to learn about it.
It is also very nice to have transportation included in the tour so you don’t need to worry about calling a taxi or spending almost the same amount of money for taxis as a guided tour.
But that being said, you can also perfectly visit Arenal 1968 without a guide and you will be able to hike both trails on your own time, not on a schedule. We saw plenty of people hiking without a guide but you do need your own transportation or like I mentioned earlier – hire a driver for the day or get the number of a taxi driver and coordinate when to get picked up. Renting a car is the best option for going on your own, you will have all the flexibility and freedom.
One more option is if you have a car but want to hire a guide, you can hire a guide from one of the tour companies in La Fortuna for the day.
Arenal 1968 vs Arenal Volcano National Park
The reasons why we recommend Arenal 1968 over Arenal Volcano National Park are:
- Arenal 1968 is open every day until 6 PM. The national park is open only until 4 PM. The national park is $15 which is only $3 more expensive than Arenal 1968.
- The trails are more open in 1968 than in the national park so you get better views and they are more maintained.
But both are great trails so whichever one you choose, it will be a wonderful experience and the views are great!
What to Wear/Bring
Closed toed shoes
Normally I recommend hiking sandals but since you will be walking on rocks a lot, hiking shoes/tennis shoes are the best so your feet are completely protected. I wore my Nike running shoes which worked great, you don’t necessarily need to wear tough hiking shoes or boots.
A rain jacket
A must in rainy season (May – November). Weather in Arenal is fairly unpredictable and it can rain at any time, especially in the late afternoons. Read our rainy season packing list for more tips.
A waterproof backpack
Or a rain cover, especially if you are bringing expensive camera equipment.
Don’t forget your camera! You can bring a telephoto lens but unfortunately, there is not a ton of wildlife in this area since this is secondary forest and lava fields so it’s not absolutely necessary if you don’t want to carry the extra weight. But you may see some birds like Montezuma Oropendolas and Tanagers.
I prefer wearing long pants while hiking, even if it’s hot out since it’s the best way to ward off bugs and gives best protection against branches and sticks. But you can also wear shorts if you want. It’s just my own personal preference.
You don’t really need bug spray for this hike as there aren’t a ton of mosquitoes in the Arenal area.
A hat or visor will be very useful on those sunny days.
Make sure you bring plenty of water as well! There are bathrooms in the parking lot.
Arenal Tours Deal
If you want to do this hike, we have a partnership with Jacamar Naturalist Tours to give 10-15% discounts on tours in Arenal.
Arenal Volcano Hike and Tabacon hot springs video
We did the Arenal 1968 hike as part of a tour combo with the Tabacon hot springs. Highly recommended for a way to experience 2 highlights of the Arenal area.
This is a great day activity from La Fortuna. You can also read about other things to do in La Fortuna and Arenal below!
Arenal combination tour (hanging bridges, La Fortuna waterfall, lunch, volcano hike and hot springs)
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