Arenal Volcano National Park is the second most visited national park in Costa Rica and a favorite destination of many visitors. There are several hiking trails and view points in the national park, making it a great day trip for a leisurely hike at the foot of a volcano.
The 29,692-acre park is one of the best national parks for first timers and one of the must do things in Costa Rica. Majority of travelers stop by this area at one point of their trip so if you need some tips on visiting this popular place, check out our guide!
This post has been updated March 2018.
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- Entrance Fee and Hours
- Where to stay
- Tips for visiting
Arenal Volcano Facts
There are 2 volcanoes in this national park – Arenal and Cerro Chato. Arenal used to be Costa Rica’s most active volcano whereas Cerro Chato is completely dormant.
In 1968, the eruption destroyed the towns of Tabacon and Pueblo Nuevo as 3 separate craters erupted. It was one of the worst natural catastrophes in Costa Rica and the locals remember it to this day. The remaining lava rocks from that eruption can be seen from the trails in the park.
Before 2010, lava could be seen streaming down the sides of the volcano and it would occasionally spew rocks, making it a great attraction for visitors. Since 2010, the volcano has been only smoking and spewing gas but it is still very active though lava has stopped coming out. But still to this day, people from all over the world come to Arenal, Costa Rica to see this impressive volcano.
Arenal Volcano National Park is in the northern lowlands of Costa Rica. The main town near the park is La Fortuna which is the main tourism hub where all the tour companies, restaurants, hostels and other businesses are.
Map of Arenal Costa Rica:
How to Get to La Fortuna
- From San José: The shortest way from SJO is through Inter-Americana highway passing through San Ramon and La Tigra. This route takes about 3 and a half hours.
- From Liberia: Take InterAmericana highway south, turning left to Cañas and pass through Tilarán. Drive all the way around Lake Arenal to reach the national park, turn right This route takes roughly 3 hours.
- You do not need a 4×4 for this route, all the roads are completely paved. It does get quite curvy and windy however so make sure to take anti-nausea medicine if you easily get car sick.
- Shuttles: There are many shuttle companies that service from San José/Liberia to La Fortuna. The cost of a one way ticket per person is around $54. Private shuttles are also available but more expensive around $180-200.
- Bus: Public buses cost around $5, takes about 4-5 hours and leave 3 times a day: 615 AM, 840 AM and 1130AM from San Jose.
- From Liberia, you need to first take a bus to Canas, then Tilaran and then to La Fortuna. I suggest taking the 10 AM bus from Liberia to Canas, there are tons of buses about every half hour from Canas to Tilaran and then take the 12:30 PM bus to Fortuna. Tilaran to Fortuna runs at 7 AM, 12:30 PM and 3:30 PM and costs 2,690 colones.
- Flights: La Fortuna has its own airport. Domestic flights are available via Nature Air and Sansa and cost around $150 one way depending on where you are coming from.
- Taxi: If you are coming from Monteverde, there are companies that have taxi/water taxi services between Monteverde and Arenal. This takes around 3 hours and costs around $25 per person.
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Arenal Volcano National Park Directions from La Fortuna
The national park entrance is on main road from La Fortuna, the biggest town and main tourism hub in the area to Tilaran. The entrance will be on your left hand side coming from Fortuna and it turns into an unpaved road. There are plenty of signs so you can’t miss it. Drive about 10 minutes on this road and you will see the parking lot and entrance on your left hand side. You don’t need a 4×4.
Unfortunately there isn’t a bus that goes all the way to the park entrance, the closest the bus can take you is at the intersection off the main road and then you will need to walk or hitch a ride the rest of the way.
If you don’t have a car, you can take a taxi or book a tour to the park with a tour company that includes transportation. You can see if your hotel can call a taxi for you and last time I checked, a taxi ride from La Fortuna to the national park costs around $20 one way.
Entrance Fee and Hours
The Arenal Volcano National Park entrance fee is $15 for adult foreigners. The park is open daily 8 AM to 4 PM.
Arenal Volcano National Park Hiking Trails
The national park is best for hiking and seeing the volcano, there aren’t actually other activities to do in the park besides that but the trails are very nicely maintained and great for walking. The trails, Sendero Colada 1968 and Tucanes are relatively short at 3.4 and 2 kilometers, going through secondary forest and lava fields.
Follow the Coladas de Lava (Lava flow) trail and you will walk out of the forest and through some lava fields. You will come to a clearing of lava rocks where you will get a spectacular view of the volcano. If it’s a clear day, you can see it in all its glory!
Tip: If the volcano is covered in clouds, wait at least 15-20 minutes. Right before this photo was taken, the volcano was nowhere to be seen so we waited for 30 minutes and the clouds went away for a few minutes, allowing us to see Volcan Arenal.
At the lava rocks, you can see Arenal Volcano on one side and Lake Arenal on the other. If it’s a sunny day, you can see all of the rolling hills surrounding the lake and it is simply breathtaking.
You don’t need to be in super great shape to hike the national park as the trails aren’t very long or steep. There is a short section up to the lava rocks where it is a little steep and you need to be careful walking around the rocks so if you have bad ankles/knees or have a lot of trouble walking on rocks or on uneven surfaces, we don’t recommend it.
The rest of the hiking trails are fairly flat through the forest and tall grass.
There is also a short trail to a large Ceiba tree, Sendero El Ceibo. This tree is huge!
You can easily spend a couple of hours walking through the park and enjoying the scenery. The best time to go is as soon as it opens in the morning so you have more chances to see birds and not run into as many people.
Self Guided or Guided Hike
You can hike on your own or you can book a tour with a tour company that includes transportation and a guide. It’s nice to go with a guide who can explain more about the volcano, the eruptions and landscapes so you can appreciate the importance of the volcano. A guided tour costs around $65-70 per person.
There are no guides at the ranger station to hire so if you want a guide, you will need to find one beforehand. If you have a car and want to hire a guide (not book a full tour), you can hire a guide from any of the tour companies in La Fortuna. They will ride with you in your car and costs around $40-50 for the day.
Word of caution: It is illegal to hike up Arenal . If anyone offers you a tour up the volcano, they are illegal tour operators offering an illegal tour. There have been situations where tourists have gone with a non-certified guide, got injured on the way because there are no trails and had to be airlifted to a hospital. Other times tourists got lost on the hike, had to spend the night on the volcano (where there are snakes and jungle cats) and had to be rescued. Please do not take up any offer to go up the volcano. It is also still extremely active so it is very dangerous.
Other Arenal Volcano National Park activities
Outside the national park are a ton of fun activities including hot springs, La Fortuna waterfall, ziplining, white water rafting, canyoning, hanging bridges and horseback riding. There are also other private reserves for hiking, such as Arenal 1968 which is next to the park. This reserve also has great hiking and viewpoints of the volcano and is open until 6 PM.
Though the La Fortuna and Arenal area is a great place for wildlife, the national park isn’t the best. There is not as much wildlife due to the forests of the side the volcano erupted on being destroyed but you can see some birds like toucans, parrots and oropendolas.
You will need to go to the primary rainforests around La Fortuna and near the lake to see more wildlife.
Arenal Volcano National Park Weather
This area experiences typical tropical weather with a consistent rainy and dry season pattern. The weather can be quite unpredictable in rainy season with sunny mornings and rainy afternoons. Temperatures are usually in the high 80’s to low 60’s at night.
When it comes to seeing the volcano clearly, it’s a bit of luck. Dry season doesn’t bring as much clouds but even if it looks completely cloudy, keep an eye out. When we visited last July, it rained almost 3 days straight but we got a few minutes of the volcano 100% clear! Early mornings are the best times to see the volcano completely clear, around 6 AM.
Dry season (December through end of April) can reach up to the 90’s Fahrenheit, especially if you are staying down in the La Fortuna town area. The Nuevo Arenal area (around Arenal Lake) is cooler and can get quite chilly during rainy season which is from May to November.
We usually visit in July and it always rains when we’re there but we still get some moments of sun. We have also visited during November where it poured down rain all day long so pack properly for rainy season if you come during those months!
There are a plenty of hotels in Arenal and La Fortuna, you can find hostels, budget hotels, high end hotels and luxury resorts. Arenal Observatory Lodge is the closest hotel to the volcano and only one actually in the national park. It’s a rustic lodge on a huge property with lots of trails.
Here are our other hotel recommendations.
- Arenal Kioro – Luxury hotel with a spa, private springs and a jacuzzi in each room.
- Hotel Las Colinas – Eco friendly budget to mid range hotel in La Fortuna.
- Baldi Hot Springs Hotel and Spa – Went to their hot springs which was so much fun. They have water slides and excellent food.
- Hotel Magic Mountain – we stayed here once and loved it. Great breakfast, great pool area and comfortable rooms. A standard mid to high range hotel.
- Hotel La Fortuna – Budget friendly hotel in the middle of town, stayed here one night. Good breakfast, convenient location.
- Arenal Backpackers Resort – One of the best hostels in La Fortuna. Big pool, tents and shared dorms and on-site restaurant. Not right in town, but close.
- Selina La Fortuna: Fun hostel in La Fortuna town.
- Hotel Montana de Fuego: Close to the national park entrance and has a great view of the volcano. Has their own hot springs, spa, hiking trails, tubing, horseback riding tour and cultural tour on property.
- Nayara Hotel: Gorgeous hotel with nice pools, spa and lots of wildlife on the property. Stay at the adult only Nayara Springs for a romantic getaway.
- Princesa de la Luna Lodge: If you want something more rustic, check out this eco-lodge that has its own hiking trails, river and mud baths.
If you’re looking for a luxury stay, check out our list of luxury hotels in Arenal.
You can also check out Airbnb. We used Airbnb once and had an awesome experience. Read about our Arenal Airbnb here.
Tips for Visiting
- Hiking: You don’t need to wear hiking boots or shoes. You can wear running shoes, trainers or hiking sandals as the trails are well laid out. It might get a little muddy during rainy season but we wore hiking sandals in July when it rained and we were fine. If you have a bit of trouble walking or need more support, we do recommend closed toed shoes because there is a short section where you need to walk around lava rocks.
- If you’re visiting in rainy season, I highly recommend bringing a rain jacket and waterproof backpack. Like I mentioned earlier, it poured rain when we visited the national park in July.
- We highly recommend visiting the national park with a guide but if you’re on a budget or would rather do it yourself, that’s perfectly fine too. You can get a map at the entrance and signage is very clear so you can’t get lost.
- Don’t walk off the trails or touch the trees/bushes. There can be snakes or frogs living there!
More Costa Rica national park guides here!
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