Arenal Volcano National Park is the second most visited national park in Costa Rica and a favorite destination of many visitors. The Arenal area consists of the volcano, the most well known landmark and the youngest and most active volcano in Costa Rica as well as the lake and La Fortuna town.
Visitors love the Arenal area for the clean and cool environment, the numerous attractions, the fun activities and hot springs. Containing an enormous amount of biodiversity, this national park is an important symbol of the abundant and thriving nature in the country.
If you’re planning your fist trip to Costa Rica, Arenal is one of the best locations for first timers. Majority of travelers stop by Arenal at one point of their trip so if you need some tips on visiting this popular area, check out our guide!
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Arenal Volcano National Park Guide
Arenal Volcano is in the northern lowlands of Costa Rica.
Getting to Arenal
- 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 Guanacaste: Take InterAmericana highway passing through Cañas and turn off when you reach Tilarán. Drive all the way around Lake Arenal to reach the national park. This route takes roughly 3 hours.
- Shuttles: There are many shuttle companies that service from San José to La Fortuna. The cost of a one way ticket per person is around $45. Private shuttle are also available but more expensive around $180-200.
- Bus: Public buses cost around $4, 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.
- 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 $170 per person.
Entrance Fee and Hours
The national park entrance fee is $15 for adult foreigners. The park is open daily 8 AM to 4 PM.
The national park is best for hiking and seeing the volcano, there aren’t actually other activities to do in the park besides that. There are several trails for hiking such as the Sendero Colada 1968 and Tucanes trail that take you around the park, through the forest and up to some beautiful viewpoints where you can see the old lava rocks. If you’re lucky, on a clear day you can get a complete view of the volcano.
Outside the national park are a ton of fun activities including hot springs, La Fortuna waterfall, ziplining, white water rafting, canyoning, fishing, horseback riding, ATVs, mountain biking, bird watching, windsurfing and kite surfing.
Some tours combine several activities into one day, such as the Arenal Volcano Tours where you walk the national park, see the waterfall, walk the hanging bridges, visit a local farm and go to the hot springs.
Flora and Fauna
Arenal is an excellent area for bird watching and visitors can see birds such as toucans, mot mots, and parrots. Visitors can also see other wildlife such as sloths, monkeys, wild boars, snakes and frogs.
The number of plant species are just as many from orchids and bromeliads to palms and ferns. The forest is composed of primary and secondary tropical rain forest and one tree can have up to 20 different types of plants living on it!
The Arenal 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 70’s to low 60’s at night.
Dry season (December to 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!
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.
Where to stay
There are a plenty of accommodation options throughout Arenal and La Fortuna. You can find hostels, budget hotels, high end hotels and luxury resorts. There are a few hotels in/near the national park but most places are spread out around the national park and town.
Here are our hotels recommendations.
- Arenal Kioro – Luxury, has spa, private springs and a jacuzzi in each room
- Arenal Observatory Lodge – Closest hotel to the volcano and only one actually in the national park. Rustic lodge on a huge property with lots of trails
- Arenal Palace – Budget, view of volcano, family hotel
- Hotel Las Colinas – Eco friendly 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
- Hotel La Fortuna – 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.
If you’re looking for a luxury stay, check out our list of luxury hotels in Arenal.
Where to eat
You will have to go outside the national park to find food. There are some restaurants spread out throughout Arenal but the best place for more options is to go to La Fortuna town.
There are a few sodas in La Fortuna that we love such as Rainforest cafe (best empanadas ever), Coloso soda and Soda Visquez. For cheap local eats, head to La Parada de bus (the bus stop). You can get the special of the day for 3,000 colones ($6).
Enjoy the Best of Arenal Volcano National Park
Many people who come to Arenal Volcano National Park fall in love and come back for more. Though the national park itself is best for a one time visit, the entire area including the lake and around La Fortuna town is incredible. No wonder why this is such a popular destination in Costa Rica with the beautiful views and so many fun things to do.
More Costa Rica national park guides here!
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