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 in the national park as well as look out points to both the volcano and the lake, making it a great day trip for a leisurely hike in the forest.
If you’re planning your fist trip to Costa Rica, the 29,692-acre Arenal Volcano National Park is one of the best places 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 national park, check out our guide!
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- Entrance Fee and Hours
- Where to stay
- Tips for visiting
Arenal Volcano Facts
There are actually 2 volcanoes in the national park – Arenal and Cerro Chato, the dormant neighboring volcano. Arenal Volcano is still active and used to be Costa Rica’s most active volcano.
In 1968, the Arenal Volcano 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 Arenal 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 Arenal Volcano and it would occasionally spew rocks, making it a great attraction for visitors. Since about 2010, the volcano has been only smoking and spewing gas instead of lava but it is still very active.
Arenal Volcano Location
Arenal Volcano National Park is in the northern lowlands of Costa Rica.
How to Get 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 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. 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
The national park entrance is on main road from La Fortuna to Lake Arenal. 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.
To get to the national park, you have to have a car, unfortunately there isn’t a bus that goes all the way to the park entrance. The road is unpaved to the national park but nothing bad so you do not need a 4×4.
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.
From La Fortuna, the drive to the national park entrance is around 15-20 minutes. There is a big parking lot at the entrance as well as bathrooms. Make sure not to leave any valuables in your car.
Entrance Fee and Hours
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 Activities
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 kilometer and goes through secondary forest and lava fields.
It is illegal to hike up Arenal Volcano but you can hike around it in the national park.
There is a great viewpoint from the lava rocks trail and if you’re lucky, on a clear day you can get a complete view of the volcano.
When you get up to the lava rocks, you can see Lake Arenal on one side and the volcano on the other. Try to stay for at least 15 minutes to see if the volcano clears up. One time we were there, it was completely covered in clouds so we waited half an hour hoping it’d clear up and it did! We got to see the entire volcano, albeit only for 2 minutes before it got cloudy again but it was worth it.
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. Along the Las Coladas trail, there are some gigantic ficus trees that are cool to see and the grass at the beginning of the trail is very cool, it’s so tall!
You can hike Arenal Volcano National Park 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 Arenal Volcano but this tour can be expensive at around $40-50 per person.
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.
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. There are also other private reserves for hiking, such as Arenal 1968.
Some tours combine several activities into one day, such as the Arenal Volcano Tours where you hike 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!
In the national park, it is not common to see much wildlife. You may see birds such as the Keel-billed toucan, Montezuma Oropendolas and tanagers but it is not very common to see mammals like sloths.
Arenal Volcano National Park Weather
Arenal 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!
Where to stay
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 favorite hotels in Arenal Volcano.
- Arenal Kioro – Luxury, has spa, private springs and a jacuzzi in each room
- 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.
You can also check out Airbnb. We used Airbnb once in Arenal and had an awesome experience. Read about our Arenal Airbnb here.
Tips for Visiting Arenal Volcano National Park
- 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’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.
- Definitely use mosquito repellent!
- Don’t go around hugging trees or walking off the trails, one time our guide pointed out a yellow eyelash pit viper that was sleeping in a tree off the trail, not too high above our heads. This is the secondary rain forest and there are snakes, frogs, insects and other animals that you may not want to accidentally touch!
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. It’s no wonder why Arenal 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!