One of Costa Rica's most notable natural features is the Arenal Volcano. This impressive volcano resides within the 29,960-acre Arenal Volcano National Park. Although the volcano entered into a resting phase in 2010 – meaning that its eruptions have paused – it is still a stunning sight. Rising above the rainforest that surrounds its base, Arenal frames the skyline with near perfect symmetry. The immediate area hosts a wealth of activities – including whitewater rafting, waterfall rappelling, hiking and canopy tours – as well as the friendly town of La Fortuna.
Made up mostly of primary rainforest, The Arenal Volcano National Park encompasses four different life zones and harbors a tremendous amount of flora and fauna. In fact, nearly 75% of the total 850 species of birds that have been identified in Costa Rica can be found here. Other creatures include sloths, white-faced capuchin monkeys, coati, deer and snakes, including the infamous fer-de-lance, parrot snake and boa constrictor. The plants are just as varied and include guayabo de monte, laurel, cirri, palms, orchids, heliconias, ferns and bromeliads. Arenal’s smaller – and much older – sibling, the Chato Volcano (Volcán Chato), adjoins Arenal. This volcano, which resides at a height of 3,740 ft (1,140 m), has been inactive for some 3,500 years and has a crater that’s filled with aqua-blue water. The park has several walking trails and is open from 8 AM to 6 PM. The entrance fee is $6.
The quiet town of La Fortuna is 4 miles (6.4 km) from the Arenal Volcano. It’s 16 miles (26 km) from Ciudad Quesada and 75 miles (120 km) from San José. If you’re driving from San José, it’ll take around 3 hours to get here. The town itself is small, central and warm. Its location provides visitors with easy access to the Arenal area and its amenities make staying here pleasant. There are hotels both within and outside of the town, many of which stipple the countryside at the base of the volcano. La Fortuna hosts good places to eat and buy groceries, and has an assortment of banks, shops and bars.
The activities within this area are endless. Horseback rides can be made through the nearby hills and whitewater rafting can be done on the Peñas Blancas, Toro and Balsa rivers. Each river is different in both intensity and scenery – participants can choose between leisurely safari floats or exciting class IV rapids. A variety of other water sports can be enjoyed on Lake Arenal, including canoeing, fishing and kite surfing. Inland diversions include hiking and waterfall repelling, as well as canopy and hanging bridge tours. The La Fortuna Waterfall, a breathtaking 230 ft (70 m) cascade that drops into a misty pool, is just 3 miles (5 km) south of La Fortuna and makes for an easy day trip. A short hike (or horseback ride) drops visitors into the base of the pool, where they can swim, take photos and enjoy the scenery.
The volcano’s geothermal activity heats dozens of underground water flumes. Local landowners, tapping into this natural source, have created a number of beautiful hot springs. These springs are varied and indulgent (some have waterslides, wet bars and cold pools) and offer visitors a perfect way to end a day in Arenal.
Botanists, whether professional or amateur, should head to the Arenal Botanical Gardens, which are located a few miles outside of town. Here you’ll find some 2,500 species of tropical plants. Many are rare, including several types of bromeliads, orchids, ferns and roses. Butterflies and birds flit through the gardens, pausing to perch in a tree or rest on a flower.
Although somewhat close to the Arenal, the Venado Caves feel like an entirely different planet. Located just 1.9 miles (3 km) outside the town of Venado and a 45-minute drive from La Fortuna, the caves are a spelunking and adventure-seeker’s dream. The 1.5-miles of caves feature stalagmites, stalactites and subterranean streams. As you explore the caves, you may see bats hanging from the ceiling, sightless fish swimming in the streams, and colorless frogs clinging to the rocks.
Nature buffs will enjoy a day trip to the Caño Negro National Wildlife Refuge, which is set near the border with Nicaragua. Exploring this vast network of wetlands and the huge Caño Negro Lake provides ample opportunities to spot bids and other tropical creatures.
Yes, there is something for everyone here. The quaint town, beautiful surroundings and ample activities make Arenal one of the cornerstone destinations of Costa Rica.
"Nice to have a walk around in La Fortuna and got a feel for how real people live."
– Mar 2016
"I loved the little town and the town square"
– Mar 2016
"Unfortunately it rained the whole time in La Fortuna, but that did not make our experience any less enjoyable. We stayed at Arenal Hostel Resort, which was a good deal for the dorm we stayed in. They have a heated pool and swim up bar, which was a great treat. We went horseback riding to the waterfall, and white water rafting, which were perfect activities for the rain. Our guides for horseback riding were wonderful, we booked the tour through our hostel so I'm unsure of the company name, but the stable was just down the street from the hostel. White water rafting was easily the most fun thing I did the entire trip. We also booked this through our hostel and the company was wonderful."
– Feb 2016
"We enjoyed the Sky Trek/Tram adventure, as well as the Balsa River Rafting. We loved our resort, Los Lagos. We enjoyed going into La Fortuna one night for dinner, and felt very safe there. Arenal is a wonderful location, with many different things to do for people with various interests. "
– Mar 2016
"Highly recommend the Eco Termales hot springs and the hanging bridges. Also visiting the town of La Fortuna and having dinner at a local Soda."
– Jan 2016
These suggested travel routes combine logistically compatible places and match common traveler interests.