Hiking in Arenal Volcano National Park
By Viator, June 2015
Arenal National Park lies within the 790 square-mile Arenal Tilaran Conservation Area and is home to Arenal Volcano, the most active volcano in the country. The park is also known for its incredibly diverse wildlife. Most of Costa Rica’s 850 identified bird species can be spotted within the park’s borders, including the endangered and elusive quetzal.
Hiking in Arenal National Park will get you the closest (legal) view of Arenal volcano. Hiking is only permitted on marked trails and due to safety concerns (this is an active volcano, after all), it is forbidden to hike near the crater at the top of Arenal volcano. The volcano is unpredictable and there is a strong possibility of death if you venture into restricted zones.
The park offers four marked hiking trails that take you over old lava flows and through secondary rainforest and savanna. Though most of the hiking in the park is fairly easy, you need to take care when crossing the old lava flows, which consist of enormous rocks and should be climbed with caution.
The park’s main lookout, which offers spectacular views of the volcano, Arenal Lake and the 1968 and 1992 lava flows, can be reached via a .93-mile walk from the Heliconias Trail (.62 miles), which begins at the ranger station. The Las Coladas Trail (1.24 miles) is a mostly-flat trail that wraps around the base of Arenal Volcano and offers views of old lava flows from the last major eruption in 1992. The Los Tucanes Trail begins where the Las Coladas Trail ends, continuing on for another 1.86 miles through the rainforest to old lava beds from past eruptions. The Los Miradores Trail begins at park headquarters and leads 1.2 kilometers to Lake Arenal. The closest hiking to the lava flows (and the only one offering hikes on the big lava flows), is the Arenal 1968 trail, which begins near the park entrance.
In addition to these, the Reserva Privada El Silencio, a quarter-mile east of the turnoff for the national park, has a 1.5-mile trail, and you can also hike at the Arenal Observatory Lodge, where a free guided hike is offered daily at 8:30 a.m. The two-mile Lava Trail takes about three hours
Arenal National Park also contains a second volcano called Cerro Chato (Mount Chato), which has been inactive for some 3,500 years. Located 1.86 miles southeast of Arenal Volcano, there are two hiking trails, accessed near the La Fortuna Waterfall, that lead to Cerro Chato for a fee of $10. These trails are not easy and should only be attempted by hikers in good physical condition. The reward at the end of the trail includes an emerald green lagoon surrounded by dense forest in the volcano’s collapsed crater.
As far as weather goes, in Arenal conditions can be quite erratic, with clouds sweeping in to obscure your view at any moment, particularly during the wet season. The worse time for hiking is in December/January. The morning is the best time to begin if you want clear skies.
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