Although visitors once flocked to Arenal Volcano for its impressive lava shows, the 5,437-foot (1,657-meter) volcano has stayed quiet since its last eruption in 2010. However, Arenal and the surrounding Arenal Volcano National Park remain a hot spot for visitors to Costa Rica, and is especially popular among those seeking hiking trails, swimming holes, hot springs, bird- and wildlife-watching, and sweeping views of the tropical rain forest.
If your ideal vacation involves hiking or hot springs, Arenal is sure to please. Take a guided hike through the lush rain forest to learn about native wildlife, wade beneath Arenal Waterfall, or soak in Baldi Hot Springs. Although much of the park is open to the public, some portions of the volcano are accessible only as part of a guided tour. And even though the volcano itself is large, hiking is limited to the basal portions for safety reasons, as the volcano still sputters and spews on occasion. The park and surrounding areas are rich in lava-less activities: Combo tours help you make the most of your visit to the Arenal area, pairing a trip to the volcano with nearby attractions such as La Fortuna Hot Springs, Venado Caves, Lake Arenal, and the Peñas Blancas River for activities including zipline and hanging bridge canopy tours, waterfalls and hot springs visits, horseback riding, rappelling, safari floats, and whitewater rafting.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Arenal Volcano tours from San Jose can last upward of 12 hours.
- Many tours include hotel pickup and dropoff from the La Fortuna area.
- Wear comfortable walking shoes suitable for uneven ground.
- Although the volcano’s summit is closed for safety reasons, there are plenty of hiking trails closer to the base.
How to Get There
Many guided tours depart from La Fortuna, the closest city to Arenal Volcano National Park—about 30 minutes away by car. Day tours from larger cities such as San Jose, Liberia, and Monteverde are best accomplished with a private car, taxi, or professional shuttle service, which keep travel times down to roughly three hours from each. Those looking for more budget-friendly options can take the public bus, but be prepared for a long trip; save travel time by checking for direct routes when possible.
When to Get There
The dry season (March to December) is generally considered the best time to view and explore Arenal; however, that is also Costa Rica’s high tourist season, so expect crowds and higher prices. Travel during the rainy season is better for budget travelers or those seeking a quieter experience.
Arenal Volcano Eruption History
After nearly 400 dormant years, Arenal Volcano exploded in 1968, burying three villages and wreaking destruction in the area. This eruption ushered in Arenal’s active period, which produced near-constant ash, smoke, and streams of molten lava until its abrupt stop in 2010. The volcano is now considered resting.