Travel tales

Costa Rica’s elusive Arenal Volcano

Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica

One of Costa Rica’s most famous sights, how hard can it be to spot a volcano that’s 1600 metres high and has a 140-metre-wide crater when you’re only a few miles away from it? Well, a lot harder than you’d think. A perfect cone-shaped peak – or so I’m told – Volcan Arenal towers over the nearby town of La Fortuna. But local weather conditions mean that the top is often totally covered by clouds, and its not unusual to go your whole visit without ever seeing the summit, as I found out on my trip there.

Volcan Arenal was dormant for hundreds of years until 1968 when a major eruption started off a series of explosions, lava flows and ash clouds which carried on for the next 50 years. For a while it was one of the most active volcanoes in the world, but recently it has become much calmer, though I did still feel a few earth tremors. But the days when you could watch the lava flowing down the side of the volcano practically every night from your hotel room seem to be over for now though (thanks to Justin Jensen on Flickr for the photo above showing what it is actually supposed to look like minus the clouds).

So if you can’t see the volcano, what else is there to do in the area?

Volcan Arenal in Costa Rica

Volcan Arenal (well the bottom half of it at least)

Take the Sky Tram and zip line down

Although the most popular place to go zip lining is in Monteverde Cloud Forest, there’s a site 45 minutes outside La Fortuna where you can give it a go. The Sky Tram gondola takes you up through the rainforest to an observation deck at 1000 metres which overlooks the volcano and Lake Arenal. Then you can choose whether to go back the same way or zip line down along 11 different cables stretching over two miles.

The Sky Tram gondola costs $44 per person or you can get a package with Sky Trek zip lining for $77.

Horse-riding to La Fortuna Waterfall

The 70-metre high La Fortuna Waterfall lies a few miles outside the town, and one of the best ways to get there is by horseback. The trip starts off with an hour-long ride through pasture and forest before you leave your horse. From there you head across a rope bridge and clamber down to the waterfall’s pools, where you can swim (remember to pack a towel as it’s an uncomfortably damp ride back otherwise).

A four-hour horse-riding tour to the La Fortuna Waterfall costs around $60 per person.

Horse riding in Arenal

Horse riding to La Fortuna waterfall

Canyoning and rappelling through waterfalls

If that all sounds a bit sedate, you can get closer to the waterfalls by taking a canyoning and rappelling tour. After a 30-minute 4×4 drive out into the rainforest, you get kitted up with a harness, helmet and gloves and start rappelling and climbing down the first of four waterfalls. This is the tallest at 165m, and afterwards there are three other decents and a trek along the base of the canyon.

Pure Trek Canyoning run a four-hour tour twice a day for $101 per person, including lunch and pick up.

Or just soak in the hot springs

A useful by-product of the area’s volcanic activity is its hot spring waters. There are a few spa complexes in the area around La Fortuna, including the Baldi Hot Springs. Here there are 30 different pools amongst the rainforest where you can you soak in water ranging from a cool 35 to a toasty 65°C. It’s a relaxing place to soak away any aches and pains after horse-riding or canyoning, with a swim up bar if you’re in need of stronger painkilling, and a prime view of that elusive volcano if you get really lucky.

The Baldi Hot Springs are open 10am–10pm, entry costs $34 per person.

Baldi oit Springs, Costa Rica

In the Baldi Hot Springs

Pin it


Previous Post Next Post


  • Reply
    Jennifer Avventura
    October 1, 2012 at 12:32 pm

    Looks like a great time!

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      October 1, 2012 at 12:40 pm

      It was a shame not to get a good view of the volcano but we still managed to have a good time!

      • razmataz55
        October 5, 2012 at 11:17 am

        Great photos and adventure info. Making me thankful that I took the time to see Arenal when I was there two years ago. In fact, my best friend and I hiked there from La Fortuna. The trail passes the waterfall and climbs over Arenal’s dormant older sibling, Cerro Chato. From there we began to climb Arenal but were turned back by block ejections. Still, the view of the tephra and regular pyroclastic flows was spectacular from the observatory. It’s worth noting that this type of eruption – a superheated cloud of gas, ash and rock – is the type Arenal is historically known for, not magmatic eruptions. Although from a distance the two could easily be mistaken, pyroclastic flows move markedly faster.

  • Reply
    Browsing the Atlas
    October 1, 2012 at 2:04 pm

    Thanks for the info. I pinned this because I keep meaning to back to Costa Rica. I missed Arenal the first time, but will be sure to go there next time.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      October 1, 2012 at 2:14 pm

      Hope you have better weather if you do make it out there, would love to see some photos of the top of the volcano!

      • razmataz55
        October 5, 2012 at 11:20 am

        PS, it’s very common for dense clouds to exist almost permanently over the top of an active volcano. Your best bet for a view, in my experience, is before sunrise.

  • Reply
    October 2, 2012 at 2:57 am

    Thanks for sharing; were there two years ago, stayed at Leaves and Lizards and loved it. Almost pooped my pants on the zip line though:)

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      October 2, 2012 at 1:55 pm

      Glad to bring back some good memories – I did the zip lining at Monteverde and loved it but was so nervous before, helped that the clouds hid how high up we were to start with!

  • Reply
    Ship's Cook
    October 2, 2012 at 7:44 am

    The swim up pain killers sound good to me

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      October 2, 2012 at 1:56 pm

      They were definitely a good idea, though we weren’t much use for anything after a few rum punches in a hot spa!

  • Reply
    October 3, 2012 at 8:27 pm

    we were lucky to get a nice view of the volcano while we were there. our hike to see the waterfall wasn’t so fun as it was pouring rain. thanks for sharing your experience…brings back memories…

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      October 4, 2012 at 10:44 am

      You do forget how much rain there is in the rainforest til you get there! Well done for getting a good volcano view, even after three days that was as good as mine got. I’ll just have to go back sometime…

  • Reply
    Jonathan Turcotte
    October 4, 2012 at 1:48 pm

    There are some adrenalin filled activities with Paradise Adventures Costa Rica you may want to consider during your next visit to La Fortuna? Wakeboarding on Lake Arenal at the base of the Volcano is a unique experience from one of the most amazing places on the planet. Please check our website for details an photos of why many visitors are venturing to Fortuna beside the Volcano.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      October 5, 2012 at 1:18 pm

      Thanks for the tip, my sister does a lot of wakeboarding and that sounds like an amazing place to try it!

  • Reply
    October 5, 2012 at 12:44 am

    So sorry to hear you didn’t see the volcano. I was lucky an it was in clear view the whole time I was there – but my camera also broke the whole time I was there and then fixed itself when we left! I loved Tabacon hot springs, and the horse ride was awesome too – if a little scary!

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      October 5, 2012 at 1:20 pm

      Can’t be lucky with the weather the whole time I suppose, but would’ve been nice to see it! I really liked the horse riding but my friend had never really ridden before and was a bit nervous, and the guide making her horse canter across some roungh ground probably didn’t help much!

  • Reply
    Lucy Dodsworth
    October 5, 2012 at 1:21 pm

    Thanks for reblogging and the volcano info, it must’ve been amazing to see it while it was still erupting.

  • Reply
    October 6, 2012 at 8:21 am

    The more I read about Costa Rica on your blog, the more determined I am to go!

  • Reply
    October 15, 2012 at 9:03 pm

    Looks like a great place to visit. My brother used to spend his winters in Costa Rica and loved it! It is on my list. Thanks for sharing the great pictures and thanks for following my blog.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      October 16, 2012 at 1:41 pm

      Thanks Darlene, it’s an amazing country – and a great place to avoid winter I’m sure! I found your site through Alison at See My Travels and look forward to reading more!

  • Reply
    Shanna Schultz
    October 25, 2012 at 12:21 am

    Costa Rica has been on my bucket list for a while. Did you feel like it was worthwhile to visit both the Arenal area and the Montverde Cloud forest, or did you feel that they were a little redundant? I have seen varying opinions around the web about this and I am trying to sort out fact from fiction…

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      October 26, 2012 at 2:20 pm

      Hi Shanna, I think it was worth visiting the both, though the volcano being active then was a draw to go to Arenal. There’s enough to do in both not to be bored, with the spas and activities around Arenal and the wildlife in Monteverde. Though you could do a day trip between the two if you were pushed for time, the journey is about 2.5 hours each way.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.