Parque Nacional Arenal

Dominated by the conical cone of the volcano, Arenal National Park covers an expanse of 12,124 ha. Upgraded from a reserve to a national park in 1994, the park protects the valuable watershed that maintains water levels in Lake Arenal and the microclimate created by the volcano.

Volcán Arenal

Trips to see the lava flows and eruptions of Arenal Volcano are always popular. While there are variations on a theme, most leave in the late afternoon to get you to the best viewing spot for dusk. As darkness cloaks the region, the barely visible dust plumes that skirted down the bare slopes through the day reveal themselves to be glowing lava tumbling, crashing and smashing down the volcano slopes in a spray of natural fireworks. The sight is spectacular and the sound decidedly eerie in the dark of night.

Arenal was a sleeping giant until 1968 when a massive eruption devastated the western flank of the volcano killing 78 people. Since 1968 Arenal has been erupting almost continuously. A major eruption in August 2000 resulted in the death of two people who, allegedly, went beyond the advised limits. In September 2003, part of the wall of one of the active craters collapsed sending four pyroclastic avalanches down the north- west face. The National Park was evacuated for three hours as a precaution. Viewing the volcano is safe; however, the greater extent of lava flows has seen a more cautious approach to volcano viewing put in place.

Arenal is a classic Stromboli-type stratovolcano, creating a symmetrical cone formed by layers of volcanic material. It is the youngest of the stratovolcanoes in Costa Rica with no rock dating back more than 2900 years. Research by OVSICORI at the Arenal Observatory Lodge has produced a wealth of data including the mind-boggling notion that the magma chamber that feeds the eruptions is just 5 km below the surface.

You will be permitted to visit safe areas - the current spot used by groups is at El Silencio, 2 km west of Tabacón Resort - but take advice and listen to your guide; some of those who have chosen not to have not returned alive. After viewing the volcano, groups usually head down to one of the nearby thermal baths for a relaxing soak before returning to Fortuna around 2100.

Beyond the volcano the park has five interesting (and safe)
walking trails
starting at the national park entrance. The trails range from 25 minutes to a couple of hours in length and provide good opportunities to see heliconias, birdlife and howler monkeys. Las Coladas involves a bit of scrambling over old lava flows but gives good views of the lake and the extinct Volcán Chato.

Adventure trips

Fortuna has developed as a base for a number of adventures to such an extent that at times they appear to compete with the volcano as the main attraction.
Guided hikes
head through the safe areas on the lower slopes of Arenal Volcano, the five-hour hike to the extinct volcano of
Cerro Chato
 or all the way to Monteverde.
Arenal Hanging Bridges
is a 3.1 km trail heading through humid forest, using bridges to span the river valleys.
Mountain bikes
are also available for hire by the hour for a few dollars, or you can take a guided trip in the national park.
Arenal Paraiso Canopy Tour
has zip wires covering 12 platforms over 350 m. Other options for a totally unnatural buzz include
waterfall rappelling
and
ATV tours
(All Terrain Vehicles or quad bikes).

According to the Costa Rica
rafting
guide by Mayfield and Gallo, the
Peñas Blancas
,
south of Fortuna, is “one of the recently discovered whitewater gems of Costa Rica”. Other rivers opening up to rafting are the
Río Toro
, with options for safari float tours and kayaking.
Conditions vary greatly
depending on rainfall, with the best months being from July to September and occasionally
through to December so check for local information.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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