Hiking in Arenal Volcano National Park

Looming over the town of La Fortuna, Arenal Volcano is one of Costa Rica’s five active volcanoes. Originally thought to be dormant, this volcano unexpectedly sprang to life in 1968. For 15 days, the mighty Arenal showed the world it was very much alive, spewing lava, rocks, and ash over 15 square kilometers. That catastrophic eruption, which killed 73 people and buried three towns, was Arenal’s biggest. Since then, Arenal has had smaller eruptions, though its activity has slowed considerably since 2010. Today, you may not see the famed orange glow of lava illuminating the night sky, but the cone-shaped giant is still a spectacular sight. In this post, we cover what you need to know to hike the two sectors of Arenal Volcano National Park. We include information on the new La Peninsula sector as well as how to book a good guide.

 

Hiking in Arenal Volcano National Park

 

Overview

The 12,080 hectare (29,850 acre) Arenal Volcano National Park has more to offer than just a view of the volcano. The park has easy-to-navigate trails through secondary forest and former lava fields. The most well-known trails with the best volcano views are at the main sector. Now, as of 2017, there is another sector to explore. La Peninsula, with gorgeous views of Lake Arenal, recently opened and is a wonderful spot for young children and those with limited mobility due to its paved trails. We will cover both sectors below.

Here is a link to the trail map.

Main Sector of Arenal Volcano National Park

Trails

We have hiked the park from this sector a few times and have always enjoyed it. It has two main trails, which form a nice loop. We recommend doing the whole loop (4 km or 2.5 miles) so that you see the major points of interest. After you pass through the ranger station and pay your entrance fee, you can keep driving past the first parking area to another parking area closer to the trailhead for Sendero Las Coladas.

Sendero Las Coladas means the Flows Trail, and this 1.7 km (1 mile) stretch marks the location of the old lava flows from the eruption of 1992. A short distance into this trail is an intersection with Sendero La Ceiba. On our last visit, our guide recommend taking La Ceiba and then looping back to Las Coladas after so that we ended at the viewpoint for the volcano. Both trails are fairly flat, with the exception of the climb up to the lava flows and viewpoint (more on this below).

 

Lava Rocks at Arenal Volcano National Park
Hardened lava flows from the big eruption of 1992. This is the last part of Sendero Las Coladas, leading to the viewpoint.

 

As you walk, you will be able to see how the forest has recovered from prior eruptions. Towering sugarcane turns to thick rainforest with epiphytes, vines, and bromeliads dangling from limbs. Although much of this is secondary growth as most plants and trees were destroyed, miraculously, some things managed to survive. Of note are four large fig trees and a giant Ceiba tree. It is thought that volcanic gases and heat rushing down the volcano during the eruption jumped over these lucky trees thanks to a small hill in the way.

 

Ceiba Tree at Arenal Volcano National Park
The giant Ceiba tree that Sendero La Ceiba is named for. This amazing tree has survived all of Arenal’s eruptions.

 

Continuing on to the main attraction, the forested trail ends and leads to the lava flows. Here, you can walk on the decades-old volcanic rocks to enjoy a fantastic view of the volcano. To reach the mirador, you have to climb a short, but steep, set of rustic stairs. This leads to a field of black volcanic rock (pictured above), and finally, a close up of Arenal Volcano.

 

Volcano View Arenal Volcano National Park
Arenal Volcano from the viewing area

 

From the lookout, in one direction you can see the western side of the volcano. In the other direction, you can see beautiful Lake Arenal.

Wildlife

Although this park is known primarily for its fascinating geological history, you can also see a fair amount of wildlife. On our visits, we have seen white faced capuchin monkeys, coati (a raccoon-like animal), Great Curassow (pheasant-like birds), green basilisk lizards, bats, and a variety of insects, including a wolf spider.

Arenal Volcano National Park is especially known for birds because of its varied habitat. The rare Bare-necked Umbrellabird and Three-wattled Bellbird can be spotted here. On our most recent visit, with the help of our fantastic guide, we were able to see the Common Potoo for the first time, which was very exciting. These are somewhat rare and are extremely difficult to spot by design. They are often found perched at the top of a dead tree but are gray and blend in almost perfectly to their surroundings.

 

Common Potoo at Arenal Volcano National Park
Common Potoo camouflaging perfectly into a tree

 

La Peninsula Sector of Arenal Volcano National Park

La Peninsula Sector is a separate ranger station and the newest addition to the park. To reach it, drive past the main entrance and take a sharp right at the first fork, almost like you are reversing direction. The ranger station is a few minutes down the bumpy dirt road.

Trails

We were so happy to see La Peninsula opened. Costa Rica has few handicap-accessible trails so this one is a great addition. The trail is a 1.3 km (0.8 mile) stretch, with a short side trail off the main one, which loops out into thick forest. Although the trail is paved, it is narrow and feels immersed in the jungle. We had our son with us, who was 1.5 years old at the time, and this was the perfect hike for him.

 

La Peninsula Trail at Arenal Volcano National Park
Main trail at La Peninsula Sector (paved the whole way)

 

From the ranger station, the trail leads to various lookouts to Lake Arenal and its small islands that peer out of the water. About halfway through, you come to a lofty viewing tower. A climb up the few sets of metal stairs to the top will earn you a nice view of the lake and Arenal Volcano. The volcano view is farther than from at the main sector but still very nice.

 

View of Arenal Volcano from La Peninsula Sector
View of the volcano and lake from the tower

 

Continuing on, the trail keeps going gradually downhill and leads to the shores of the lake. There’s a nice area here right over the water for taking pictures and you can rest on a bench under the shade of a tree.

 

La Peninsula Trail, Arenal Volcano National Park
La Peninsula Trail ends at the lake before turning around to go back to the ranger station

 

Wildlife

In the short time we spent at La Peninsula, we saw quite a bit of wildlife. Because this trail doesn’t see too many visitors, birds and animals can be easier to spot. We came across a Great Curassow waddling across the trail, as well as a Keel-billed Toucan (the toucan species with the brightly colored beak). The highlight was definitely the small group of collared peccaries (wild boar-type animals) that we snuck up on coming down the trail near the lake.

 

Keel-billed Toucan at Arenal Volcano National Park
Keel-billed Toucan on the small side trail at La Peninsula

 

Park Information

Cost

Foreigners: $15 adults, $5 children ages 6-12, free for children 6 and under.

Nationals and residents: ₡1,000 colones.

Hours

Open 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Last admission: 2:30 p.m.

Information on Booking a Guided Tour of Arenal Volcano National Park

Arenal Volcano National Park can be done self-guided. Just get a trail map from the ranger station when you check in and follow the well-maintained trails. However, we recommend a guide to learn about the history of the volcano since there is no visitors’ center or information along the trail. The guide that we went out with on our recent visit was a local who knew so much about the history and geology of the volcano and also about the birds and animals we saw. If you would like to book a guided tour with this company, we would be happy to help you with the arrangements. Here is some more information about the tour and how to book:

Cost

$65 per adult, $33 per child ages 4-11, free for children 3 and under. Includes round-trip transportation from your hotel, entrance fee, and water.

Times Offered

8:00 – 11:00 a.m. only

Duration

3 hours (approximate)

How to Book

Send us an email at bookings(at)twoweeksincostarica(dot)com with your preferred date and time, the number of people in your party, and your hotel if you would like the included transportation. Booking through us costs the same and helps support our website!

 

Booking a Guided Hike of Arenal Volcano National Park
Our wonderful naturalist guide

 

Arenal Volcano is a must-see attraction for those journeying to the highlands of Costa Rica. Although the volcano can be seen all around town, it is truly fascinating to be able to walk the hardened lava flows and see the mighty volcano close up.

Post Updated: May 5, 2018

Have you hiked around Arenal Volcano? What did you think? Let us know in the comments below.

Looking for more information to plan your visit to La Fortuna/Arenal Volcano? Check out these posts:

 

Related Posts

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Manuel Antonio Catamaran Cruise
Hanging Bridge at Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
The Famous Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
Wilson Botanical Garden in Costa Rica
Wilson Botanical Garden at Las Cruces Biological Station

171 Comments

  1. Do you recommend a tour guide or just hiking on your own? We are trying to stay on a budget but wondering if a guide is something that is highly recommended.

    Thanks!

    1. Hi Carina, It’s nice to take a guided tour while in La Fortuna/ Arenal at some point to learn about the history of the area and about the wildlife, plants/trees, etc. But it’s definitely not necessary; you just might get more out of your visit. Guides know where to look for birds and animals so you usually see more. That said, you can still see a lot and have a great time on your own if you walk slowly and keep your eyes on the forest.

    1. Hi Dave, We would allow 3-4 hours to do everything so that you can walk slowly and look for wildlife. If you have less time, you will still be able to see a lot but maybe not do all the trails. Enjoy the hike!

  2. Hi Jenn and Matt, if you were to pick one hike; 1968, Silencio or Arenal national Park, which would you do?
    We are thinking of doing one then hitting the hot springs and would like the most bang for our buck.
    We plan on going early and wouldn’t be opposed to doing 2 if you don’t think it would be too much.
    Thanks for the help

    1. Hi Eric, We have not done the Silencio hike so can’t speak to that. But the national park and 1968 trail are both great options. Personally, we would slightly prefer the Arenal 1968 trail because it’s a little more challenging. I wouldn’t do both of those because they’re so similar. Cerro Chato, the hike to the dormant crater volcano, is great too, but we have been hearing that it is closed lately because people are using it to illegally access the crater of Arenal Volcano.

      1. Hi,
        We are enjoying your blog. We will be arriving in Arenal on January 27th, and leaving on the morning of January 30th (three nights), then on to Monteverde for two nights. We have no plans for a car and would like your suggestions for a guide for the National Park or Trail 1968. We would like to see hanging bridges, and anything else that you think we would have time for.
        Do you have a suggestion for transportation to Monteverde? Once there, what do you recommend? Perhaps a nature guide for Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve?
        Ages 67 & 68, moderate hiking 3 to 4 hours.
        We appreciate your help.

        1. Hi Ami and Bob, We just sent you an email with the guide information and also about how we may be able to help you plan additional tours/activities for La Fortuna and Monteverde, as well as transportation.

          1. Your blog is so helpful!! Planning a trip with my sister for the first week in May. We are only able to stay 5 full days in Costa Rica, flying in and out of San Jose. So far looking at exploring Arenal, La Fortuna, Monteverde and /or anything else near there. Would appreciate the guide information as well as any other helpful transportation, lodging, activity tips. Looking to have an epic but resourceful trip :).

          2. Hi. We arrive in La Fortuna on February 11 and would love to view the guidebook that you mentioned. We are in the Arenal area for 3 nights and then to Tamarindo for 6. Thanks.

          3. Would love the guide information as well. Going late may to early june. Few days around Arenal and a few in Manuel Antonio. Great site – very concise and informative! Hoping to go snorkeling at Cano. Do you recommend? IF so, do you recommend scheduling in advance?

  3. Hi! My boyfriend and I are visiting Costa Rica for the first time. We are planning to do an unguided self tour of the Arenal Volcano.
    Which trails/hikes would you recommend that allows for the best view? How does each trail differ from each other? We also plan to try to fit the Mistico Hanging Bridges hike into the same day.
    Thank you!

    1. Hi Cassie, The best options are the national park or the Arenal 1968 trail, which is right before the park entrance. Both have really good volcano views, but you are slightly closer at the national park. The 1968 trail is a little more challenging than the park. You can read more about that hike and see pictures here. As for the trails at the national park, there’s a nice loop that takes you to the viewpoint for the volcano and gives a nice view of Lake Arenal. We are actually going back to La Fortuna this week and are going to do the national park hike again because it has been a while since we’ve done it. Afterwards, we’ll update this post with more detail on what the trails are like. So if your trip isn’t right away, you could check back for additional info.

  4. Hi Jenn and Matt. Do you have any suggestions on who to contact to set up a guided tour at the Arenal National Park for a reasonable price?

    1. Hi Cassie, Coincidentally, we are actually back in La Fortuna right now and had an amazing guided hike at the national park this morning. We learned a lot about the history of the volcano and saw some cool birds and a few animals. If you would like us to help set you up with the guide we went out with, just reply to this thread and we can send more info. Prices are around $65pp.

      1. Your blog has been so helpful planning our upcoming trip to CR. WE are planning to be in Arenal/La Fortuna April 23-25 Wondering if you still recommend the same hotels (mid-price) and if you could give me that information about the guide. Thanks in advance from Canada.

        1. Hi Robyn, Yes, we still recommend the same mid-range hotels as in our La Fortuna post. We also have a few other recommendations. I’ll send you an email with more information and for the guide.

      2. Hello Jenn and Matt,

        Thanks for your info! I was wondering whether you could share the information about guided tours. My friend and I are going at the end of May and we were hoping to see the waterfall, volcano and hanging bridges. She suggested this: https://www.desafiocostarica.com/tours-details/Arenal-Highlights-COMBO-Volcano-Hike-Waterfall-Hanging-Bridges but it appears to be steep compared to the individualize things. Would it be possible to do this all self-guided? Or do you have a guide you recommend that is cheaper?

        1. Hi Monica, We wouldn’t recommend doing those three tours together since it’s a lot of walking to do the national park and hanging bridges in one day. You can do these activities separately self-guided, but having a guide is best for the national park at least. The park doesn’t have a visitors center or any information so having a good guide who is knowledgeable about history of the volcano will help you appreciate it more. You will also most likely see more animals and birds with a guide. A guide can be good for the hanging bridges to see more wildlife but not as necessary. You don’t need a guide at all for La Fortuna Waterfall and can access it from the visitors center.

          The guide we recommend for the national park tour is $65 pp, which includes transportation from your hotel and park admission ($15). If you are interested, we can help you with the booking. Just reply to this thread and we will send you an email.

          1. Hi, can you send me information for the guide that you used? We were interested in doing a guided tour of the Arenal Park early in the morning and then finishing with La Fortuna.

          2. Hi, may I have the contact of the guide as well? I’d like to know the itinerary for both half day and full day in the National Park.

            Thanks.

          3. Hi, so happy we found this page! Could you please email us the tour guide information?

            thank you

          4. Sounds like a lot of people are interested in the guide you used. I would appreciate the information as well. Thank you for what you do for us people who have never been there before!

          5. heading to Costa Rica next week – thanks for creating a great informative website. can you send me the guide info.

          6. Can you send me the information on the guide for the national park. We will be traveling Jan 14-17 2018. We have our own rental car and will be traveling with our 2 boys 1.5 and 4 yr old. We have planned our trip to Costa Rica using your website-very informative. Staying in Arenal then Manuel Antonio for 4 days. Thank you!

          7. I’m interested in a hiking tour and bridge walk, I’m seeing many include hot springs and we’re not interested in that, If we arrive in time I would like to do a coffee tour, can some trips be last minute, or do we just take transportation to the sight and pay admission?

          8. Hi Connie, There are options that include hiking and hanging bridges but not hot springs. A company that we like has a tour with this plus a visit to La Fortuna Waterfall. The cost is around $160 per person and it includes a meal, all entrance fees, and transportation to and from your hotel. We would recommend arranging this in advance so that you get the best options for times and go out with a good company. If you don’t want to do guided tours, you can just show up a pay admission. Something like a coffee tour can be booked more last minute since they run the tours a few times a day. If you’d like help arranging either of these, let us know.

          9. What a great site you have! its making my trip planning so much easier– thank you! I am also interested in the guide information. Thank you!

      3. Hello, Thank you for all the great advice. Could you also send us the name of the guide you suggest? Traveling in area January 2-4, 2018.
        Thank you!

          1. Wonderful site – thank you for sharing your insights! Can you send me information on the guide as well? We have 7 in our group. We do have a rental van… We would like to do that walking bridges – you said we could do that on our own but have the guide for the National trail… is that correct?

          2. Hi Maury, The hanging bridges are nice without a guide because you can enjoy the bridges but if you want to see wildlife, it’s best to have a guide there too. The national park doesn’t have any information about what you’re seeing along the trail so that’s why it is particularly good to have a guide for that. We’ll send you an email with the guide information.

        1. Hi Jenn and Matt,
          Could you send me the name of a good guide for hiking in the national park? Thanks so much! We are planning a trip for February.

      4. Thanks for the great info. Can you provide me the name and way to contact the guide. We have kids with us….would the guide be appropriate, ages 13 and 9.

        1. Hi Carolyn, Yes, having a guide for the volcano hikes is a good idea because they will teach the kids cool stuff about the rainforest (interesting facts about plants, insects, birds, animals, etc.). It helps to keep them engaged. We will send you the information on booking the guide now.

  5. Hi Jenn and Matt,

    We are visiting Costa Rica for the first time with our toddler she is almost 4. Can you recommend a hike at Arenal which can he done with a toddler in mind.

    Thank you

    Ishu

    1. Hi Ishu, Of the hikes to see the volcano, the national park has the easiest trails. The main trail is mostly flat and is a nice loop that takes only a couple of hours. An even better option, but with different views, is the brand new trail, Sendero La Peninsula (with a separate ranger station). It only opened a few weeks ago. We just did this hike with our 1.5 yr old. The trail is all paved so is easy to walk on but still goes through really lush jungle. It leads to a tower with a more distant view of the volcano and turns around at Lake Arenal. It’s a very beautiful spot and we saw a lot of wildlife and birds. In the coming weeks, we will be updating this post with more details but that should be enough to get you started.

      1. Hi Jenn and Matt,

        Thank you for such a prompt response, we are very excited about our trip end of this month.

        Ishu

  6. Hi Jen and Matt,
    I am planning a trip to visit in October for my 30th and I keep hearing it may be a bit too rainy to really enjoy the views. Have you found that to be true? Also, I would like to do many of the tours without a guide (due to cost) but I am concerned about getting around without a car. Do you think a rental car is necessary?

    1. Hi Brittany, The Arenal area has different weather patterns and many people say that September and October are the best times of the year to see the volcano so you should be okay.

      You can do some activities in La Fortuna without a car. La Fortuna Waterfall and the Rainforest Chocolate Tour are an inexpensive cab ride from downtown. The volcano, hot springs, hanging bridges, etc. are 15-30 min from downtown so cabs can get expensive. The public bus is an option but it won’t get you the entire way for some things like hiking in the national park. You might want to see how much it would be to rent a car locally in La Fortuna for a day or two. A compact sedan can be as little as $25 a day and prices are usually lowest in the rainy season. You can use our rental car discount to see what the rate would be.

  7. Hi – we are coming to visit this summer and can’t wait! I purchased your kindle Top 10 Costa Rica Itineraries and it was so useful in planning our trip! We are spending 3 nights at Arenal, 4 nights in Samara, and 4 nights in Manuel Antonio. With two full days in Arenal, I am planning a day at the Spider Canyon at Mistico Hanging Bridges and then second day at La Fortuna Waterfall and hiking, but I am having trouble deciding where to hike. My husband and I and four boys, ages 16, 13, 10, and 7 all love to hike and especially love hikes that are more of a rock scramble. So, I have been reading a lot about Cerro Chato and your blog post was very helpful. But I am afraid that is just too long and hard for us. We generally stick to about 2-3 hours total. I am now leaning toward going to Arenal Observatory Lodge and doing a few of the trails there. What would you recommend that would be fun and challenging – but easier than Cerro Chato? Thanks! Traci

    1. Hi Traci, Thanks for getting our book! Glad it has been helpful.

      If your family hikes a lot, you might be okay with Cerro Chato. When we hiked it, we saw some families with young children who weren’t having a problem at all. Otherwise, we don’t know of any options in that area for something with a rock scramble. The Arenal 1968 trail is a fun hike, though, and is challenging at times. Follow the link we gave for more info about it. Another option, though farther away, is the Rio Celeste. That’s a really good one and has some tricky parts that are tougher but would be fine with a 7 year old who hikes a lot. Other than the Cerro Chato trail, the trails at the Observatory are fairly easy so we wouldn’t recommend that based on what you’ve said you’re looking for. Hope that helps you decide!

  8. HI Jenn and Matt,

    Your blog is quite useful. Like others, we are traveling to Costa Rico for the first time and are quite excited. Out itinerary will begin in San Jose. We’ll travel to Tortuguerro for a few days and then go to Arenal to do the 1968 trail, La Fortuna and other stuff. We then will make our way to Nicaragua (If you can think of anything interesting to see en route, please let us know).

    Here are my questions: (1) we intend to travel by public transportation and don’t want to rent a car. My sense is that in the Tortuguerro part, we can get picked up and so forth. What I’m unclear about is the Arenal part. Is there public transportation available to the various spots to visit? And (2) (And I understand that others have have asked variations of this question) Should we hire a guide for certain parts? I think you’ve said initially, that might be a good idea. Incidentally, we are visiting in July which I understand to be the rainy season, but not so bad as the following months. Oh, are bugs a problem?

    Thanks.

    Marc

    1. Hi Marc, It is possible to take the public bus from San José to Tortuguero and then from Tortuguero to La Fortuna (via San José). To get around locally in La Fortuna, there are local buses that will take you in the direction of the national park, 1968 trail, etc., but they sometimes won’t take you the whole way. For the park and 1968 trail, for example, they will drop you off on the main road and then you will have to walk or hitchhike the rest of the way. Taxis are expensive for this trip and it may be cheaper to just rent a car for the day (see our rental car discount). Alternatively, you could take a guided tour, which would include transportation. We do recommend a guide to get the most out of the national park and 1968 trail.

      Other sights, like La Fortuna Waterfall, aren’t a bad drive from town so you could easily take a taxi. No need for a guide for this.

      July is usually one of the less rainy months of the rainy season. You can read our Weather post for more info.

      And, yes, you can expect bugs. It’s the rainforest 🙂

  9. Thanks so much for your response! So, now I’m considering Cerro Chato again because even though Rio Celeste looks amazing, I think I want to minimize driving. And you have given me hope that we can do it! So, for Cerro Chato, is it shorter distance or easier from one side or the other? I would definitely prefer to start from whichever side is shorter or easier! And do you think 4 hours round trip is a good estimate (assuming we don’t do the extra part down to the water)? Thanks so much! Traci

    1. Hi Traci, I think that’s a good estimate. It took us about 1.5 hrs each way and we accessed it from the Observatory. We haven’t done it from the Green Lagoon Lodge yet, but someone recently commented on our Cerro Chato post saying it was a tough hike from that side as well. Check out that post and scroll down to Durgy’s comment on Feb. 15, 2017.

  10. Hi! We will be in La Fortuna in a few weeks – can’t wait! I’ve read great things about Arenal Natl Park, 1968 Lava Flows, and the Arenal Observatory Lodge. Which would you recommend as the best way to experience the volcano area? Perhaps we even combine two with lunch in the middle? Thanks! Andrea

    1. Hi Andrea, I would probably pick just one if you only have a day. Unless you’re interested in the Cerro Chato hike, which is more difficult (but highly recommended), I would go with the national park or 1968 Trail. The Observatory has access to Cerro Chato, but other than that, the trails are more limited. The national park has a nice mix of trails, so it’s a good option. Arenal 1968 is great too, and has slightly more difficult terrain. You can read more about the Arenal 1968 trail here.

  11. Hi, we are a party of 18 coming to Costa Rica in a few weeks. A few questions. Can you get a guide for the entire group and pay a flat rate?
    Also, we have a elderly people (70+
    0 and a 2 toddlers (1yr & 4yr) in our group. I’m thinking of splitting the hike. The fitter people do the 1968 since it is more challenging. What would you recommend for the toddles and elderly people

    1. Hi Sonal, Most tour operators have a group rate. It’s usually for 10 or more people and is still a per person charge but is lower than normal.

      Dividing the group that way would work. The national park is easier than the 1968 Trail so that could be an option for the elderly people and toddlers (We recently did the national park with our 1.5 yr old). You could also all go to the 1968 Trail but in two separate groups. The guide would just pace the hike differently and take you to different places.

      If you would like help making the arrangements for this, let us know. We would be happy to help you with the booking.

  12. Hi Jenn,
    Thank you for your informative blog and Q&A responses. We relied on your information to plan a one week trip in Costa Rica during mid-May 2017: La Fortuna/Arenal > Rio Celeste > Monteverde > Manuel Antonio.
    We hired a car and found all of the road conditions to match your description and the restaurant recommendations were fantastic. Our highlights were the 1968 trail, Monteverde Cloud Forest, Rio Celeste and Manuel Antonio NP (doing the full trek).
    We also visited Cerro Chato and the Rainmaker Conservation on your advice – both were great!
    We found the weather conditions to be clear in the morning with rain in the afternoon (humid, not cold). A lot of people seemed to be unprepared for the rain however with the right gear, it doesn’t impact any activities.
    Thank you again for your advice, it was much appreciated and we had a fabulous time.

    1. Hi Sarah, Thanks for the detailed trip report! That’s great that you had a good visit. Wonderful to hear that you enjoyed those activities- it’s always nice to get feedback from people. Thanks again for taking the time to write. Pura vida!

  13. Hello,
    We would love to hike the 1968 trail but we do not have a car while in Costa Rica and our hotel does not provide transportation to and from. Are taxi’s available and are they safe? Other suggestions on transportation? Also my husband is a very experienced hiker but I have a slight fear of heights. How steep are the trails?

    Thanks for your help!

    1. Hi Becky, If you won’t have a car, your options are to take a guided tour where transport is included (around $56 pp adults), take a taxi, or take the bus. The bus isn’t too practical because it will drop you off on the main road and then you will have to walk a bit to the reserve entrance. Taxis are safe and easy to arrange, but are fairly expensive depending on where you are staying (Arenal 1968 is about 30 min. from downtown La Fortuna so a cab can cost over $20 each way). A tour is nice because you get the free transport, plus a guide. Having a guide helps you appreciate what you’re seeing more since the trail isn’t well marked with points of interest and there is no visitor’s center. We know of a great one and would be happy to help you book a tour with him if you would like- just let us know.

      You can’t hike to the top of the volcano because it is still active so you only hike around the base, where it isn’t too steep, so don’t worry.

      1. Hi! Reading your website has been so helpful! You’ve mentioned recommendations for guides for the 1968 trail and National Park trails. Can I find out more information about those guides? My husband and I will be in La Fortuna next week. We will have a rental car and we are generally physically fit, so I believe we can do the hikes independently, but it sounds like a guide would be helpful with pointing out fauna, animals, and the history of the area. Thank you for the information!

      2. Your blog has been so helpful, planning our first trip to CR this coming January. I’d love your recommendation for a tour guide, too. We’re planning on whitewater rafting the Pacuare before reaching the Arenal area. We plan on renting a car once we’re in La Fortuna, but if we can get to/from the park without a car, and use a guide instead, that might save us a few bucks/days on car rental fees. What do you think? Thank you again for any guide recommendations!

        1. Hi Jess, Yes, a guided tour is nice because it includes transportation. Rental cars can be pricey in January so that is definitely a good idea. It’s really nice to have a guide too, to give significance to what you are seeing since the national park doesn’t have any information along the trail. We will send you the information about the guided tour now so check your email.

    1. Hi David, The national park would be good with a 3.5 year old, both the regular entrance closest to the volcano and the new ranger station Scroll up to our response to Ishu on April 6, 2017 for more information. This reader was asking a similar question about where to hike with a toddler. EcoCentro Danaus is also very good for young children.

  14. I have been reading your blog posts for the past year. My wife and I are going to be in La Fortuna in October (2nd visit) and would like to take a guided hike around the volcano. In your posts you mention taking a guided hike. How strenuous are the hikes and can you also send me the guide’s name and contact info ?

    Thanks

    1. Hi Mike, Just saw this second comment. I think we sent you an email last week about helping you book a guided tour of the park. Let me know if you didn’t receive it. To answer your question, the hike at the national park is fairly easy. The terrain is mostly flat and there’s a short hike up some stairs and along rocks to get to the viewpoint. If you are looking for a more challenging hike, Arenal 1968 is a good option. It’s moderate in difficulty. We can help with bookings for that too.

  15. Hi Jenn & Matt,

    I will be in La Fortuna next week and, based on the comments you have made and the others above have made, I am thinking it might be a good idea to get a guide…can you send me information on how to do that?

    Thanks!

  16. I have been reading your forums and have found a lot of the information useful. I was wondering if you could send me some info on the guide you took at The National Park and whether u recommend walking The National Park trails and Arenal 1968 trails in one day. I am going to La Fortuna in the next 2 weeks.

    1. Hi Melanie, We would recommend picking one of the two for hiking since the experience is similar. The main difference is that the 1968 Trail is slightly more difficult. We will send you an email with more information and about the guide.

  17. Hi! Your site is amazing, has helped me plan my honeymoon! We’re heading to Costa Rica in February 2018 and couldn’t be more excited!

    I have read through a bunch of comments, and see that if we were to hike the park, we’re looking at about 3-4 hours…Is it feasible to go first thing in the morning and make it back by lunch? Or is that too rushed?

    I am asking because we have done a full revamp of our schedule to squeeze in a day trip to rio celeste since I came across your blog on that by accident (I got lost in clicking!) and now am thinking of doing…

    day 1 – leave San Jose in morning, assume we’ll arrive by lunch (?) check into hotel, go to la fortuna waterfall/hike (I think I read on blog about 90 mins or so?), head to dinner, relax
    day 2 – day trip to rio celeste, head back to hotel, check into Tabacoon (we splurged!)
    day 3 … this is the tricky part and why I wanted to know how long this hike would take… this was supposed to be a relaxing “spa” day but I do not want to miss out on a “hike” to see volcano… so was thinking we could do the volcano quick in morning, and spend the rest of the day/afternoon/evening doing the hot spring relax/spa at the hotel

    Is that too rushed? Do you think we could squeeze the arenal park in anywhere else?

    any advice much appreciated!!

    1. I suppose I should mention – our next stop after that is Jaco… (multiple stops after that as well)…. so the other option could be to do the hike on our last day after we check out of the hotel, but didn’t know if that would be too tiring to do a 3-4 hour day, and then drive to Jaco. Online says 3.5 hours but that is google maps, I do not know if that is accurate for how long it would take to get to Jaco?

      1. 3.5 hours to Jaco is a good estimate, we’d allow a half hour more for traffic. We’d stick with the schedule you originally proposed so that you’re not doing the hike the day you do this drive.

    2. Hi Paola, Yes, the volcano hike is about a few hours so easily done in the morning so that you could get back for lunch. Your schedule looks fine and your assumptions re: timing for transportation and tours are right on. A couple of notes: La Fortuna Waterfall can be done in less time – it’s about a 15 min. walk down and a little longer back up the stairs, and then it’s just how long you want to spend at the waterfall. You don’t have to hike to get there- it’s just a matter of getting up and down the well-maintained stairs. Also, make sure to leave early the day you do Rio Celeste because it is a little far away (but doable as a day trip, yes).

  18. Thank you for this awesome website!! My husband and I will be visiting Costa Rica in June 2018. We will be spending a week in Monteverde on a volunteer project. Then after that, we plan to go to La Fortuna via taxi-boat-taxi and arrive around noon. Staying at Hotel Rancho Cerro Azul (thx for recommendation.) We will have 2 1/2 days in the area. From reading the comments, it sounds like a great idea to hire a guide for the national park. Can I get that info, please? Is that a half day affair? We are also interested in the waterfall and hanging bridges. We will not have a car – are those far from the hotel? Any advice for our days in Fortuna would be greatly appreciated!

  19. Hello there- your blog has been extremely helpful in planning our upcoming trip to CR. We will be going mid-April. Wondering if you wouldn’t mind passing along the name of the tour guide you used for the national park. Thank you!!

  20. Good Afternoon,

    This sight is awesome!

    We are vacationing in CR for 10 days beginning February 15 and running through February 24. My wife and I have a 10 year old daughter, and we’re vacationing with another family that has a set of 10 year old twins. We’re beginning our time in the La Fortuna for 3 days, and then spending the rest of our time in Playa Flamingo. It has been 20 years since we last visited the area, and understand that a lot has changed. It doesn’t appear that the La Fortuna Waterfall is no longer a free hike, and that a lot of the outdoor activities are accompanied with a fee. We are looking for suggestions that would be fun for both the parents and the 10 year old girls. We’ve been looking at doing an activity each day in La Fortuna (Zip lining, Canyoneering, hiking, etc), and leaving the back half of the day for more relaxing activity like the hot springs (which I also don’t know where to go anymore). The challenge is knowing what would be both age appropriate and fun for the kids.

    The final week will be spent in Playa Flamingo, and we are not the least bit familiar with that area. Any insight would be welcome.

    Although the other family is not concerned about budget, our little family of 3 is on a limited budget and would like to make the most of our dollar. We’re willing to spend when it makes sense, but also like the idea of frugality when there is little to gain by spending the cash.

    Thanks in advance for any assistance that you can provide.

    Cheers,

    1. Hi Ralph, It’s true that La Waterfall and some other activities are not free anymore. The $15 for the waterfall is worth it, though. They have really improved the facilities and built nice steps to get down to the falls. Some good inexpensive or free activities with 10 year olds are the free hot springs (across from the Tabacon), national parks (kids get a discounted admission and for guided tours with the company that we work with), and a chocolate tour. Kids that age usually really like zip lining and there is a reduced rate for that so that would be a good option for an exciting paid tour.

      Around Playa Flamingo, there’s always the beach (Playa Conchal is one of the most beautiful in the area and you can rent snorkel gear), Llanos de Cortes Waterfall, and Las Pumas Rescue Center. Horseback riding can be done fairly cheaply too.

  21. Hi Jenn and Matt!
    Thank you for this informative blog!
    I am interested in contact info of tour guide for Arenal National Park.
    Thanks

          1. Hi Jenn and Matt:

            We are planning to be in La Fortuna late next week and would love to get information for the guide for the Arenal 1968 trails? Thank you so much.

  22. Hi. We LOVE your blog, thank you.

    My family ages 70, 60, 38,35, 33, 24 plus grandkids ages 3,5,7. Our first time to Costa rica. We are going to Arenal (The Springs) for 3 days in February but I’m seeing that hanging bridges at Mistico have age requirement of 10 yrs old and the aerial tram is “strenuous”? I can do “easy – moderate”. This is very disappointing since the grandkids have been hiking national parks for the last 2 years. What tours do you recommend and can you please recommend a private tour guide (certified naturalist perhaps?)? We are then going to La Paz Waterfalls (was hoping to see Poaz puffing?) then Manuel Antonio for 3 days and would greatly appreciate your input into tours or activities there (and private guides). Do you put together itineraries with private drivers and guides or recommend how we do so? Thank you Thank you

    1. Hi Lori, We’ve never heard of that age requirement at Mistico. Maybe you found some bad info? They did change ownership recently but it looks like you can still purchase admission for children. If you’re talking about the aerial tram at Sky Adventures, it is definitely not strenuous. It’s a good tour for anyone and is even handicap accessible. If you would like, we could help you arrange some tours for your time in La Fortuna, La Paz, and Manuel Antonio based on what your family is interested in. We would charge a small fee for our time. If you’re interested, let us know your trip dates and we can send more information. If you need help with transportation, we can do that too.

  23. Hi Jenn and Matt,

    Thank you very much for the wealth of information you share with us. I really appreciate your blogs and use them as a base for my research. We are going to Costa Rica in two weeks in a group of 9 (5 adults 4 kids) and would like to do and see as much as possible.
    Could you please advise if it’s possible to combine the Arenal 1968 Trail hike with thermal baths on the same day? We are staying in La Fortuna for 4 nights and my head is spinning on how to fit all the top things to do into our short visit. 🙂

    1. Hi Inessa, Glad that our website has been helpful with your planning! Yes, you can definitely do the Arenal 1968 Trail and the hot springs in one day. These activities are a reasonable drive from one another and complement each other well. Did you want a guide for the hike? We do recommend it to see the most and learn about the history of the area. Let us know if you need a recommendation. We may be able to get you a group discount through them since you have 9 people. Will you have a car? If not, we’d recommend a package that includes both the 1968 Trail guided hike and your choice of hot springs resort, plus transportation. If you do have a car, you could do the hike either guided or unguided, then drive yourselves to the springs.

      1. Thank you so much!

        I would be interested in hearing more about group discount and the price for the package you mentioned. We do have cars for our group.

        Which springs would be included in the package? We are leaning towards Paradise Hot Springs but open to your suggestions.

        Feel free to email me, thank you again.

  24. Hello – Thanks for all your good information. My family (6) is traveling with another family (5). We are planning a canyoning adventure in La Fortuna and would also like to organize a volcano hike, possibly coupled with a waterfall visit or a similar decent hike with waterfall/swimming piece. I saw one company that had a hike along the river, bubbling mud flats and waterfall, which sounds interesting. It seems as if the guides want to incorporate a meal to extend their trips, which we would rather not do. We are an active group and are wondering if you might have suggestions of hikes and guides?
    Thanks so much!

    1. Hi Hillary, We know of some great guides in the area for a volcano hike and also for something more challenging if you are looking for that type of experience. We recently had some clients do that trek along the river to see the mud pots and waterfall (I think that you’re referring to the same hike- it’s a new one in the area). Since you have a larger group, we also may be able to secure you some discounts if you book more than one tour through us. We work with a couple of different companies that offer canyoning. If that sounds good, let us know and we can send you an email with more information on how we can help.

  25. Hi Matt and Jenn — great site! We’re a family of three (husband, 14 year old son and me) and we’ll be visiting Costa Rica next month. We have three nights in El Castillo and want to do a hike one day. We’ll have our own transportation. I was reading your blog about the Arenal 1968 trail and really like the look of that and then going to the hot springs later in the day. We love learning about the local flora and fauna and wondered if we could have the contact info for the guide that you’ve mentioned in past posts for when we do the trail. Thanks so much and really appreciate all the fantastic info!

  26. Jenn and Matt,

    Thanks for your amazing site. We will be traveling to Costa Rica May 14-22 for our honeymoon. We are staying near Arenal for the beginning for the trip and then are heading to Guanacaste for the remainder of the trip. During our time we would love to do as much adventurous activities as we can. For our time in Arenal will you provide us with the guide for the volcano hike with transportation and any other must sees or activities.

    Thanks
    Ali and Nick

  27. Hi Jenn and Matt, wonderful site! We’re visiting the area for 3 nights in late May with our two kids – ages 8 and 10 – we will have 2 full days and 2 half days to plan activities for. We will have our own transportation. I wanted to find out if the entrance fee to the National Park covers multiple days (as in USA national parks, one entrance fee gets up to 7 days of use), or if it’s charged per entry?

    Is this fee collected only if stopping at what is marked as Arenal National Park Visitor Center on the map, or is it collected just driving on the roads through the park? For instance if I want to go to Arenal Observatory Lodge (we are not staying here but have heard we can use trails for a fee) do I have to pay both a park entrance fee and then the fee for the Arenal Observatory area? Or if I want to drive through the park to get to Sky Adventures Arenal Park for a bridge walk, do I again have to pay the National Park entrance fee just for using that road?

    Do you have any opinion on Sky Adventures bridges vs. the Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges park just to the north of the park?

    On my short list of potential activities are: 1968 Lava Trail, National Park Trail, La Fortuna Waterfall, Trails at Arenal Observatory, Hanging bridge walk, Rainforest Chocolate Tour, and my kids are interested in doing one of the Safari Float tours (though I wonder if that is too much sitting still for them). Anything here we should cut, or something else we should consider? If I was picking only one hike to have a guide with and the remainder to do on our own, which would be the best? We want to see and do a lot but still have a bit of time for relaxing at the hotel.

    Thank you!!

    1. Hi Emily, Here are some thoughts on your questions:
      (1) Entrance fees to Arenal Volcano National Park (and all national parks in Costa Rica) are good only for one day.
      (2) You only have to pay the entrance fee if you want to access the park’s trails and enter from one of the two ranger stations. The park doesn’t own all the roads in that area. You only pay if you enter at the park entrance. Arenal Observatory is near the park but a completely separate property. To access its trails, you pay their entrance fee at the gate. Same for Sky Adventures but there you pay a fee for a tour or if you want to do the hanging bridges hike unguided, you pay at the desk near the parking area.
      (3) We like both but they’re very different. The Sky Hanging Bridges involve a lot more hiking and have fewer hanging bridges than Místico. Místico is generally busier because it’s fairly easy but is a better hanging bridges experience. Sky is primary rainforest and passes by waterfalls, a river, etc.
      (4) You should pick one of those hikes (national park, 1968 trail, Observatory) only since the experience will be similar- this would be good to do guided to keep the kids entertained, we’d probably go with the 1968 trail. Rainforest Chocolate is great for kids and they would probably enjoy a float trip because of all the wildlife. La Fortuna Waterfall is great too. We’re a travel agency and can book any of these tours for you if you would like. We don’t charge a markup. If you’re interested let us know and we can send more information by email.

      1. Hi Jenn & Matt, yes, I would love some details on a guide for hiking and also on the Safari Float options. Thank you for the detailed response.

  28. Hi Jenn & Matt,

    Your blog has been so helpful in planning our Costa Rican honeymoon! We are headed to La Fortuna for 5 days in May and were wondering if you had recommendations for hike guides in the Arenal National Park? Is it possible to also do the Ecothermales after the hike?

    Thanks!

  29. Hello,
    Thank you so much for your wonderful blog.
    Would it be possible to e-mail me the information for the tour guide?

    Thanks a bunch!

  30. Great blog!
    We are a family of two parents and three kids, 17-23. We want to do a guided hike and I’m thinking the one on La Cieba and Las Coladas would be good to get the best views of the volcano. Can you send your guide contact? Also I am interested in possible zip lining, either in Arenal area or in Tamarindo. Any suggestions? I am looking next on your site for the beach areas. I’m interested in fishing and a boat/Beach hop day. Thanks

  31. Hi, if we do a self guided hike, do we need a car to get to the trail or would a local taxi be able to get us to the start (past the ranger station).

    1. Hi Lindsay, A taxi would have to drop you off at the ranger station, but it’s not that much farther to have to walk to the trailhead. Taxis from town are fairly expensive since it’s about a 25 minute ride and part of the road is rough dirt. A lot of times it’s cheaper for people to just rent a car for the day. All you need is a regular sedan- no 4×4. The company that we work with and get a discount through, Adobe, has an office in La Fortuna and could deliver the car to your hotel for free if you request it. Here’s a link to our rental car page with more information. Hope that is helpful!

  32. We are visiting La Fortuna October 24-28 and would like information on the Mistico hanging bridges, hiking at the Arenal Volcano park, and possibly the Rainforest Chocolate, and any other suggestions.
    Thanks!

  33. If we are staying at the Observatory and most likely would check out their hiking trail, would you still recommend going to the Arenal Volcano National park? Have both in the itinerary right now and wondering if that would be redundant.

    Thank you!

    1. Hi Sheryl, The trails at the Observatory are somewhat limited, especially now that access to Cerro Chato is closed. If you have time, we think it would be worth it to still check out the national park. The environment is a little different as well as the view of the volcano. But if you’re limited on time, you could skip it this time around. Let us know if you’d like a recommendation for a guide for the park.

  34. Hey!
    Thank you for your great information!
    We are planning a trip on april and we have 4 kids with us (ages 1.5-8) what will be the best trail to see the Arenal with them?
    thank you
    Matan

    1. Hi Matan, With very young kids like a 1.5 year old, we recommend the main trail at the national park if you want to be close to the volcano or the Peninsula Trail. The Peninsula Trail is paved so great for little kids, but it is a little farther from the volcano. Most of the hike is through the rainforest then you get a nice view of Lake Arenal and the volcano at the end. If you’d like any help booking a guide for this, please send us an email at bookings(at)twoweeksincostarica(dot)com.

  35. My husband and I are thinking of going for 10 days mid March your info has been great. Hopefully we can do most the sites

  36. I am staying in cahuita and la fortuna. I have read that people have gotten robbed/mugged and raped in Manzanillo refuge and cahuita national park. Are the Arenal National Parks and la fortuna waterfalls generally safe?

    1. Hi Jennifer, We have heard of problems at the Manzanillo refuge near Puerto Viejo de Talamanca but not at Cahuita National Park so hopefully that was only an isolated incident. Yes, the Arenal area is very safe. We’ve never heard of any serious crimes at either of those two places or anywhere else in the area.

  37. HI,
    I have been following our ‘1 week’ itinerary in Costa Rica. We have 4 kids (ages 16-22) and would like your tour and information for Mistico hanging bridges and a guide for either the National Park or 1968 Trail. Also, would you recommend a coffee/chocolate/spice tour near Arenal or by Manual Antonio?
    Thank you!

  38. Just starting our research and loving your tips and suggestions. We’re thinking of coming over New Years (28 DEC 2019-5 JAN 2020). Are all of the National Parks and excursions open during the holiday? Any other advice if we come during this week that we should be aware of? Thanks! Looking forward to reading more through this amazing site.

    1. Hi Kim, Yes, national parks are usually open for Christmas and New Years and all tour operators are running tours because it’s the busiest time of year. The most important thing is to book your excursions in advance because some tours will sell out. We can help you through our Tour Booking Service if you’d like.

  39. Hi. Thanks for so much helpful info. My husband and I are coming to CR in November. We have 2 full days in Arenal and would like to do as much as possible. We have a rental car and are pretty avid hikers. We have heard that El Burrito and Rio Celeste are great options and Cerra Chato sounds good too- if it is a possibility. What would be your suggestions for hikes/tours worth doing with a guide vs ones ok to do on your own? We would also be interested in any night hike suggestions you have, as well as what zip lining, or canyoning, waterfall repelling trips are best suited to a pair of very active 30something year olds?

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