Exploring Arenal Volcano

When traveling around Costa Rica, Arenal Volcano is going to be on your itinerary. Not to visit would be like going to Orlando without touring Disney World…what’s the point? After three days of travel, with great highlights along the way, including the La Paz Waterfall Gardens, and La Selva Bird Sanctuary, we arrived at Montana de  Fuego Resort and Spa, which is right across from the Volcano.

By “right across” I mean the dinning room of this resort featured eight-foot picture windows that faced Arenal giving you a gorgeous (and unobstructed) view. The volcano itself was about a football field away making it pretty close to us. At the time, Arenal was an active volcano, and at night visitors were treated to smaller beautiful eruptions of lava. During the day you would see billowing ash clouds slowly rising over the volcano.

By Costa Rican standards it was fairly cloudy during our stay. However, sunshine aside, Arenal did not disappoint. We were treated to a lava show—on New Year’s Eve no less—that reminded me of candy pop rocks bursting out of a mountain. Arenal’s website has some great photos of eruptions that you can view here.

Arenal by Day. Notice the more brown grass with the dark (and active) volcano in the background. copyright: Stamps on my Passport

Alas (or luckily) in 2010 the volcano entered an indeterminate resting phase. Without botching a lesson in geology, it’s not “shooting” lava, ash or gas at this time. For the time being, it’s dormant, but that might mean you can get closer than we were able to go. Arenal will eventually become active again, but like many things in nature, we don’t know when. 

To see Arenal, you will need to go to the Arenal Volcano National Park. The volcano is located within a conservation area that totals more than 500,000 acres of land between the Tilarán and Guanacaste mountain ranges. Park Rangers will firmly request visitors leave the park as they found it (i.e., take all of your belongings and your trash back out with you).

Got that? copyright: Stamps on My Passport

There are two interesting things about the park. The first is the striking difference in ecosystems. Up to this point, much of what we had seen in Costa Rica was lush, green vegetation with pops of vibrant color. Here, the landscape transformed into grasslands. We were surrounded by tall, brown grasses that slowly transitioned to volcanic rock and ash as one ascended the volcano. 

The other noticeable difference of Arenal was the climate. Because the volcano sits between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, the temperature is different, and cooler than other parts of the country. A walk around the Park took is estimated to take three hours, but we did it in 90 minutes. Perhaps were just fast walkers that day. 

Although the volcano is dormant, you should not let that deter you from visiting this region of Costa Rica. In addition to Arenal, there are Hanging Bridges and Hot Springs. There are about 11 different hot springs in the Arenal area. We visited the Eco Tamales hot springs, which are the smallest in the area, allowing no more than 100 guests in the springs at a time. Hot springs are nature’s original spa and a spectacular way to relax and take the proverbial “time out.”  I did have visions of something more sauna like – hot and humid. Instead, the air was cool, but the natural pools ranged from “hot” to “wicked hot” as they’d say in New England.

The natural scenery was beautiful and it was easy to cool off moving from pool to pool. But be forewarned, we encountered a polite group of “polar bear” tourists (i.e., those who shun swimwear) here, making it difficult to take photos.

A complete listing of the area hot springs can be found here. Honestly, you can go wrong with any of them and this is a “not to be missed” portion of your volcano visit.