Shrouded in mist and spewing molten lava almost daily, Arenal Volcano is virtually the symbol of the Costa Rica tourism industry and has drawn travelers for decades.
The volcano’s iconic cone towers over the town of La Fortuna, turning the tiny hamlet into a bustling tourism nexus from where you can organize virtually any tour or trip imaginable.
But of course, the main attraction is the volcano and tours are readily available from virtually any hotel, hostel or guesthouse. The main options are a day tour or night tour.
If it works for your schedule, I highly recommend taking the night tour as the lava really pops against the night sky and makes for a much more dramatic show. If you do go to Arenal Volcano National Park on your own, the northern side usually offers the best view.
Before you head out on your tour though, there are some essentials you need in preparation. A flashlight is a must at night as the rocky trail can be treacherous for toes and ankles.
Likewise, this is not a tour to be done in flip-flops. Wear shoes, boots, or Tevas/sports sandals. When I went out there were a couple people with broken flip-flops and twisted ankles, not to say the trail is difficult. It was merely the poor combination of footwear and no flashlight.
Also, bring insect spray. There will be plenty of mosquitoes out to get you if you don’t – the sport variety is best so it doesn’t come off as you sweat.
Unfortunately, unless you have a super duper pro lens, you’re photos of the cone at night will not capture much of a show. I have dozens of pitch-black photos with just a speck of orange in them. You’re better off buying a postcard.
As a note to the über-adventurous, please don’t attempt to climb the volcano to look inside the crater. Every year climbers disregard the rules and get killed by sudden explosions, and worse they obligate Costa Rican rescuers to put their lives on the line when things go wrong.
On the way back from the volcano tour, there is usually the option of stopping at one of the fancy hot springs resorts, something I highly recommend if you can afford it. It adds another $20 or so to the tour, but soaking for a couple hours sure feels amazing and there are lots of different pools at the resorts like Tabacón.
For those going to Arenal Volcano National Park independently, there are some lodging options within the park that fall in the moderate price range from $50-100. Camping is technically not allowed and there are no facilities, but some do it anyway off of some of the unpaved roads in the park. There are also some hotels and cabins on the road to the park.
Getting to Arenal Volcano Costa Rica
Arenal volcano, the typical access point being the town of La Fortuna, can be reached by rental car, bus, or shuttle. If you’re not going to take a rental car, I recommend taking a shuttle for the most comfort unless you’re on a tight budget – they run between $30-40.
Also, If you’re going to rent a car get a 4x4/4WD as the roads can be quite rough and in disrepair especially during the rainy season making the road leading to Arenal Volcano National Park somewhat treacherous to 2WD vehicles.
Once you’re in La Fortuna, follow the road west which ascends towards the volcano along which are numerous establishments from lodging to restaurants and even a discothèque. The road doesn’t go too far up the cone, but rather swings around and descends to the shores of Lake Arenal, (Laguna Arenal), a world-class windsurfing site.