La Fortuna is about 2.5 hours from San Jose. It’s known as a gateway to Arenal Volcano National Park, comprising 2 volcanoes. Active Arenal Volcano is still laced with lava flows. Hot springs dot the foot of the volcano, on the thermal Tabacón River. Dormant Chato Volcano has a crater lake and rainforest trails leading to La Fortuna Waterfall, with its natural pool. The Arenal Volcano National Park also encompasses Lake Arenal, which at 85 square kilometres (32 square miles) is the largest lake in Costa Rica.
Costa Rica: Alajuela – Volcan Arenal
One of the things that drew us to La Fortuna was the chance to visit la Parque Nacional Volcán Arenal and get to see up close the most active volcano in Costa Rica
Arenal has in recent times been the most active volcano in Costa Rica, as recent as in the last decade red lava flows could be seen flowing from the perfect cone of Arenal, although it has been several years since the last eruption. No one can predict when this quiet cycle will end, and the glowing red-orange cone will once again dominate the night sky but even when it’s not erupting spectacularly the peak is still an imposing and beautiful sight. Having said that that the top of Arenal is often shrouded in clouds and during our three-day stay in the area we did not get a sighting of the peak. As we live in an area with several volcanos in the USA, which are a daily sight we were not too disappointed!
Located 15 kilometres from Fortuna between the foothills of the Cordillera de Tilaran mountain range and the San Carlos plains, Arenal Volcano National Park covers 12,124-hectares and is one of the most visited destinations in the Northern Zone. Several trails—Heliconias, Coladas, Tucanes and Los Miradores—allow observation of much of the park’s flora and fauna, as well as the remains of lava tracts. The park also encompasses Lake Arenal, which at 85 square kilometres (32 square miles) is the largest lake in Costa Rica.
We decided to take a trail on a private reserve, known as Arenal 1968, which offers impressive views of Arenal Volcano and lava fields. This park got its name from the Arenal Volcano eruption of 1968 which was one of the most important and crucial events in Costa Rica’s history. The eruption destroyed 3 towns and killed several people, but it also changed the topography of the area. The forest on the west side of the volcano was destroyed by the subsequent lava flows.
The reserve is one of the best places in the area to observe and witness these lava fields. With two trails going through the rain forest and lava fields, visitors can see the leftover lava rocks and boulders and walk through the forest to get impressive views of Arenal Volcano and the lake. The two trails are the ‘Bosque’ and ‘Colada’.
The Colada Trail is around 4 km (2.4 miles) long. Colada translates to wash or flow, and this trail is so named because it has the best views of the 1968 flows and the volcano. The Bosque trail (the Forest Trail) is about 4.7 km (3 miles) long and is a moderate-to-difficult hike since the terrain has some steep portions as well as lots of roots and rocks. It meets the Colada Trail close the main viewpoint of Volcán Arenal and drops through the thick rainforest before it reaches Lago Los Patos or Duck Lake, which is about 22 meters (72 feet) deep and was formed when the eruptions took place. From Duck Lake the trail flattens and passes by fields and across streams. The trails can be combined for a 7km hike, which h took us about 2.5 hours to complete – with a few stops along the way.
Normally, the trails run clockwise but for some reason since the Covid-19 pandemic they have changed direction, so we headed out in the anti-clockwise direction along the Colada Trail. The trail started wide and flat, and it was relatively easy going. It was not even too hot and sticky at first. The jungle was thick and there were some impressive tree roots along the way. Occasionally, there were breaks in the dense foliage and we were able to see across some open pastures that abutted the forest.
After two kilometres or so the trail opens out and begins to climb. The path narrows and begins to snake its way up a narrow ridge. Here you will be walking the trail through the lava flows. There are some rocks and steep sections to negotiate. Finally, we reached the top of the ridge where there is a viewpoint of Arenal Volcano. Quite often the summit of the volcano is covered from view by clouds. Today, was one of those days. The clouds had become broken as we climbed to the view point, but everytime we thought there would be a break in the cloud cover another pesky cloud would come in and dash our hopes.
This viewpoint is also a great place to see Lake Arenal. Luckily, we did get a great view of the lake and the mountains beyond.
So, after 20-minutes of fruitless volcano viewing we headed off.
We soon reached the intersection of the Colada and Bosque Trails. The option was the short hike down to the trailhead or take the Bosque Trail. We chose the latter. This trail took us back into the forests. It was a steeper, rockier trail than we had been on before. After a while the rocks were replaced as hazards by tree roots, which were slippery due to the rain that had fallen the day before. So, we had to be very diligent as to where we were placing our feet. The downhill section lasted about 2-kilometres before things levelled out again and we reached Lago los patos (Duck Lake).
The trail beyond the lake is relatively flat, but there are a couple of sections that cross streams. Here the path dips down to narrow bridges or in some cases steppingstones.
There are a few little oddities on the way, including a model of the volcano – which is quite handy if you, like us, didn’t get to see the whole of Arenal in its full glory.
Eventually, we arrived at the visitor centre, where there was a small gift shop and a very nice cafe with a beautiful observation deck to view Arenal and the surrounding area.
We had not seen any wildlife on our hike, which was a little disappointing (although that is not why we went on this hike). As we left the parking lot of Arenal 1968 and headed towards the main road we came across a lot of cars and people on the side of the road – which is always a good sign for spotting wildlife. In fact, it was perfect as we got a close-up view of a toucan as well as a troop of Howler monkeys, with babies. Perfect!
Planning your visit to Parque Nacional Volcán Arenal
Access to the 1968 Trail is about 25 minutes from La Fortuna on the western side of the volcano. From the downtown, you take Route 142 west towards Lake Arenal and then a left onto the dirt road leading to Arenal Volcano National Park and El Castillo. About 1.25 km (3/4 of a mile) down the road, you will find the visitors’ centre and parking area for the 1968 Trail. The property is marked with a big sign on the left so you can’t miss it.
|Address:||Calle Real el Castillo, Alajuela Province, San Carlos,|
|Telephone:||T: +506 4001 1968|
|Hours:||Open daily from 8 am – 5 pm (Last Entrance at 4:00 pm)|
What to Wear/Bring
- closed-toed shoes
- rain jacket:
- waterproof backpack or a rain cover
- long pants
- sunscreen and sunglasses.
We decided to do the hike without a guide. The trail is well marked so you won’t get lost.
The advantage of a guided tour is that most will pick you up from your hotel and you will have someone with local knowledge to tell you about the history of the region and point out fauna and flora that you would likely miss – unless you are an expert!
Best time to visit La Fortuna
- The best months for good weather in La Fortuna are January, February, March, April and December
- On average, the warmest months are March, April, May, June, July, August,
- The rainiest months are June, July, August and October
Other things to do whilst in La Fortuna
La Fortuna is an excellent home base to explore the surrounding natural attractions and is known as the adventure capital of Costa Rica.
Here are some ideas of things to do during your stay in La Fortuna.
1. HOT SPRINGS
The small town of La Fortuna, Costa Rica once again sits at the base of Arenal Volcano. A massive eruption in 1968 wiped out the town of La Fortuna, along with two neighbouring towns. The town rebuilt, tapping into the underground river that was now being geothermally heated by the volcano to create dozens of natural hot springs in La Fortuna.
The hot springs in La Fortuna range from luxury to completely free.
2. MISTICO ARENAL HANGING BRIDGES
Touring the jungle in Arenal is one of the most popular things to go in the area. Mistico Hanging bridges allows you to walk through the canopy of the beautiful Costa Rican rainforest.
The 3.2 kilometres (2 miles) hanging bridges trail has 10 regular bridges and 6 hanging ones with the tallest standing at 148 feet. The bridges allow for spectacular views of the rainforest and Arenal Volcano.
The hanging bridge trail is extremely well maintained and the bridges are in excellent shape so this is a hike for all ages. It is not too difficult: no steep hills and not many steps.
3. BOGARIN TRAIL
The Bogarin Trail is located less than one kilometre (0.6 miles) west of the central park in downtown La Fortuna. You can easily walk there if you don’t have a car.
The entrance is on a side street off the main road, Route 142. If you are heading west on Route 142 towards the volcano, the street is on your right just after La Forchetta Ristorante. It is on the same side road as Arenal Backpackers Resort.
The Bogarin Trail property has one main loop that is 2.5 km (1.5 miles) with some connecting trails that crisscross through. The trails are very flat, hard-packed dirt. They are well maintained and perfect for a stroller or even a wheelchair.
You can walk around on a self-guided tour or take a guided tour; either group or in private. The guided tours will give you the best value as the guide will be able to find things we regular folks will never find.
4. FORTUNA WATERFALL
Set just outside the town of La Fortuna, this 200-ft waterfall is a great place to picnic, swim or take photographs. The falls emerge from a thick jungle before plummeting into an emerald green pool below.
You can cool off by swimming in the chilly waters of pool below the falls.
The falls can be reached on foot or horseback. The trail runs through pasture and rainforest, offering up chances to spot toucans, monkeys, and other tropical creatures. It takes about 15 minutes to hike down the set of stairs to the waterfall and an hour to arrive by horse.
A local non-profit association administers the waterfall. The entrance fee is $18, with all proceeds being reinvested into local conservation efforts.
5. LAKE ARENAL
Lake Arenal sits beneath the majestic Arenal Volcano in the northern part of Costa Rica. It is 85 square kilometres, man-made and is 30 to 60 meters deep, depending on the season. It is the biggest lake in Costa Rica and provides essential hydroelectric power generation for the country.
Year-round activities on Lake Arenal include fishing, boat tours, kayaking, sailboarding and windsurfing. The windsurfing is particularly good, as the lake has warm waters and strong winds – two ingredients that are indispensable for premier windsurfing locations. The fishing is superb as well. Rainbow bass, a member of the cichlid family, are especially prolific in the lake’s waters.
6. RIO CELESTE
The Celeste River in Costa Rica is located in the Guatuso canton, in Alajuela province and in the well-known Tenorio Volcano National Park, which is part of the Arenal and Tempisque conservation area. The river is formed by the convergence of two others, the Buena Vista and the Quebrada Agria, both of which run through the slopes of the volcano itself.
What impresses the most is the 14km stretch of the Celeste River that is intense blue in colour as a result of the silica particles suspended in the water.
7. RÍO FRÍO
Stretching across northwestern Costa Rica and into Nicaragua is the calm Río Frío. The most visited portion of the river is certainly the section that goes through the Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge, a great destination for river safaris and wildlife viewing.
The mellow river is surrounded by wetlands that get flooded in the rainy season, forming a vast lake. The most scenic stretch of the river is the Cano Negro portion, a scene reminiscent of the Florida everglades. This area is also home to an abundance of underwater wildlife including freshwater sharks, caimans and hundreds of amphibians and reptiles.
Safari floats, which provide fantastic wildlife and scenic views, are the most popular activity on Río Frío. But the river is also great for fishing. Snook, guapote, alligator gar, drum and tarpons that have been known to weigh as much as 220 lbs (100 kg) all populate this river’s waters.
Where to stay in La Fortuna
1. HOTEL ARENAL XILOPALO
During our visit to La Fortuna, we stayed at the Hotel Arenal Xilopalo, a five-minute walk from the heart of the town.
Located in Fortuna, 3.5 miles from La Fortuna Waterfall and 3 miles from Kalambu Hot Springs, Arenal Xilopalo has accommodations with free WiFi, air conditioning, a shared lounge and a garden.
All units come with a seating area, a flat-screen TV with cable channels and a private bathroom with free toiletries and a shower. There’s also a kitchen in some of the units equipped with a microwave and fridge.
The lodge offers a continental or buffet breakfast.
2. TABACÓN HOT SPRINGS & SPA
This 5-star resort features hot spring baths, sauna, massage services, luxury spa treatments and 5 swimming pools, Tabacón Thermal Resort & Spa is 15 minutes drive from the Arenal Volcano National Park.
The rooms and suites offer modern décor, garden views, air conditioning, flat-screen cable TV, a coffee maker and a mini-bar. The bathrooms come with bathrobes, slippers and free toiletries. The suites also feature a living area.
Guests can enjoy a swim-up bar, lobby bar and Los Tucanes restaurant and Ave del Paraiso restaurant serving local dishes and international gourmet cuisine. The property also offers free valet parking, a welcome cocktail and unlimited access to its on-site hot springs.
Activities such as volcano tours, rappeling, hiking through suspension bridges and rafting can be also arranged.
This complex is 20 minutes drive from La Fortuna main square and 1 hour’s drive from Venado Caves
3. ARENAL BACKPACKERS RESORT
Arenal Backpackers Resort is a 5-star property in Costa Rica. This beautiful hostel/resort has a spectacular view of the Arenal Volcano and is just a few minutes walk from the town centre and bus stop. The open setting of the property also makes it the perfect place for meeting fellow travellers.
Facilities include: Pristine swimming pool, with wet bar and sun loungers, A large garden with hammocks, Games: cards, board games, twister, pool table, slip n slide, etc, Information and Tour Desk, Restaurant, Fully bilingual staff and 24-hour security
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