Costa Rica | A guide to everything Costa Rica

Arenal Volcano National Park

Region: North Central
Location: 80 miles north of San Jose, near La Fortuna
Size: 30,000 acres
National Park since: Nov. 6, 1991
Highlights: Arenal volcano and Chaco volcanic lake
Facilities: marked hiking trails & POIs, auditorium, exhibition hall, souvenir shop, restrooms.

The still-active Arenal volcano is a true highlight of Costa Rica. Nearly every visitor makes their way to see it. This is a great addition to a full tour of the North Central region, including time in nearby La Fortuna and Monteverde.

Arenal erupts at night
photo courtesy of Scott Robinson

The Arenal Volcano was thought to be dormant for many years, until 1968 when it erupted with full gusto, spewing enormous clouds of gases and throwing fireworks of red-hot rock. Lava has flown ever since. During the day, billows of smoke shot skyward can be spotted for miles. At night, lava along the western side is seen as long ribbons of sparkling orange, like streamers from a conical hat.

Trails lead hikers through forest and across lava fields and may be closed if safety is ever deemed a factor.

Two volcanoes grace the horizon. Arenal summits at about 5,400 feet, an impressive sight! But it is not the only volcano in Arenal National Park.

Cerro Chaco, a tall active volcano during the Pleistocene Era, is now collapsed to 3,700 feet. Its quiet crater is filled with emerald green water, making a dazzling little lake. Hikers can climb the steep slope of Chaco to peer into its liquid hollow. The round trip is a challenging 3-5 hours, depending on the route. Swimming in Chaco is not advised due to toxic minerals in the water.

Flowers, rivers and waterfalls frame the scene. Primary cloud forest and rainforest are the habitats surrounding the towering volcanoes—home to an abundance of wildlife and luxurious flora. This is an especially great place to go bird watching!

Remember, cloud forest means clouds so some days the volcanoes and/or forest canopy are obscured by white mist.

Stay at the famed Arenal Observatory Lodge. This is the only hotel within the National Park borders. It was originally built as a scientific research station for the Smithsonian Institute in 1987, but has since become one of the most beloved rest stops for travelers in all of Costa Rica.

This 3-star mountain lodge (top-rating in Costa Rica) has 48 rooms, plus pool, Jacuzzi and a fascinating little museum of vulcanicity. Both restaurant and dining area provide a picture-perfect view of the Arenal volcano through large glass windows. Guests may take complimentary naturalist-guided walks, offered daily.


Arenal Observatory Lodge
P.O. Box 13411-1000
San Jose, Costa Rica
Main: (506) 2290-7011
Lodge: (506) 2479-1070

There is so much to do around Arenal Volcano National Park! After visiting the volcanoes, take to the trees for a zip line canopy tour. Get wet while river rafting the wild Toro. Take a trip to Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge.

A day of play in Lake Arenal. Next to the National Park is Costa Rica's largest lake, 22-mile long. Mountain biking is popular around the lake and fishing (rainbow bass,) kayaking and boat tours in the crystalline waters are greatly enjoyed.

But this artificial lake is best known for its world-class windsurfing and sailboarding conditions. Sports enthusiasts from around the globe have discovered this premier destination, which is at its peak season between December and April.

It is interesting to note that the Arenal area supplies a significant portion of Costa Rica's energy. The main source comes from the lake's hydroelectric dam, but wind farms on the nearby mountains and a geothermic plant using volcanic activity to create electrical power add to the resources.

Swim and bathe in Arenal's soothing hot springs. Throughout the park, there are several warm thermal pools and tropical gardens. So don't forget your swimsuit! Each pool is distinctive and water temperatures range from 80.6 F (27º C) to 107.6 F (42º C). You are sure to find the perfect one for relaxing amid cascades of rejuvenating water. Richly colored flowers and soothing scents add to the extraordinary sensory experience.

You won't want to miss this fantastic experience, especially if you are in Costa Rica for a wedding or honeymoon. It's very romantic!

There are several places to enjoy hot springs in the Arenal area. Facilities include changing areas, towels, showers, and Costa Rican cuisine and bar services. Most offer mud baths and spa treatments, too, including massages, body wraps, facials, manis or pedis.


Tabacon Hot Springs
photo courtesy of Jeremy Vandel

Tabacon Hot Springs—considered the best facility, luxury resort hotel, music, buffet. For reservations call toll free: (877) 277-8291 or email:

Baldi Hot Springs
photo courtesy of David Olsson

Baldi Hot Springs—the largest facility, 10 pools, most popular with younger crowd. Email:

Eco-Termales Hot Springs
photo courtesy of Kyle May

Eco Termales Hot Springs—favorite facility for peace-seeking visitors, smaller, private, lush, reservations required. No website or contact info is made public, so ask your tour guide or hotel concierge for assistance.

Hotel Los Lagos Hot Springs
photo courtesy of John Fife

Hotel Los Lagos Hot Springs—is located just 4 miles from La Fortuna at the base of the Arenal volcano. The hotel offers swimming pools, slides and hot spring-fed jacuzzis.

The Springs Resort & Spa—home of Los Perdidos Springs and Las Lagunas, large 5-star hotel, seen on the TV show The Bachelor. For reservations call U.S. (954) 727-8333 or C.R. (506) 2401-3313 or email:

Whatever draws you to Arenal National Park—Costa Rica's iconic volcanoes, hot lava flows, gorgeous hiking trails, inspiring forest creatures, a stay at the famous Arenal Observatory Lodge, windsurfing on Lake Arenal or a muscle-melting day in the area's picturesque hot springs—you will never, ever forget your visit to the exciting North Central region of Costa Rica.

Go back to Costa Rica National Parks & Reserves

above photo courtesy of