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Hiking Arenal Volcano National Park: A giant tree and a new trail

May 4, 2019

ARENAL VOLCANO NATIONAL PARK — It almost seems silly, hiking several kilometers through secondary forest to see a single tree.

That is, until you reach it.

The highlight of Arenal Volcano National Park’s El Ceibo trail is an enormous tree thought to be at least 400 years old.

Unlike most of the nearby forest, this Ceiba tree survived Arenal Volcano’s massive 1968 eruption, which killed 87 people and wiped out hundreds of kilometers of vegetation and livestock. And there it stands today, towering over its surroundings, a tree older than the country itself.

The giant ceiba tree at Arenal Volcano National Park. Alejandro Zúñiga / The Tico Times

***

Visiting Arenal Volcano is a quintessential part of any tourist trip to Costa Rica.

That much is evident as you drive through the town of La Fortuna. Signs in English advertising upscale hotels, hot springs and adventure tours are almost everywhere you turn.

Of course, the principal attraction is the volcano itself, the conical behemoth that dominates the landscape.

Though you can see the stratovolcano from nearly everywhere in the La Fortuna district, Arenal Volcano National Park provides an up-close view at a bargain for Costa Rican citizens and permanent residents.

Founded in 1991, the national park and its popular Las Coladas trail takes visitors to a lookout point atop hardened lava flows from Arenal’s past eruptions.

Map of trails at Arenal Volcano National Park. Alejandro Zúñiga / The Tico Times

The park expanded its options for visitors in 2017 with the inauguration of a paved peninsula trail that also provides excellent lookouts for the volcano and Lake Arenal. (Unfortunately, clouds covered much of the volcano during a recent visit, though the sky was much clearer the following day.)

Lookout point from Arenal Volcano National Park. Alejandro Zúñiga / The Tico Times

At 1.2 km (0.75 miles) one-way, the out-and-back trail can easily be completed in 90 minutes, even factoring in time for stops. And – perhaps because it’s relatively new – the hike is teeming with wildlife.

Aerial view of foliage at Arenal Volcano National Park. Alejandro Zúñiga / The Tico Times

A pair of toucans flew between trees near the trailhead as I approached the ranger station in my car.

Toucan in the tree at Arenal Volcano National Park. Alejandro Zúñiga / The Tico Times

 

In the vegetation by the road, a large golden orb spider sat motionless on its web.

Alejandro Zúñiga / The Tico Times

During the hike, I spotted great curassow birds waddling on the trail, an agouti, two coatis feasting on ants, and a group of collared peccaries that looked surprised at the disturbance and then ran into the forest.

Arenal Volcano National Park's new peninsula trail. Alejandro Zúñiga / The Tico Times

The new peninsula trail also features a tower for treetop views of Arenal and a covered structure at the water’s edge for more sights of the lake and the volcano. (Park rangers advised against swimming, citing crocodile concerns.)

Lake Arenal from the National Park's peninsula trail. Alejandro Zúñiga / The Tico Times

 

If you’re revisiting an old classic in Arenal, the El Ceibo and Peninsula trails make the national park a worthwhile stop.

Arenal Volcano National Park is open daily from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Rates are 1,000 colones (about $1.70) for nationals and permanent residents, and $15 for adult non-residents. More information at SINAC.go.cr

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