Hiking Costa Rica: Arenal Volcano National Park
ARENAL VOLCANO NATIONAL PARK COSTA RICA — 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.
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.
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.)
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.
A pair of toucans flew between trees near the trailhead as I approached the ranger station in my car.
In the vegetation by the road, a large golden orb spider sat motionless on its web.
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.
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.)
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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