Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Hiking Costa Rica’s Arenal Volcano

This way to Arenal trail summit

Arenal is the most famous and most photographed volcano in Costa Rica.

Explosions And Burning Ash?

Costa Rica has more than 200 volcanic formations, but only six are considered active. Without question, Arenal is the most famed. Once upon a time, the volcano spewed lava on a daily basis -- but its last eruption was 2010. That’s good news. During our recent visit to Costa Rica, we wanted to visit Arenal, but that wouldn’t be possible if there was any chance of explosions and blankets of burning ash.

Campo Verde, La FortunaFor our excursion to Arenal, we stayed at Campo Verde on the outskirts of La Fortuna. We arrived late at night and rolled our luggage along a walkway for several hundred meters before we found our bungalow. The lodging is rustic but comfortable -- offering air conditioning and a small porch to view the surroundings.

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When we awoke and walked to the main building for breakfast, we were bowled over by an amazing sight. We were surrounded by a lush landscape of trees and manicured flowers and towering in the near distance with a prominent strand of smoke, was Arenal.

Our guide points out Lake ArenalFor our Costa Rica trip, we booked through Green World Adventures. They made arrangements for our lodging, transfers, and worked with local companies for the excursions. We were very pleased with them and saved more than $2,000 compared with the outfit I was originally considering. Our hike at Arenal Volcano was with Desafio Adventures. Desafio is a quality operation.

We had the best of both worlds on our trip. It was personalized -- not a mass of 20 or 30 people milling around -- but for the excursions, we were booked into tours that featured small groups. This was perfect for chatting and making friends. For the hike up Arenal, it turns out that we had a personal tour guide. It was just me, the Green Dragon, and tour guide Steven.

A Rarified View

We were blessed with good luck. The night before on the road to Campo Verde we spied Arenal in the distance swathed in clouds. The day of the hike, the mountain was fully visible in all its glory -- a rarity we were told.

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Before trekking to the summit of the trail, you should be sure to have a broad-brimmed hat, sunglasses, plenty of sunscreen and a full water bottle. There are hiking sticks at the foot of the trail if you so choose.

Little Blue HeronBefore embarking on your volcano trip, you should understand that you won’t be looking over the rim of the crater into a steaming pool of lava. It just isn’t safe. Instead the trail summit takes you to the base of the volcano with great views of the stones and hardened lava flows covering the side of the mountain.

If you enjoy birdwatching, as we do, you may want to bring your binoculars. We saw some amazing birds including a Jacamar, Boat-billed Flycatcher, White-throated Magpie Jay, Red-cheeked Woodpecker, and Montezuma Oropendola.

Top of the Arenal trailHitting The Trail Summit

The hike takes about three hours for a round trip. Most of the way is like a nature trail and isn’t challenging, but there’s plenty to see and enjoy. About a third of the way up the trail becomes steeper with switchbacks and loose rocks. It’s not supremely challenging, but it can get long and hot.

As you move up the mountain, vegetation starts to thin out. Huge volcanic rocks, tossed by a savage eruption in 1968, litter the landscape. The summit of the trail gives you a perfect view of Arenal and a chance to sit and enjoy the view. Turn away from the volcano, if you can, and you’ll be rewarded with a stunning look at Lake Arenal.

Pilsen BeerCampo Verde is close to a couple of restaurants and our outing worked up an appetite. We visited the Steak House Mirador Arenal, just a few steps away from the camp. The food was good, but we were especially thankful for the cold beer. I had a cold bottle of Pilsen and of the three local brews I tried, I rank it the best -- especially after a long, hot hike!

Arenal Volcano is an iconic attraction in Costa Rica. The power and beauty of Arenal, as well as the flora and fauna, make this a must-see destination for your next South American trip.

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