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Travel bucket list idea:

Last updated: 06 February, 2024
Expert travel writer: Alex Robinson

For just over forty years Arenal was one of the world’s safest active volcanoes to visit – a rumbling cone set in lush forest, spewing out lava that glowed red in the night.

Today, Arenal sleeps but remains truly spectacular – oozing hot rivers and springs, with a near-perfect cone, fuming puffs of gas, and shrouded in black ash. On its slopes, lush forest fringes crumbling, congealed lava fields, and the trees are rich in wildlife – including peccaries, ocelots and capuchin monkeys.

The forests are beautiful, cut with numerous wildlife trails and dripping with waterfalls. There are spectacular views of the mountains’ perfect cone at every turn – framed by rainforest trees.

The entire area is protected as a national park, a larger conservation area and a series of private reserves – all part of the 204,000-hectare Arenal Conservation Area.

Over the years, a series of luxurious hotels and a string of hot river spas grew around its flanks and ecotourism parks with canopy walkways – at toucan’s eye level – were built in the beautiful cloud forests around the mountain.

It’s illegal and potentially dangerous to summit the mountain itself, but there are great hikes in the area; trails run across lava fields through pine woods filled with peccary and parakeets. Other trails lead to waterfalls like the 75m-high La Fortuna, which drops into a refreshing, clear-water pool that you can hike to and swim in.

There’s a range of other bucket list things to do in and around the national park too.

Canopy walkways offer monkey-eye views and the park environs have some of the country’s longest and fastest zip lines. There’s also rainforest river kayaking, tubing and white-water rafting, mountain biking and canyoning.

Recommendations

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Butterfly Conservatory

El Castillo, Alajuela Province, Costa Rica

Butterfly Conservatory

This small centre just outside the Park has atrium habitats housing hundreds of colourful rainforest butterflies, as well as other small rainforest fauna and an orchid exhibit. You’ll leave with a full appreciation of the extraordinarily diverse range of butterflies you may not see in the wild. Open daily.

Adult price: £11

Best for ages 4+

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La Fortuna Waterfall

Arenal National Park, Alajuela Province, Costa Rica

La Fortuna Waterfall

A beautiful 75m-high waterfall that drops into a refreshing, clear-water pool surrounded by moss-covered boulders. A wonderful place to swim.

Best for ages 13+

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More details >

Logistics

Price: Free
Minimum age: Any
Age suitable: 13+
When: All year around
Duration: -

Getting there & doing it

Arenal Volcano National Park (the part of the volcano you can access) is 18km from downtown La Fortuna and you can get there by hire car or taxi for the cab fare (about US$30 one way) plus the park entry cost of US$15. Cabs will also drop you at trails and pick you up at the other end.

Some of the attractions (like the canopy walkways and the La Fortuna waterfall hikes) can be done solo. You’ll need a local guide, however, to hike in Volcan Arenal National Park whose entrance lies some 12km west of Fortuna Town. These are easily organised through hotels and guest houses or local agencies in La Fortuna village itself.

Organised tours make life easy by providing all logistics and knowing what’s best to do where and when. They’ll often also offer combos that combine several bucket list activities into one action-packed day.

Or you can base yourself in the park at Arenal Observatory Lodge – the only hotel in the park, with wonderful up-close volcano cone views and forest trails running from the lodge itself.

When to do it

The Arenal volcano region has its own regional climate. The driest period – when the volcano’s perfect cone is most easily seen – is January-late April. Rain is heaviest in June, October and November. However, the area can cloud over at any time of the year.

Average temperatures are warm and humid all year round – varying by only a few degrees, as you’d expect in the tropics and peaking at around 25 °C in April and May.

Who to go with: organised tours

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Our selection of the best Viator tours of this attraction or activity

Arenal Volcano Full-Day Combo Tour with Lunch and Dinner

San Jose

Arenal Volcano Full-Day Combo Tour with Lunch and Dinner
Explore several attractions and sites on this full-day Arenal Volcano Combo Tour from San Jose. Enjoy views of waterfalls, volcanoes, rainforests, plantations, and wildlife on the way to Arenal. Learn about Costa Rican Coffee and food; taste some of the best coffee in the world and Costa Rican authentic cuisine. Do zip lining & rappelling in the rainforest and learn about the indigenous culture of Costa Rica. Relax in the thermal mineral waters of the Arenal Hot Springs at the base of the volcano, near the town of La Fortuna. Lunch and dinner are included.

Price: $179

Min age: 5

Rating 4.92 / 5 [2340 ratings]

Tour supplied by:

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Full day Arenal Volcano, La Fortuna Waterfall and Hotsprings

La Fortuna

Full day Arenal Volcano, La Fortuna Waterfall and Hotsprings
The tour that has it all!! In this tour we will proudly show you the spectaculair nature that La Fortuna area has to offer. We will take you allong rivers, over high hanging bridges, jungle staircases, mountain trails, the magnificent la Fortuna waterfall, butterfly garden, Maleku Indian village, giant tree forest, el lago verde, lava rock fields, the highest scenic Arenal viewpoint, Wildlife watching and to end visit a Hot spring resort with natural mineral hotwater. All of this including, entrance fees, expert guide, warm typical lunch, fruitbreak, coffee break, cacique cocktail

Price: $95

Min age: 6

Rating 4.83 / 5 [1138 ratings]

Tour supplied by:

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Hanging Bridges, La Fortuna Waterfall and Arenal Volcano Hike

La Fortuna

Hanging Bridges, La Fortuna Waterfall and Arenal Volcano Hike
This tour includes 3 different activities: The Volcano hike, La Fortuna Waterfall and Arenal Hanging Bridges. You will enjoy a secondary forest right in the base of the Arenal Volcano and a primary rainforest with great biodiversity in the hanging bridges, among this forest you will find yourself arriving at 15 different bridges in a variety of levels from the ground which will help you cross the area. Then,  La Fortuna Waterfall, you will go to the base where you can enjoy its water by swimming in its natural pool. Please note there are are 500 steps to descend and the same number to return to the car. Remember to bring towel and bathing suit.

Price: $172

Min age: 0

Rating 4.90 / 5 [1010 ratings]

Tour supplied by:

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Arenal Volcano Experience Full-Day Tour from San Jose

San Jose

Arenal Volcano Experience Full-Day Tour from San Jose
See more of the Arenal Volcano region with the convenience of a full-day tour from San Jose. Take a scenic route to Arenal with views of farms, rain forests, and small towns. Stop at a coffee plantation and sample coffee, as well as traditional snacks. Stop at a waterfall, look for wildlife, and learn about the Costa Rican Native Culture, then have the afternoon to soak in hot springs set in a lush garden near the Arenal Volcano. Lunch, dinner and coffee tasting are included on this trip.

Price: $159

Min age: 3

Rating 4.84 / 5 [653 ratings]

Tour supplied by:

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White Water River Rafting Class II-III from La Fortuna-Arenal

La Fortuna

White Water River Rafting Class II-III from La Fortuna-Arenal
After receiving instructions by your certified guides, practice your rafting skills before embarking on this rafting tour. Paddle along the scenic, and exciting Balsa river. Stop along the way for lunch, fresh fruits, beverages, or to take a refreshing plunge in the Balsa River.

Price: $92

Min age: 8

Rating 4.95 / 5 [407 ratings]

Tour supplied by:

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Destination guides

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Destination guides including or relevant to this experience

Costa Rica

Costa Rica

Costa Rica

Rainforests, powdery beaches, white-water rivers and towering volcanoes: this relaxed Central American country offers exceptional wilderness adventures in stunning landscapes.

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