Looking for a beginner/moderate hike in La Fortuna/Arenal? Try the Arenal Volcano National Park.
Found just outside the small town of La Fortuna (or after Tilaran, to the west), this national park plays a major role in protecting many of Costa Rica’s life zones and preserved areas. Encompassing the incredible Arenal Volcano and neighbour to Arenal Lake, the Arenal Volcano National Park is a tourism hotspot. This being said, although walking tours through the park are widely available (if you prefer a guided service), visitors can also pay the entrance fee and explore the park on their own. Vehicle parking is available at the entrance, however not beyond this point, so be prepared to walk deep into (and back out of) the park. The trail is not overly marked, however the highly flattened ground (evidence of the many travellers who have walked your steps before you) leads the way.
Although not a very lush forest, the Arenal Volcano National Park’s biggest attraction is its closeness to the volcano – specifically, its nearness to the “active” side of the volcano (the side where rocks once, and still do, shoot out of the volcano and tumble to the ground). Once inside the park, follow the trail until you reach a fork in the route – we recommend taking the trail to the left. Once at the back of the park (follow the trail straight until the route begins to turn as if in the shape of an oval guiding you back towards the entrance) you will find a set of steps on your left. If you choose to make the trip up, you will not be disappointed.
These steps lead visitors to a breathtaking view of the surrounding area, the lake, and most stunningly, the Arenal Volcano. The view of the volcano from this place in the park is like none other – you can climb on the volcanic rocks and stand on their mountain overlooking the area. Pay attention, however, to the warnings: “zone of high volcanic risk”, “area of high volcanic activity – no trespassing”, and use common sense when climbing. In addition to limiting how far you climb over the rocks (given the fact that the closer you trek towards the volcano, the closer you are to where the volcano debris flies), the rocks are large, sharp, and slippery when wet, which can be a hazard to those who are not careful.
Once you have enjoyed the view, had enough volcano-viewing, and perhaps even heard the volcano rumble a few times, head back down the set of steps to find the park trail once again. At this point, if you are tired and wish to call it a day, you can take the trail to the right (and backtrack along the same trail you followed when you entered the park) – this is the shortest hiking option to the exit of the park. For those who wish to continue their journey, once down the steps take the trail to the left (the way you have not yet travelled). Continue along this trail throughout the rest of the park (past an enormous and photo-worthy tree on your right) until the route winds around to complete a circle and you meet the original stretch of trail you already walked at the beginning of your tour. This trail (to your left) will lead you to the exit of the park. Note that the park entrance and exit are in the same place, so your vehicle (if applicable) will be waiting for you at the end of your trek.
*Discounts for hiking tours including those to the Arenal Volcano National Park are available through Pura Vida! eh? Incorporated at: http://www.puravidaeh.ca/
QUESTION TO COMMENT ON: When visiting a national park, would you prefer to explore the area on your own, or with the knowledge and assistance of a guide?