If you are interested in getting up close and personal with the Arenal Volcano while in La Fortuna, the Silencio Trail is the most popular means of doing so.
El Silencio Trail is located just outside La Fortuna along the main road around the volcano (a drive and/or taxi ride is approximately 15 minutes from downtown). A fee per person is required to enter (approximately $10) and parking is available (if required). If taking a taxi to the trail, be sure to prearrange a pick-up service with the same driver. Taxis are not regularly available at the trail, so it is best to arrange a pick-up service in advance. In Ricky and I’s experience, cell phone signals are inconsistent at the trail – we do not rely on being able to call a taxi to pick us up after our visit, rather we plan ahead and set a time for a driver to meet us upon completion. Depending on our mood, we usually give ourselves 1.5-2.0 hours at the trail. We also plan to meet the driver at the entrance, since the trails are circular offering start and end points at the same location.
The hike through the Silencio Trail is a moderate one. Some inclined sections (as shown in the image above) balance out stretches of flat land, making the walk both challenging and fun. The site offers a few different trails that can be tackled in a variety of ways, however we recommend doing the following. Once you have entered the park, stay to the right. Follow the trail all the way along until you meet the volcano viewpoint at the back of the site. The majority of this walk to the viewpoint will take place within the forest. From the viewpoint, continue the walk down (now outside of the forest and walking in the open) to the main road that runs from the entrance of the Silencio Trail straight to the back of the site, stopping in front of the volcano. Once at this road, you have two options: 1) you can follow this road straight back to the entrance of the park and end your tour, or 2) you can set out on this road towards the entrance/exit until you arrive at an opening to another trail on your right. This trail is windy and hilly, and both starts and ends at the main road. Taking this route will not lead you to a different location, it will simply provide you with an additional hiking challenge and a longer trail route. Both options lead you back to the entrance/exit, whether you opt to walk straight back via the main road, or chose to take the alternative trail option.
Of course, there are multiple ways visitors can walk the trails at El Silencio. If desired, visitors can enter the site, walk directly straight to the back via the main road, and begin the hike to the right. This is the opposite of what I recommend doing, only because travellers will find themselves having to walk uphill more of the way in choosing this option (if opting for this route, you will need to hike up to the volcano viewpoint, as opposed to walking down from it). Whichever way you decide to explore the trails, be sure not to miss the main attraction – the stunning Arenal Volcano – waiting for you at the back of the site.
As a nature enthusiast and bird lover, Ricky loves the Silencio Trail for its tranquil setting – the perfect place to spot animals and/or birds you might not have seen elsewhere along your travels. On each and every one of our visits to the site, Ricky and I have been met by monkeys (mainly howlers), on occasion pigs, and followed by various types of reptiles. Although a guided tour of the site is not required, we recommend experiencing El Silencio with a guide if your interest is to learn about nature, the volcano, and spot wildlife (more about this in our related blog post Guided Tours In Costa Rica: Are They Necessary, Valuable, And/Or Worthwhile?). Too often travellers sacrifice quality when opting to explore areas on their own (although it is of course 9 times out of 10 less expensive to do so), and since naturalist guides are trained to point out what travellers would otherwise miss, guided tours can extremely enhance the overall experience. For those who are drawn to El Silencio not specifically for this education but rather for its moderate walk/hike, a guide is not necessary as all of the trails are clearly marked and a map is provided upon entrance.
*Discounts for hiking tours including those to the Silencio Trail are available through Pura Vida! eh? Incorporated at: http://www.puravidaeh.ca/
QUESTION TO COMMENT ON: When travelling (in unfamiliar territory), do you prefer to walk/hike with the leadership of a guide or explore on your own?