Tips for doing a successful self-guided hike at Arenal Volcano National Park

Last updated on August 24th, 2023

“Are you locals and still do sightseeing here?” asked a tourist that was hiking the trail at Arenal Volcano National Park. The answer was yes.

Living in San Ramon, which is located 71 kilometers (44 miles) away from the Arenal Volcano, it was pretty easy to get to La Fortuna downtown for my family when I was a child. The bus ride from San Ramon is around 2 hours, so even to spend the day in the hot springs was worth it.

So I visited the volcano in many stages of my life and for many reasons more than just as a tourist. In my college years, I did a study about the forest coverage that was affected by the hotels and tourism booming in the area.

And let me tell you a cool story: In 2008, I was in Italy attending a conference and I went to a talk where NASA showed the satellite images that they got from the Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica as an example. I couldn’t hold back my tears in excitement at seeing the images of my small country.

Definitely more than hot springs and hanging bridges, Arenal Volcano is a giant that, even though I’m a local, shows me something different every time I go.

What are the main facts about Arenal Volcano National Park?

  • Area: 12,124 Ha (29,960 Acres)
  • Altitude:  Highest point: 1633 meters (Around 5358 Feet Above Sea Level)
  • Type of ecosystem:  Cloud forest
  • Dry season: January until April
  • Conservation Category: National Park
  • Wildlife: Birds around 453 species (including the Toucans), monkeys, deer, reptiles like the eyelash viper.
  • Weather: The weather varies from 22 up to 32 degrees Celsius (70 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Eruption and activity: Technically, the last eruption was in October 2010 and then the volcano went to sleep, but before that, the biggest eruption was in 1968.
  • Lake Arenal: It’s an artificial lake that is the largest lake in Costa Rica at 85-square-kilometre (33 sq mi). The importance of the lake is various uses like hydroelectricity project, wildlife, and recreation.

How to start planning your Arenal Volcano hike and what you will find inside of the national park

When you are picking tours in the area, remember the importance of supporting the national parks. The national parks are in charge of protecting Costa Rica’s natural resources like water and wildlife. Park rangers have a lot of tasks behind the scenes in order to achieve those goals.

When you are picking tours in the area, remember the importance of supporting the national parks. The national parks are in charge of protecting Costa Rica’s natural resources like water and wildlife. Park rangers have a lot of tasks behind the scenes in order to achieve those goals.

However, we understand that the volume of work and the lack of enough staff means that some people don’t find what they are looking for inside the park.

Our goal is to share how we prepare to visit and enjoy a place like Arenal Volcano National Park that has a lot to offer.

Inside Arenal Volcano National Park:

  • Entrance Fee: $15 (for foreigners)/ Children $5 –  Costa Ricans $2 (We know, we know)
  • The services that you will find at the National Park are:
    1. Reception at the main entrance where you paid the fee. You can pay with cash or credit/ debit card.
    2. Restrooms
    3. Parking
    4. Two lookout points (“mirador” in Spanish) one in Sector Volcan and other in Sector Peninsula.
  • Mirador in Sector Volcan: You can drive all the way up to the viewing point and then return to the parking lot that is next to the trail.

The trails:

You will hike in the bottom part of the volcano but will have a great view of the volcano on a sunny day and you will definitely walk on the lava rocks.

It is illegal to hike to the top. Still, you might hear people that do it, but even though the volcano is sleeping there have been accidents because of this type of climbing.

But if you plan well and enjoy nature, Arenal Volcano National Park has a lot to offer. We spent almost 8 hours one day inside the park!

Trails in Sector Volcan:You will find 4 trails in this area.

This area opens at 8:00 AM. The last chance to access the area is at 2:30 PM , and ​​​​​​​they close at 4:00 PM.

  • Heliconias: It’s a small trail that not many visitors do. The distance is 600 meters (0.37 miles). Duration can be 20 minutes.  
  • Coladas: This trail is 2 km (1.25 miles) long and connects with other trails. It’s pretty much flat until you get to some stairs that will take you to the lava rocks.

The first part of the trail has as a vegetation species of giant grass mixed with what appears secondary forest.

The trail will take you all the  ​​​​​​way to the lava rocks where you can have a better view of the volcano and Lake Arenal.

Duration: 1 hour

Great Curassow female by Rodrigo Santamaria on

  • Los Tucanes:Less popular and without a visible sign. This trail is to your left when you start to walk “El Ceibo” Trail. You will have a view of the Arenal Lake.
  • El Ceibo: The ceibo is a centenarian tree of the subfamily Faboideae, original from South America. In this trail, you will see one of these where you can take pictures and admire this giant.

The trail extension is 2.7 kilometers (1.6 miles) and you can do it in 1.5 hours.

El Ceibo trail

Trails in Sector Peninsula: This is the newest area of the Arenal Volcano National Park with 2 trails.

This area opens at 8:00 AM. 4:00 PM is the last chance to access the park, and ​​​​​​​they close at 6:00 PM.​​​​​​​​​​​​​

To get here, you will leave the Sector Volcan and turn left and take the first exit to your right and drive around 10 minutes to the entrance of sector peninsula.

  • Los Miradores: This is a super nice trail where you can walk all the way down to the lake. The distance is 1.2 kilometers (0.75 miles) and the duration
  • El Tororoi: This one you can do at the beginning or the end but it’s just a side trail. It´s 600 meters (less than a mile). However, the trail is not flat and has some stairs.

Other trails that can be found around Arenal Volcano

Arenal 1968: The trail is located in private property but also is a reserve with several trails.

Basically, the name represents the eruption that happened in the afternoon of 29 of July of 1968 and unfortunately killed many locals. That was the last day of “Cerro Arenal” because with that eruption there was no doubt that Arenal was a volcano, not just a mountain.

The entrance is located before the main entrance of the Arenal Volcano National Park.

Cerro Chato:Located next to the Arenal Volcano, this is one of the most insane trails that I will never forget because it was where I first remember being bit by the hiking bug.

Unfortunately is closed until further notice and the government doesn’t allow entrance.

3 simple tips told by a local that will help you to spot wildlife

Walk slowly & quietly:

We noticed that a lot of people were so excited to see the volcano that they forgot the wildlife that surrounds the area.

We learned that you have to immerse yourself in nature and try to be as quiet as you can so animals don’t run away.

That day, we spotted birds like toucans, monkeys, and snakes, but some people were walking so fast that they didn’t even notice that they passed next to a viper.

Be prepared & bring your snacks:

We highly recommend that you take the time to sit down and observe the movements, listen to the sounds and pay attention to the details of the trail.

When we have snacks, we are in less of a hurry to get lunch and we take the time to stop, sit down and enjoy food in nature.

Responsible Tourism tip: Remember to NOT FEED the animals, they will be worse than a broken welfare system and will be begging other tourists for food.

Check the treetops and even outside the trails (but don’t walk off the trail):

It took me a while until I understood the importance of enjoying the trails walking slow. When you train your eyes to observe any movement, you will get more chances to spot animals.

But don’t leave the trail because you can step on a snake.

We saw two French tourists who were walking slowly and paid attention to the yellow marks next to the trail and found a snake that someone could have stepped on by mistake.

The opportunities to enjoy Arenal Volcano are endless.

If you really want to learn and spot animals while at the same time supporting the local economy, we highly recommend you hire a tour guide.

But we understand if you want the freedom to do it yourself, so we recommend exploring Arenal Volcano National Park in the following order, which is how we usually do:

  • Drive all the way to the “Mirador” lookout point and then drive back to the parking lot.
  • You can start with Coladas trail to get to the lava rocks, and if the weather allows it, it is perfect for volcano pictures.
  • Walk back and take a left to continue with Ceibo Trail to take a picture of this giant tree. This one is a good trail to have a snack and sit down quietly to observe the wildlife.
  • Drive to the Peninsula area and start with the small trail “El Tororoi” and then you can go to the tower.
  • End your trip with another snack or meditation time in the last part of the trail that is in front of Lake Arenal.

We hope that this information gives you ideas of how to explore Arenal Volcano National Park by yourself.

Remember that this national park protects Costa Rica’s natural resources while you enjoy it. Maybe you don’t see them, but there is a lot of wildlife that benefits from Arenal Volcano National Park. Have fun!

Posted by Rodrigo

I am a wildlife and landscape photography lover and part-time blogger of Explore Tikizia; Husband to Ligia (a great wife) :) . Also a full time worker as support agent for a GDS. I love to travel to non-touristy places, hiking to difficult access areas and enjoy good cup of coffee.

Reader interactions

5 Replies to “Tips for doing a successful self-guided hike at Arenal Volcano National Park”

  1. Thank you for the tips. We are travelling to CR in March 2024. Looking forward to hiking around the Arenal Volcano. We are also looking for other interesting hiking locations as we will be in the area for about a week.


  2. Thank you for this! Super helpful. We are planning on going there on Jan 1st, but I can’t tell if the park will be closed, or if they have limited day passes? Any idea on this or where I can find details? Thanks !


  3. Thank you so much for the tips! Very useful! We are going to pura vida our way through the National Park tomorrow and much appreciate your opinion! 🌴👌🏼☺️


    1. Hope that you had a great time! Let us know any recommendations that you might have!

  4. Hi, thank you for the tips! I wish I see this before. We are going to CR in a few weeks so I guess we still have the rain. We booked 3 nights at Arenal observatory lodge. Can we do those trails you suggest from the hotel? Should we stay somewhere else?


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