During our recent trip to Costa Rica in mid-February, we spent several days exploring the area around Arenal Volcano. Visiting that area of Costa Rica was a no-brainer for us. Some of my favorite memories from our Hawaii trips also involved volcanoes: driving up Haleakala in Maui, getting above the clouds at sunset on Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii, and hiking out to see lava flowing from the Halema’uma’u Crater.
Arenal Volcano is not quite as dramatic as it used to be. According to several guidebooks, the volcano put on quite a show of booms and lava flows from 2005 until 2010, but has been quiet since that time. But the lack of activity doesn’t detract from the volcano’s beauty. It’s rare to be able to see the top of Arenal and you have a better chance of seeing the top during dry season. We were really lucky on our trip that, on our last day in the area, we awoke to a completely clear view of Arenal Volcano from our back porch at Volcano Lodge.
To get closer to the volcano, we drove out to Arenal Volcano National Park. The entrance and all of the access roads are unpaved, which may not seem like a big deal, but the roads are rutted and quite bumpy. The $10 admission fee is reasonable, considering there are clean lavatories at the entrance and well-groomed trails throughout.
The major trail through the park is a relatively easy walk to the 1992 lava flow. It was interesting to see how quickly the vegetation is reclaiming the area once covered by lava. It’s also amazing to see how far away you are from the volcano while you are standing on the old lava flow.
The trail loops away from the lava flow and around to the Old Ceiba Tree, which must be seen to be believed. There wasn’t much information about the Old Ceiba Tree on our trail map – just a big tree icon indicating its location. Understatement: It’s a really big, really old tree.
I’ve read a few blurbs about the Old Ceiba Tree since our return to the U.S. but I can’t find much information about it. Age estimates are anywhere from 500 to 800 years old. But you have to take those figures lightly since (true fact) trees in perpetually warm climates like Costa Rica have no rings, so it is nearly impossible to know the age of a tree.
Another great vantage point in the area is the Arenal Observatory Lodge. The lodge is a hotel, but there is a $6 admission fee to enter if you are not a guest. We had a nice lunch at the onsite restaurant and got to people-watch on the large deck facing the volcano. There are trails on the property, a small museum dedicated to the history of Arenal Volcano, and a working seismograph that monitors current activity at the volcano.
Another stop in the Arenal region is to Arenal Hanging Bridges, where you can spot howler monkeys in the trees. We had a great guide named Oscar who was a herpetologist (a snake expert) and was embarking on a new job to teach biology to high school students. He helped us spot wild pigs, lizards, howler monkeys, leaf cutter ants, termites, and other creatures big and small. If we had done the hanging bridges walk by ourselves, we would’ve seen greenery and not known where to look for wildlife. The tour was worth the extra $12 per person on top of the $24 admission price.
Our last stop during our three-day stay in the area was to Arenal Natura Ecological Park. Our guide Gustavo gave us a great tour of the alligators, crocodiles, the snake house, and the frog house. He also spotted this red-eyed leaf frog. These frogs are nocturnal but it didn’t seem to mind that we had disturbed its slumber. The frog’s colors are stunning to see in person and it was one of many sights that I would never see at home.
Related: See more photos of our trip at Photos.Frembes.com/Places/Costa-Rica.