Costa Rica is known for its volcanoes, and the most famous is the most active: the Arenal volcano.
Arrival in La Fortuna
You can reach the Arenal Volcano by bus, and an hour from San Jose at Atlantico Norte Station at 12 Calle Street (12th Street). You want the bus to San Carlos. If you rented a car, it’s a beautiful drive from San José. And you will pass two excellent side points: Zarcero and San Carlos.
If you are driving, take the Međimurje motorway from San José to Puntarenas. Take the Naranjo-Ciudad Quesada exit. Zarcero is about a 90-minute drive from San José. Zarcero is a strange and beautiful town located in the mountains, at 1,700 meters above sea level. You will find the best cheese in Zarcer, so be sure to stop and pick up some Queso blanco (white cheese) which is my favorite cheese. Zarcero is very green with lots of vegetation and farms. A popular stop is the sculpture in the city. This guy makes beautiful sculptures of giant bushes. So you will see rabbits, oxen from oxen and much more carved out of these huge bushes.
I recommend you eat at Doña Chila’s, they serve typical Costa Rican food and it’s delicious! It is located just before you reach Zarcer. Here you will also see many suppliers selling fruits and cheeses from their small stalls – don’t forget to buy some Queso blanco.
Head now from Zarcer to San Carlos. Ciudiad Quesada is a shopping mall in the San Carlos Plain in the central province of Alajuela. This is the center of the northern zone. Depending on how much time you have, there is a nice Forrest reservation called Termales del Bosque. The ticket is 8 USD. Nice hiking and have thermal pools which are fantastic hot spring pools. From Ciudiada Quesada you will see signposts to La Fortuna and the volcano Aerenal. Just follow the signs. The total driving time from San Jose is about 3-1 / 2 hours.
Arenal Volvano, Travel Tips La Fortuna
Volcan Arenal has been active since 1968. It has a perfectly shaped cone that protrudes from Mount Alajuela. You can hear loud explosions and gray clouds of mushrooms emanating from the top of the volcano. You can also see boulders erupting the volcano and collapsing down the slopes. At night you can watch a good lion show. Now this doesn’t happen every time and many times thick fogs and clouds block your visibility. So sometimes you can’t even see the volcano, so I would call one of the hotels nearby and ask about visibility.
Be aware that there is a possibility that you will not see anything because of the clouds. The chances are even worse during the rainy season. Although, even during the dry season, clouds can still block your view – the best chance is to see lava flows and red stone thunderstorms erupt. I’ve been there many times and only twice got a big show. But going to La Fortuna is still worth it even if your chances of seeing a lava show are 50/50.
To maximize your chances of staying in one of the “observatory” lodges built for the best view of the volcano. Late at night or early dawn is the best choice to catch a lava show.
There are many hiking trails in the area to the observatory. From the station at the entrance to the park you can choose two trails, and one leads to the mountain volcano Chato which is extinct. It collapsed on itself and now the lake in the crater is surrounded by forest. You can access it by a hiking trail near the Arenalmirador (observatory) where you can watch the lava flow. There is a beautiful waterfall where you can go swimming, and it is called Catarata La Fortuna which is Spanish for La Fortuna waterfall.
Other activities include horseback riding and a canopy tour. Thermal pools are the best. These are hot springs. The Tabacon Lodge is a great place to relax in the hot spring thermal waters. You can get a daily passage to their pools which are built around the thermal waters. So, you are swimming in these naturally warm waters of the volcano. From here you can also get a view of the cone of the volcano. They have five natural mineral pools at different temperatures, one with a swimming jet, a water slide and a waterfall. They also have a Tico food restaurant and several bars. The cost is about $ 30 for a daily pass.
Be sure to see Cataratas Rio Fortuna. It is a beautiful waterfall located in a rainforest near the edge of the Arenal Volcano National Park. Admission is $ 1.50. You have to hike the canyon which can be challenging, but the reward is views of the beautiful waterfall and diving into the natural pool. The average temperature in this area is 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
Another beautiful place in this area is Lake Arenal which is a large accumulation lake at the foot of a volcano along the Guancaste hills. Many people enjoy rowing and fishing on the lake. Surfing is very popular here – you can rent surfing equipment if you wish.
Beneath the lake is old Arenal, a city that was submerged in the 1970s after being destroyed by a volcanic eruption in the 1960s. The most recent eruption was in 1968. Two villages were destroyed and over 80 people died. There has been some activity in recent years, but nothing like 1968. Before 1968, the volcano had been dormant for 400 years.
The La Fortuna area is one of my favorite attractions in Costa Rica.