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Arenal Volcano Hike: The Best Trails

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Arenal Volcano is one of the most spectacular sights to see in Costa Rica. This giant stands at an impressive 1,657 meters tall and has been one of Costa Rica’s most active volcanoes in the past half century. But this doesn’t keep visitors from embarking on adventures to trek its lava-filled terrain located in La Fortuna.

While it is prohibited to climb Arenal Volcano, numerous hikes in Arenal Volcano National Park allow you to walk around the base, along old lava fields, and through the rainforest. Here we provide a breakdown of each Arenal Volcano hike to help you plan your trip to Arenal Volcano National Park. Note that distances and times are given for one-way.

The best time to visit the park is between February to April, for dry weather and your best chance to utilize the trails. Rains during other times of the year can make the trails treacherous and inaccessible.

Arenal Volcano Hike is one of the best ways to explore the volcano.
There are several trails to hike around Arenal Volcano.

1. LOS HELICONIAS

Los Heliconias trail offers a great introductory experience to Arenal Volcano National Park hiking. This narrow trail starts across from the ranger station and leads you to the connecting Las Coladas trail for a closer look at the volcano. Los Heliconias’ path navigates through lush, newer vegetation that has grown since the major eruption in 1968. It is easy to view wild orchids, butterflies and several bird species, including hummingbirds, magpie-jays, and oropendola. The trail also crosses with the Main Lookout path for an extension.

  • Trail distance: 1 km
  • Hike duration: 25 minutes
  • Hike difficulty: Easy, due to great accessibility, flat terrain, and short distance

This family tour in Costa Rica provides an option to take excursions in Arenal Volcano National Park.

2. MAIN LOOKOUT

Also leaving from the ranger station, the main lookout path is more of a sandy road. This trail takes you through forested and pastured areas to a lookout where you can view the remains of lava flows; a result of continuous eruptions that occured from 1968 to 1992. Viewing is limited to 20 minutes from the designated lookout. While this path is a popular option for walking, the road to the lookout may also be accessed via vehicle or on an Arenal Volcano hike tour.

  • Trail distance: 1.3 km
  • Hike duration: 25–30 minutes
  • Hike difficulty: Easy, due to a well-maintained flat path and short distance

Check out this day tour that takes you on a hike to Arenal Volcano's main lookout. 

Hiking in Arenal Volcano is strenuous but a thrilling
While you cannot hike up the volcano, it is possible to get the best views of Arenal from the lava fields.

3. LOS MIRADORES

Los Miradores is aptly named, as it translates in Spanish to “the viewpoints.” From the park headquarters, the trail meanders along the peninsula giving breathtaking panoramas of both Arenal Volcano and Lake Arenal. Passing through rainforest, it eventually leads to the shores of Lake Arenal. Opportunities to spot birds and mammals can also be particularly good on this trail as it navigates between the volcanic and lake ecosystems.

  • Trail distance: 1.2 km
  • Hike duration: 25 minutes
  • Hike difficulty: Easy, as it is mostly flat without obstacles

Check out this tour that takes you to major nature trails in Arenal Volcano and several other national parks.

4. LAS COLADAS

Las Coladas is one of the top hiking trails in Arenal for getting up close and personal with the active volcano. The sandy trail starts at the ranger station passing through diverse vegetation with views of the Tilarán Mountain Range. The trail ends at the base of the volcano, where you can walk over the volcano’s old lava fields. You may hear the rumblings of geothermal activity. Again, for safety, viewing is limited to 20 minutes. Look around the old lava areas for unique orchids, lizards, and other habitants in this hotspot.

  • Trail distance: 2 km
  • Hike duration: 1 hour
  • Hike difficulty: Easy to moderate. The trail is mostly flat but requires climbing a staircase at the end. Take precautions if walking over the lava fields as debris can be large, jagged, and wobbly.

This tour provides options to hike around the volcano or choose several other adventures available in the area.

5. EL CEIBO TRAIL

Further into the forest, El Ceibo trail is an extended loop trail that starts at and returns to Las Coladas trail. We recommend taking your time on this trail to appreciate the abundance of wildlife and plants found in this secondary forest. You don’t want to miss a photo opportunity with the massive Ceibo tree of over 400 years old, for which this trail is named for.

  • Trail distance: 1.8 km
  • Hike duration: 1.5 hours
  • Hike difficulty: Easy. The land is flat and the walk is a popular choice for leisurely strolls to admit the local flora and fauna.

Take a guided walk through Arenal Volcano National Park on this 9-day tour.

Girl hiking in Arenal Volcano National Park
Hiking inside the national park is a great way to explore the local flora and fauna.

6. LOS TUCANES

Los Tucanes is one of the longer Arenal hiking trails. It starts at the end of Las Coladas and loops through rainforest towards Rio Agua Caliente. There is an old lava trail extension halfway through the loop that eventually leads to Arenal Observatory Lodge. Check-in with the ranger station regarding accessibility before your hike as Los Tucanes is sometimes closed.

  • Trail distance: 3 km
  • Hike duration: 2.5 hours
  • Hike difficulty: Easy to moderate. The trail presents no major obstacles, but the hike is long particularly if combined with Las Coladas.

Travel through the most popular national parks in Costa Rica in this tour, including a stopover at Arenal Volcano National Park.

7. ARENAL OBSERVATORY LODGE LAVA VIEJA TRAIL

Within the national park boundary, Arenal Observatory Lodge offers access to 11 km of trails for a day-fee of USD 15*. The Cerro Chato Trail and the Lava Vieja Trail are two that lie within the national park. The Lava Vieja Trail follows along Rio Agua Caliente and extends towards the old lava fields. The trail is also known to host howler monkeys in the trees.

  • Distance: 2 km
  • Hike duration: 1–2 hours
  • Hike difficulty: Strenuous due to a steep return climb and uneven ground.

This 15-day tour package offers a full day tour in Arenal with an option to hike in your preferred trail.

8. CERRO CHATO

Hardcore hiking in Arenal Volcano National Park leads to the park’s lesser-known dormant volcano, Cerro Chato. The hike to this volcano’s crater is sure to leave you winded and sore from the climb, but if you dare, you can cool off with a refreshing once-in-a lifetime dip in the crater lake. With two possible entry ways, the trail from La Fortuna waterfall has in recent years been closed off due to erosion, while a trail from Arenal Observatory Lodge is typically more accessible.

  • Trail distance: 3.2 km
  • Hike duration: 3 hours
  • Hike difficulty: Strenuous. The climb is steep, and rain has severely eroded the trails over the years. Hiking these trails in the rain, during the wet season from May to November is not advisable.

Take this tour to explore Arenal Volcano, Cerro Chato and discover other highlights of Costa Rica.

The opportunity to explore the ecosystems and terrain of this volcanic region is an experience you will never forget. Be sure to plan an Arenal Volcano hike to enjoy one of Costa Rica’s most dramatic landscapes.

Note: Prices quoted are as per February 2018*

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