Costa Rica's Arenal Volcano
Arenal is one of the most active volcanoes in the Americas. Located along the mountainous central spine of Costa Rica, in the Tilaran Range, about 80 miles northwest of San Jose, the volcano is surrounded by a number of hotels, lodges, and restaurants that cater to hikers. Guides and maps are available at most of these businesses.
Be aware that the many tour companies and guides serving Arenal strongly discourage independent hikes up the volcano. This is not only for selfish reasons, but also due to safety concerns. Local guides know the safe areas to enter and the unsafe areas to avoid and will discourage you from hiking to the mountain alone. Still, the available maps show various trails to take to reach points on the mountain that are well beyond where most guides are willing to take you. With a little bit of coaxing, you can squeeze hiking advice from the guides.
During our hike we encountered more than one guide who strongly discouraged us from proceeding up the mountain beyond the limits of the rain forest. Despite this, hikers commonly proceed onto the lava fields. But use caution and definitely do not proceed up the slopes into the volcano's active danger zones. Many of these are marked with signs and flags. You can get a great view of the volcano and experience the beauty of the rain forest without frying the rubber soles off your boots.
If you decide against hiking up the mountain, an attractive alternative is to hike around the edges of Lake Arenal, which sits at the western foot of the volcano. On a clear day, the smooth waters of Lake Arenal reflect the image of the volcano perfectly. Don't forget your film. The lake is especially popular with fishermen and windsurfers. The anglers are drawn there by the abundant guapote, or rainbow bass. Windsurfers gather at the western end of the lake, where strong and consistent winds make it one of Central America's premier windsurfing spots.
Also near the foot of the volcano is Tabacon Springs, whose volcano-heated hot springs are famous for boiling tourists. There is a spa located along the highway leading past Arenal, and after a tiring day of hiking the mountain, this is a great place to catch dinner and soak in the steaming springs while partaking of a cool drink from the swim-up bar in the spa's pool.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication