Arenal Volcano/ La Fortuna

The Arenal volcano is one of the landmarks of Costa Rica. It is one of the youngest and most active volcanoes in the country.

This or a similar wording can be found in almost every travel guide, but since a massive eruption in 2010, the “fire mountain” seems to be taking a break, because no more eruptions have been recorded since October 2010. For the majority of the visitors, the small provincial town La Fortuna is the starting point for the visit of the national park that surrounds the (once) firespitting mountain. The view to the glowing lava was only from the “backside” of the volcano. Already in 2005, the lava flow had changed its flow direction from west to southwest, while most lodges are located on the north side. With a certain irony, one can also think of it as a deserved punishment for the faceless “resorts” that sprang up like mushrooms along the road to the entrance of the national park. But even without visible volcanic activity, the chances of catching a clear view of the mostly cloudy Arenal peak are similar to those of gambling. The probability is statistically highest towards the end of the rainy season. After the devastating eruption of 1968, new eruptions occurred on 24 May 2010 that were so severe that the national park had to be temporarily evacuated because of the rocks called ‘tephra’, which were thrown out of the crater mouth. Eight lava flows poured down the flanks of the cone.

From today’s perspective, it seems hard to imagine that the Arenal was still completely overgrown in the 1930s and that an expedition climbed the summit in 1938. But the great eruption of 1968 was all the more destructive: out of the blue, the mountain exploded, killing 87 people and over 20000 cattle grazing on its flanks.

Besides the visit of the Arenal National Park, the surroundings of La Fortuna offer several other attractions: the hot springs of the Tabacon Resort are a spectacular water landscape that promise a relaxing bathing day/evening. They are especially pleasant after a hike, be it in the national park or to the nearby “La Fortuna Waterfall”. The surroundings of the volcano are a nature and bird paradise. As in many places in Costa Rica’s national parks, there is also a suspension bridge system near La Fortuna, which allows the visitor an unusual perspective on the treetops of the cloud forest and their inhabitants. The numerous, often colourful bird species are best observed early in the morning. Guided birdwatching tours are offered, which are insignificantly more expensive than the standard entrance fee for this airy route system. “Mundo Aventura Arenal”, a kind of adventure playground for adults, is situated a good 2 km south of La Fortuna and offers a whole range of activities. The activities range from climbing and abseiling on the flanks of a waterfall or canopy tours, horse riding, guided afternoon and evening nature walks in the Arenal National Park to visiting a replica village of the indigenous Maleku including traditional dance performances. With the exception of the Maleku village, the other activities are offered in the same or similar form by the numerous tour operators in the village.

La Fortuna is a once sleepy small town, which today is almost completely dedicated to tourism. After all, the Arenal is a must for almost every Costa Rican traveller. Accommodations, pubs, restaurants and tour operators line up like pearls on a string (not only) along the main road that runs through the town from east to west, past the modest church and the school. The approx. 80 km² Arenal reservoir was artificially dammed in the 1970s. The dam wall is located in the immediate vicinity of the entrance to the national park. The generated hydropower covers almost 60% of the country’s electricity needs. The lake is an internationally known windsurfing area and also very popular with other water sports enthusiasts and anglers.