A Guide to Arenal National Park

Arenal National Park is one of the most visited National Parks in all of Costa Rica. The gateway town to the Park is La Fortuna, which has lots of hotels, restaurants, shops and guided tours available – and we visited from our hotel, Nayara Springs. The National Park is home to two volcanoes (Arenal and Chato), which you can see up close from the National Park. It’s also a haven for wildlife and a great opportunity to spot an interesting array of birds, frogs and much more.

The Volcano peaking through the cloud

Visitor Information & when to visit

The Park is open 8am to 4pm, with an entrance fee of $15 (at time of visit, November 2022).

The easiest way to get to the Park is by car. You can drive to the main visitor centre in about 20 minutes from La Fortuna, and you can access the Peninsula sector in 30 minutes. If driving to the Peninsula section, access is offroad so drive carefully!

If you don’t have a car, then I recommend visiting on a tour from La Fortuna, as there is no bus to the site and Uber is patchy at best. Most hotels in the area offer tours as part of their services so that’s definitely the easiest way to visit.

The weather in Arenal National Park is variable to say the least. Officially dry season is December to April, with May to November being rainy season. This is a rainforest though so of course it rains all year round. We visited in November and there were days that were sunny with a few rainy spells, and days where the rain was so heavy we couldn’t leave our villa for 15 hours. It’s not predictable.

About the Park

The Park is divided in to two sections – the Main Park (Lava Fields section) and the Peninsula section which is best for seeing Lake Arenal up close.

At the heart of the Park lies Arenal Volcano, which last erupted in 1968. It’s currently inactive but is the most active volcano in Costa Rica and classed as the 10th most dangerous in the world. The last eruption destroyed the rainforest there at the time, so today the forest is around 60 years old and a mixture of primary and secondary rainforest.

Volcano view from the Peninsula Section, overlooking Lake Arenal

The Park is an absolute haven for seeing birds, plus other animals. We were so lucky and managed to see lots of spider monkeys playing above our heads which was truly special. We didn’t see any sloths, and if you are wanting to see those wonderful animals then the Bogarin Trail is a great place to do this.

The Lava Fields Section

In 1968, the Arenal Volcano eruption destroyed the towns of Tabacon and Pueblo Nuevo, in one of the worst natural catastrophes in Costa Rica. Nowadays, visitors can hike through the leftover lava rocks of the eruption on the 1968 trails in the main section of the National Park. The trail starts on the flat, through a varied jungle landscape. During this section, we saw 2 crested caracaras and a beautiful yellow throated toucan, as well as lots of interesting plants and trees.

Walking through the rainforest section

Follow the Coladas de Lava (Lava flow) trail and you will walk out of the forest and through some lava fields. The walk is quite steep and over difficult terrain so you need good mobility to do it.

At the top, you will come to a clearing of lava rocks where you will get a spectacular view of the volcano (if it’s a clear day, which it absolutely was not for me – as my photos below show!), so I’ve included a photo of what it should like, and how it looked for me. I still can’t stop laughing every time I see them!

The Peninsula Section

The Peninsula section of the park is made up of a flat and easy trail through the rainforest, about 3km long and bringing you out right at the shore of Lake Arenal. And woop – the sun came out and we got a peek at the vocano finally!

At Lake Arenal

The walk was lovely (and there were less people than in the main park), providing stunning views out to the volcano and lake. We combined it with a boat trip but in typical Arenal weather fashion, had to abandon it as there was a storm and our boat started flooding…by this point I was used to it!

This was the section of the Park where we saw 4 or 5 spider monkeys playing above our heads. One even fell out of the tree. It was the highlight of our visit to the Park. We also saw a hawk and a Coati.

One of the Spider Monkeys

Do I need a guide and how long should I spend in the park?

My simple answer is yes to being with a guide. Now normally I am the first to shun a guide, wanting to go at my own pace BUT without a guide in the park I literally wouldn’t have seen any wildlife. The animals hide in the trees (obviously), and are SO hard to spot. An expert guide meant we saw so much more than we would have done ourselves.

We spent two days in the Park, but only because the weather was awful for us. You could easily do both areas in one day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon – however on both trips for us the weather was so bad in the afternoon (monsoon rains) that we had to abandon afternoon activity and instead we did it over two mornings – both sections needing roughly 3.5-4hrs to take in properly.

I hope this post is helpful if you’re planning a trip to Costa Rica or the Arenal area – it’s a wonderful country with so much to offer and see. This post concludes my time in the Arenal area and we’re off to Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast next! Thanks as always for reading!


  1. What an incredibly beautiful place, Hannah. Love all of it, especially the birdlife. I know how delicate it can be regarding luck with views, so you have my full empathy regarding the viewpoint. I had a similar experience when I negotiated the first couple of stations at Mount Fuji. Still, you managed to capture much beauty, the birdlife is particularly charming.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Those spider monkeys are adorable! I agree with you about the guide here, I definitely don’t recognize or notice wildlife like the guides do. I would’ve been very nervous when I saw the boat starting to flood! Beautiful pictures!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hehe they are so cute aren’t they, we loved them and they were a highlight of the trip for sure. We got used to the rain, but I was very relieved to be back on dry land!! Thanks for reading and have a great evening.


  3. I probably shouldn’t laugh at your comparison of the clear day vs. the cloudy one, but the contrast is pretty funny. At least you got some sunshine and saw part of the mountain at some point, it looks like!

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  4. Seeing an active volcano up close is an unforgettable experience and so is the opportunity to see such an array of wildlife. When in Tenerife, I rode a cable car to the top of the active volcanic peak – when I was at the top, I could see smoke coming out of the rocks, it was warm steam and smelt of sulphur. I love your toucan and caracaras photos – you don’t have to be an ornithologist to appreciate this feather-filled paradise. Thanks for sharing and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The rainforest looks so lush and lovely. It’s a bit of a bummer that the views of the volcano were obstructed when you first visited the Lava Fields section, but thankfully the weather improved the next morning when you explored the other section of the park. Those spider monkeys are adorable.

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  6. Your post makes me wish I’d traveled north in Costa Rica, alas, I was only in San Jose and south to Puerto Viejo. Envious of your volcano hikes, and that spider monkey photo cracks me up! One bonus to my trip, though, was that we wandered through Cahuita National Park near the border with Panama, and were standing INCHES from a sloth right on the trail! Such intriguing little creatures. Next time, I’ll have to wander further north.

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    1. Ahhh and I wish I’d explored more in the South – that experience on the Panamanian border sounds super amazing. Isn’t it always the way, so much to see of a country and so little time!


      1. We’re going back and forth between the end of July and the beginning of October. We keep looking at flights trying to find the time that will work the best. I’m hoping for July because it’s that much sooner 🙂

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  7. Gorgeous, lush tropical views all around! Never went to Arenal National Park when I visited Costa Rica four years ago, but your post is inspiring me to go! The volcano looks as elusive as Mt. Fuji in Japan– honestly, it takes luck (and brilliant weather) to see it! And it’s surprising you saw coatis and toucans there, as I happened to see them in Iguazu Falls (Argentina/Brazil)– they’re both tropical rainforests, so I guess it isn’t surprising!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aw thanks Rebecca, it’s a truly wonderful part of the country if you do ever get to visit. The weather is soooo variable though so make sure you’re there at least a couple of days to give it a chance. Aw amazing you saw toucans and coatis in Argentina, I didn’t realise they were that close to Iguazu but you’re right, it makes sense given the rainforest!

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  8. You make Costa Rica look so lovely, Hannah 🙂 Aerial views, wooded trails, volcano, rainforest and flowers, exotic birds, and a boat trip around Lake Arenal…you rock, my friend!

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  9. Wow, this seems like such a stunning place! If you risk being locked into your hotel because of terrible rain, you’d better get a nice one I suppose! I love the “Instagram vs Reality” picture ahahah! I also completely agree with you for the guides – I usually prefer to go at my own pace, but sometimes it is much better to be with an expert!

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  10. I had no idea Arenal was classed as the 10th most dangerous volcano in the world, it seemed like such a peaceful, slumbering giant. It’s easy to forget the devastating destruction it can cause. And I can empathise with you about the Costa Rican rain, I think I also went in November and after a day or so, just accepted I was going to get soaking wet on a daily basis!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know and totally agree – I watched that Netflix documentary about White Island in New Zealand and I was very glad I watched it after I got back from Costa Rica!!! Ahh, the rain was annoying wasn’t it – but then it is a rain forest so I suppose to be expected haha. Like you, I just accepted getting wet and put my phone in a waterproof case 🙂

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  11. Great photo of that monkey hanging, swinging?, in the tree. Did a day there once to see the volcano, but didn’t get to the peninsula part. You had a beautiful day there, it seems, unlike the rainy day at Arenal. It’s impossible to spot all the wildlife without a guide!

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  12. Oh, I don’t know how I missed out on your last few blog posts! Let me dig in!!
    Wow, it’s almost unreal how different those first two photos are from each other – and taken only 2 minutes apart (and the later photos too)! Love the birds … looks like a lovely trail to walk!
    Although you had no volcano as a backdrop, at least you had a beautiful orange umbrella 😉.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hehe I’ve been busy lately so probably posted too much to keep up with! The weather was totally crazy the way it flipped from one minute to the next, you just had to leave the hotel every day ready for anything hehe 🙂 I had to laugh and my efforts seeing the volcano, that’s for sure.

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