Arenal Volcano Nature and History Tour
Updated: Feb 16, 2019
Towering over the town of La Fortuna is the perfect Arenal Volcano. I say perfect because it’s the perfect shaped volcano. Exactly what I imagined when I found out we would be staying at the base of a volcano. Even as we drove up to La Fortuna in complete darkness, the giant – 5,437 feet tall to be exact – Arenal shape stuck out against the dark night.
Our first excursion in Costa Rica was the Arenal Volcano Nature and History Tour with Sunset Tours. I cannot express how amazing this tour company is. We ended up spending two days with our guide and driver, and now I am the horrible person that can’t remember their names. I never remember anyone’s name, but I told myself specifically not to forget theirs so I could write about how amazing they were. UGH.
Because it’s slow season in Costa Rica, our planned group tour turned into a singles tour. It was just Dylan, myself, and the guide and driver. As we pulled off the main road to head to the Arenal Volcano parking area, our guide joked that we would get a “Costa Rican massage,” referring to the bumpy road. His humor immediately got us excited for the rest of the day.
We also casually spoke about what we hoped for our trip in Costa Rica. I casually mentioned I was really hoping to see a sloth or two during our trip.
We made it to the parking lot and hopped out of the car to start our hike!
Arenal Volcano Hike
No lie, I definitely thought we were hiking to the top of the volcano. #SMH LOLZ. I was expecting it to be an all day, awful hike that made me sweat and hate life. NOT at all. It’s a super easy little hike. There is a slight incline, but it includes stairs and a rope railing. I did not struggle on this.
There are a number of boulders and large rocks along the hike, which we learned were lava rocks, very cool! We also saw a number of beautiful flowers and plants. And we even found our very first Golden Orb Spider – one I had been dreading the sight of.
As we reached the top of the hill, we came to the end of our hike, seeing the giant volcano and the beautiful Arenal Lake to the west. The view was stunning. The volcano with the green landscape was just beautiful.
History of Arenal Volcano
Part of our tour was learning the history of the volcano. I took lots of notes during this portion. And yes, I will be sharing them right now.
So once upon a time there were two towns at the base of a giant mountain, Tabacon and Pueblo Nuevo. In a valley surrounded by mountains, the people saw Arenal as just another mountain. On nice days they would even climb to the top and camp in the grass covered crater and nap in the shade of the trees… growing in the crater…
Everyday they would feel small earthquakes and tremors, which were totally normal because Costa Rica lies on two tectonic plates. Earthquakes were totally normal!
But then, on July 29th, 1968 at 7am, the volcano had its first eruption that people were aware of. The pressure from the volcano was too much and the eruption happened in weakest part on the west side of the mountain.
Giant rocks we’re shooting out landing all over town. Pyroclastic flows, gas, lava, ash, and rocks flowing out of the volcano at 120km per hour took out the towns. In 1968 the temperatures of the material coming out of the volcano were so hot the town was incinerated. Quick deaths happened, and the town was gone. These are some lava rocks that are left behind in the area:
Before 1968, the volcano only had one crater. But from the eruption, a second crater formed. Eruptions went from July through December 1968. Five months of non-stop eruptions, making the hills we see now. As pressure released, volcanic activity through the 1970s slowed. Lava came instead of molten rocks and lava flows came down from side crater, and filled and sealed the crater that had the 1968 eruptions. By 1975 the crater on the side of the main volcano was filled.
Today, almost no vegetation is visible on the west side where the eruption came down. The two towns also never came back, and instead a manmade lake, Arenal Lake stands in their old place.
The volcano erupted again in 2010, and that was the last time it has been active.
Shot of the west side of the volcano (no trees!)
Arenal Nature Tour
We came back down from the volcano viewing area and instead of finding our car in the lot, our guide said we would be taking the jungle trail back down to the main entrance. I was so excited! Maybe we would see animals!
At first it was very open, trees and sky, beautiful green space, and cows! But seriously, within minutes, we were in the hardcore thick jungle. The canopy became so thick we couldn’t see the sky! Here's a few shots of the first area we were in:
And then out of nowhere, our guide told us to stop. There were monkeys above us! A whole family of Spider Monkeys! We stayed watching them for a long time! Then, ew, ahhh ew. I thought it was raining. Nope. They were peeing from above. And a piece of poop hit my hand. No lie. I had monkey poop on my hand.
As we continued our walk through the jungle we also saw leaf cutter ants, unique flowers and plants, and a poison dart frog.
When we got back to the entrance of the park, our driver had fresh pineapple cut for us. It was truly the juiciest pineapple I’ve ever had in my life. It was incredible. Our driver also told me that he had a surprise for me!
We got back into the car and headed back towards the southeast side of the volcano to La Fortuna. But we drove straight past our hotel! A few minutes past our hotel he pulled over on the side of the road, and it was there we saw our very first sloth! Way up in the trees, the little guy was sleeping!
La Fortuna, Costa Rica
La Fortuna is the main town in the area. At the base of the east side of the volcano, it is named “the fortunate” because the townspeople didn’t die from eruption in the 60s, as the eruption went down the west side of the volcano. Here are some beautiful shots of the town center! Can you spot the volcano in the background? Duh. Of course you can, it's hard to miss!
The area is most known for the incredible hot springs (including at our amazing hotel). Unlike hot springs we’re used to in California and Nevada – hello, can you smell the sulfur?! – these pools are actually hot rivers from under the ground, volcanic cracks of boiling water that hotels pump up from under ground to the pools for visitors to enjoy.
This was our first of ten excursions in Costa Rica! Check out everything else we did on our Costa Rican honeymoon here:
Distance: 3,844 miles
Driving Time: 76 hours