Costa Rica's Crown Jewel
Jessa Reid Bolling
Mary Kathryn Carpenter
A curtain of fog hangs over the city of La Fortuna, shrouding its biggest attraction and most sought after landmark: the Arenal Volcano.
Herds of horses, cows and goats graze near a crater, a peaceful scene compared to the violent eruption that created it. The 1968 eruption left the villages of San Luís, Tabacón and Pueblo Nuevo buried under ash, claiming the lives of 87 people.
Standing more than 5,300 feet tall, the volcano is ranked the eighth tallest volcano in Costa Rica as well as one of the most active of more than 200 volcanic formations in the country, erupting regularly between 1968 and 2010.
However, the volcano has been dormant since 2010, giving tourists the opportunity to hike the trails of the 29,692-acre Arenal Volcano National Park for a closer view of the daunting peak.
Mainor Guzman, a tour guide for the Ecoterra tourism company, said many of the hills seen near the national park were created by the accumulation of lava rocks from the lava flow of 1992, one of the largest lava flows La Fortuna saw during its last period of eruptions.
“Something interesting is how fast the forest recovers from nothing that was left behind after the eruption,” Guzman said. “Much of the forest is in recovery after it was destroyed by the eruptions. So much of the forest that tourists see is called secondary forest, or new forest.”
Gabriel Cascante, a fellow Ecoterra tour guide, said that from 1968 to 2010, the volcano had a nearly constant lava flow that could be seen glowing brightly in the night, with new flows beginning every 10 or 15 minutes. He recalled seeing the land charred under the molten rock of a 2010 eruption, and now marvels at how the area has recovered.
“I remember standing in this same spot in 2010 and seeing the lava coming up from the volcano,” Cascante said. “Now all the way from here to the volcano is full from vegetation, so it’s amazing how everything in the rainforest recovers and grows back very quickly, because volcanic soils are very rich in nutrients and because of the rain. We get more than 350 inches of water in a year.”
Throughout the park, visitors can encounter all manners of wildlife. Guides’ radios chirp with a tip when a fellow guide notes sloths curled up in the treetops, snakes resting upon the bark of trees and white-faced capuchin monkeys leaping from branch to branch among the canopies. They’ll even dig up a few termites if curious adventurers want to have a taste.
Tourists can walk across the remnants of the 1992 lava flow that left large chunks of rock in its wake, making an interesting climb to a viewing area. Weather permitting, they can have a clear view of the volcano on one side and a view of nearby Lake Arenal on the other, where they have the opportunity to rent kayaks or take a sightseeing boat ride.
While not the largest volcano in Costa Rica, the Arenal Volcano is still one of the most recognizable and popular tourist sites in the country for its memorable views and surrounding rainforest full of wildlife, making the national park cradling it the one of the most visited national parks in Costa Rica.