Guide to Arenal, Costa Rica

Ready to see beautiful volcano views anywhere you go?  Welcome to the lovely town of Arenal!

Table of Contents

The Details

Location: 3 hours from San Jose, 2 hours from Monteverde, 1.5 hours from Tenorio Volcano National Park

 

When to visit: Depends what you’re looking for- dry season has a smaller possibility of rain but is notably more expensive.  I visited during the rainy season and loved it!  Our first night during July rained but our next two days were dry.  

 

How many days: At least 2 full days but potentially more depending on your interests.  You can spend a half a day at the national park, and the second half of the day relaxing at the hot springs, and spend your day two partaking in an adventure activity followed by walking around the town.  We spent our time here in a more relaxed manner so on day one we first found a laundromat, then hiked the national park, and then built in relaxation.  On day 2, we visited the free hot spring, the free waterfall with swing, followed by kayaking Lake Arenal.  If you are planning a day trip to Volcano Tenorio, then you’ll need to throw in another day.  If visiting during the rainy season, it may be in your favor to keep a flexible schedule or build in a possible extra day if rain storm tampers with your plans.  

Parking: Depends on your accommodation and where you visit.  The national park had parking included with entrance fee.  Our hostel offered street parking only but this bothered a nearby local business who said our car was blocking other potential tourists.  At the end of the day, parking is allowable where it’s allowable.  

Things to Do

Arenal National Park

This has about a $16  entrance fee per person per day.  There are two different parking lots to access trails from, and a third and final parking lot to catch some views.  You can see the views up here from most of your hikes as well, but it’s definitely nice to explore the area from some different angles.  

Note that it is not allowable to hike the volcano.  These hiking trails allow you to experience views of the volcano, the lake, and mountains while you hike or as a scenic view at the end of your hike.  

Views on the way to Arenal Volcano National Park

Parking Lot 1: Access Sendero Las Coladas Trail.  It takes about 30 minutes to get to the top on primarily flat, not bumpy trail reaching a beautiful viewpoint of the volcano on one side, and the mountains around the lake on the other side.  We even saw a whole family of Coatis crossing the trail at one point!  You can make it an out and back or take the El Ceibo Trail back to the start.

Hiking map at Parking Lot 1


Parking Lot 2: Drive a very bumpy and gravel road to reach a visitor’s center.  There is one trail from here on primarily all paved walkway heading downward until you are at the base of Lake Arenal.  There are about 5 different viewpoints along the way.  An exciting one is from the top of a tower that you take many staircases to reach.  This trail is an out and back recommended for all age levels- just note that there will be some steep parts on the way down and back as you are ascending to the bottom of Lake Arenal. 

Parking Lot 2 Trail
End of Parking lot 2 trail- made it tow to Lake Arenal

Lake Arenal

There are many places to view the lake.  A favorite lower cost activity of mine in the area was kayaking the lake!  There are so many tours and I wanted to do something on my own for not as much money.  Parked at the Arenal Boat Rental Association and rented a kayak for $35 for an hour and a half.  While cloudy, the views were stunning!  It was cool as well to be able to check out the islands out on the water that we had seen from a distance while hiking the previous day. 

Views kayaking Lake Arenal

Hot Springs

There are SO many to choose from!  Budget travelers, there is a great free one called Free Natural Hot Springs River.  It is just past the highly known and expensive hot spring Tabacon and you can park on the street.  If parking very close to Tabacon, you may be charged very slightly for parking but if nowhere near the other cars, street parking appears to be free.  Check the photo below for where to enter into the hot springs, as you are walking along forest and it kind of pops up out of nowhere without signs!

Free Hot Spring

Las Termalitas De Arenal is another one for about 8 USD Entrance fee.  We didn’t get a chance to visit this one but have heard great things, that it is more local, and has an overview of Arenal Volcano. 

Waterfalls

Visit La Fortuna Waterfall for an $18 entrance fee and 15 minute hike up to the waterfall with access to swim in the waterfall, or opt for a day trip to Volcano Tenorio National Park (check guide out here).  We opted for Volcano Tenorio due to timing and money but I’ll bet La Fortuna is breathtaking as well! 

Adventure Activities

If you have some extra money, choose from the following adventure activities (and more!)  These items were not in our budget this time around. 

  1. Zipline
  2. White Water Rafting
  3. Canyoning

Free Activities

There are also a couple of free activities throughout Arenal.  In addition to walking through beautiful views of the town such as the church in La Fortuna and volcano, you can get your adventure on!  Check out our Free Things to Do In Arenal Guide for more specifics of accessing these areas.  

  1. Hot Spring
  2. Waterfall with Swing
  3. Parque La Fortuna
Waterfall with Swing
Parque La Fortuna

That’s that!  We hope you enjoy your future trip to Arenal, or that we have been able to inspire some wanderlust.  If you have visited and have additional tips, feel free to share in the comments below!

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Alyssa

As a full time employee who loves her job, learn how I honor my wanderlust while working a 9:00-5:00 (because I want to!) This blog welcomes all, and specifically provides resources for those seeking travel intertwined into a busy schedule (3 days to 5 weeks).