Arenal Volcano Adventures in Costa Rica

Outdoor activities, wildlife sightings, thermal springs, and majestic volcanic views are reasons why Arenal should be on your radar


Costa Rica is home to some of the world’s most biodiverse ecosystems, with opportunities to witness nature, wildlife, and unlimited outdoor pursuits. Perched along the Pacific Ring of Fire, this Central American country is loaded with volcanic sites that have turned into national parks and protected areas. The most iconic volcano and sought-after area is Arenal, located in the country’s northwest.

The Majestic Arenal

Considered one of the most beautiful volcanoes on Earth, Arenal is the iconic image of Costa Rica. The youngest of the country’s volcanoes, it offers visitors fantastic scenery and a slew of outdoor activities. Towering over the town of La Fortuna, the volcano is still considered active, although there hasn’t been an eruption since 2010. Before that, the night skies were lit with flowing red lava, and rumblings could be heard from miles away. Today, you might catch a glimpse of smoke spewing from the top. The area surrounding Arenal is brimming with natural attractions, including waterfalls, hot springs, hanging bridges, and wildlife sanctuaries, which draw in visitors worldwide.

Arenal Volcano

The volcano and its pristine green countryside are just three hours from San Jose. Photo: Frank Ravizza/Pixaby

The Lake

Sitting at the volcano’s base is the largest lake in Costa Rica, covering over 33 square miles with a depth of up to 200 feet. Once solely a natural lake, today’s manmade iteration is now three times its original size after the construction of the hydroelectric dam. Lake Arenal Dam produces 12 % of the electric energy consumed in Costa Rica. But visitors and locals come for the year-round activities. Lake Arenal is ideal for water and wind sports. Considered one of the world’s top windsurfing locations, sailors have been skimming across the water for decades. When the winds drop off, the lake is a kayaker’s dream, with a backdrop of rolling hillsides painting a stunning arena. Fishing is also famous as the deep waters are hiding grounds for the active and aggressive rainbow bass. Organized fishing trips escort anglers on this exciting challenge.

Lake Arenal

Lake Arenal provides a venue for the growing eco-tourism that Costa Rica is known for. Photo: Tim Pacariem/Flickr

Hot Springs

There’s nothing like a swim and soaking in the thermal hot springs after a day of hiking and exploring. Visit Tabacón Hot Springs at night when the call of animals is heard off in the distance and crowds are fewer. Thermally heated water pools flow over volcanic rocks where the mineral-rich waters range from 72 to 105 degrees. A stay at the luxurious Tabacón Thermal Resort & Spa includes access to the hot springs and the opportunity to experience treatments in outdoor bungalows with the scent of the rainforest and the sound of relaxing springs. Bringing nature into the spa, the philosophy and treatments offered include mud wraps, pineapple exfoliation, honey body treatments, and more. Visitors can always buy a day pass for admission to the springs.

Hot Springs Costa Rica

The ideal spot to rejuvenate your mind and body is the Hot Springs of Tabacón. Photo: khuang/Flickr

Hanging Bridges

The best animal sightings are often above ground level, as most animals take to the trees to hang out. What’s better than a park with six hanging bridges to get you up close to wildlife in the Arenal area? Views from the Mistico Hanging Bridges Park include the Rufous Garden, where you’ll have a chance to watch hummingbirds at work collecting nectar as they loop from one exotic flower to another. Another lookout and stopover is Morpho Waterfall, named after the bright blue butterfly inhabiting this part of Costa Rica. The park is home to over 350 species of birds and 700 plants.

Hanging Bridge Cota Rica

Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park offers night walks, birding, and natural history tours. Photo: Boris G/Flickr

Bird Watching

Birding in Costa Rica is a national activity as there are more than enough natural habitats, including rain forests, parks, coastlines, cloud forests, rivers, and private reserves for the 900 species to call home. Long famous among the world’s serious birders, Costa Rica is becoming the place for the neophyte and eager enthusiasts to see these beautiful, feathered creatures. There are dozens of birding trips hosted by experienced nature guides, taking visitors on week-long expeditions or just afternoon outings. The Arenal National Park, where hanging bridges bring observers up close, and the Arenal Observatory Lodge & Trails are options for joining a group or hiring a private bird guide.

Bird Watching Costa Rica

Rufous motmot taken on the Arenal hanging bridges trail in Arenal National Park. Photo: Peter Shaw/Flickr

The Falls

Emerging from the rainforest depths and tumbling over a cliffside, the cool mountain water drops 200 feet into an emerald pool, tempting a dip at La Fortuna Waterfall. The short hike to the bottom of the falls is steep and can be slippery during the rainy season, but invest in a 10-minute walk down and reap the rewards of a refreshing swim in the emerald waters immersed in the jungle. Here, you can soak in nature and disconnect from the outside world before you prepare for your 20-minute hike back up. Come on your own, join a hiking or horseback riding tour, and take in the area with some history and insights. Orchid hiking trails and butterfly gardens are nearby.

Falls Costa Rica

The scenic waterfalls of La Fortuna are located outside the town and at the foot of Arenal. Photo: Jackie Czaja/Flickr