Arenal Volcano National Park, Costa Rica

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Many of my Central America exploration stories usually begin aboard a long distance bus and this one is no different. Leaving Guanacaste Province - the warmest driest area in all of Costa Rica and crossing the Continental Divide that splits Costa Rica and the America's in two and arriving in the dense rain forest of the Caribbean side of Costa Rica with one destination in mind. Volcan Arenal and the Arenal National Park.


Costa Rica at a glance

 ✓ Language: Spanish

✓ Capital: San Jose

✓ Currency: Costa Rican Colón - US Dollar is widely accepted especially in areas with large tourism although it is always recommended to use local currencies

  Restaurant food: Sodas are traditional Costa Rican restaurants a set meal will cost between $5-$10

  Drinks: $1-$5 - Depending on the area and type - Local Cerveza (Imperial and Imperial Light) is the cheapest

 ✓ Budget Accommodation: $15-$20 per night

✓ Daily budget for Arenal tours and activity: $60

✓ Arenal Volcano National Park Entrance Fee: $15 

All Prices in US Dollar

My second time in Costa Rica

For the purpose of this post I should mention that my recent trip to Costa Rica was one of a kind for me, it was my first and probably not my last All Inclusive resort experience and a far cry from my usual budget backpacker style of travel. We visited the Volcan Arenal National Park as part of a pre-booked excursion through our hotel, so the prices paid are reflective of that.We decided to take a planned tour of Arenal as it was easier as we were so isolated on our resort. I have read in my Central America on a shoestring Lonely Planet that this trip is still doable from Guanacaste to Arenal by public transport as Central America is very accessible. Something I learnt after spending 12 weeks here. Click here for more Central America.

Guanacaste to Arenal - How to get to Volcan Arneal National Park

To get to Volcano Arenal National Park from Guanacaste you can simply book an organised tour from one of the many tour operators or resorts in the Guanacaste and Tamarindo areas of Costa Rica. If you prefer to do this trip without booking one of the Arenal National Park tours you can take a bus heading to Arenal Volcano/Arenal National Park from Liberia Airport. From Tamarindo there are to Arenal you must also pass through Libera. The public transport bus option to Volcan Arenal will require several bus changes and a little advance planning due to the distance and length of time it takes to get to Arenal National Park.

Smaller second class busses in Costa Rica are operated by TicaBus and operate throughout Central America and can take you to Arenal Volcano National Park. Larger longer distance busses can also be boarded from Liberia near the airport or from various hotels in the city. You can enquire in the airport for more details and bus timetables.



This trip on public transport can take up to 6 hours, if you do not plan on taking an organised excursion bare this factor in mind. It may be better to rent a car for this trip if you also plan on spending some time around Lake Arenal. 

The region of Guanacaste is situated on Costa Rica's Northern Pacific Coast with the Volcan  Arenal National Park around 3 hours away towards the centre and capital of Costa Rica. We booked through our resort and undoubtedly paid over the odds for this excursion at $136 as mentioned. This is my first official resort excursion and all in all the ease and simplicity of the tour seemed worth the price, all things considered. Our excursion included lunch and dinner, entrance to the Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges and a trip to Titoku Hot Springs afterwards, towels included also. Regular adult entrance for the Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Walk is  $26.

✓ Arenal National Park Tours: Can be booked through various tour operators in Costa Rica - We booked with Swiss Travel for our Arenal National Park tour

Our Arenal National Park tour was booked through the popular Costa Rican tour operator Swiss Travel, you can visit their office in San Jose or Liberia for more details. You can also book to take part in an excursion with Swiss Travel irrespective of whether you are staying within a resort like we were. Despite booking one day prior to the excursion our bus was not full, but I can imagine during the peak season (dry season in Guanacaste) tickets for excursions sell out quickly.

✓ Booking Excursions: Always book excursions in advance during high season which is December - April for Costa Rica and most of Central America

A view of Volcan Arenal from one of the hanging bridges


The Continental Divide of Costa Rica and The Americas

To get to Arenal National Park from Guanacaste you have to cross the 'Great Divide' which is the continental divide that splits the Americas down the centre with the Pacific coast on one side and the Caribbean coast on the other. 

Source: Google Maps
Our first stop would be the banks of the manmade Lake Arenal, situated underneath the shadows of Volcano Arenal in the National Park. Lake Arenal is Costa Rica's largest landlocked lake/body of water the lake originally existed as a much smaller body of water at the foot of the volcano in Arenal National Park and has since been expanded several times. The reason for this is so Arenal Lake can house a hydroelectric dam and where better to have one than an area that has such heavy annual rainfall.



We spent around an hour in total eating lunch and dessert overlooking the picturesque waters of the Arenal Volcano National Park. I was surprised, although I shouldn't be, at all the US real estate organisations selling land and property beside the lake. There's clearly a market for American tourists throughout Costa Rica but I thought signage and advertising in a national park would be regulated more.


✓ Restaurants: There are plenty of restaurants on the banks of Lake Arenal if you plan on visiting this region of Costa Rica without a tour, although it may be better to rent a car to reach some of them

The man made Lake/Reservoir in Areal National Park

✓ Weather: Generally the Pacific coast of Costa Rica and Guanacaste is generally drier and hotter than the Caribbean side

The drive through the Arenal Volcano National Park and dense Costa Rican rain forest took me back to my time in Tortuguero National Park on the northern Caribbean cost of the country. I visited this area of Costa Rica a couple of years ago and was disappointed to say the least about the care and consideration of the wildlife in the local area. Despite this, I believe I was incredibly unlucky to have this experience in Tortuguero as I don’t believe it’s a common experience to have. Avoid Tortugeuro in the off season. It's not worth a visit. 

Costa Rica is widely covered by dense rainforest and ‘dry forest’ on the Pacific coast 25% of Costa Rica is registered as either conservation area or has National Park status and the country itself is undergoing efforts to become the first complete carbon neutral country on the planet. Pretty impressive if this can be achieved, efforts can be clearly seen on the route from Guanacaste to Arenal Volcano National Park as many wind farms can be spotted along the mountain range that defines the countries continental divide.

Views of Arenal Volcano in the clouds - Photo overlooking the national park

✓ Hiking Volcan Arenal: As Volcan Arenal is still an active Volcano it is prohibited to hike the actual volcano. Don't worry though there are plenty of hiking trails in Arenal National Park

Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park - Volcan Arenal

We visited Arenal for several reasons and the package excursion made it easier for us to do so as part of one of the popular Arenal National Park tours. Other than our main motivation for visiting Volcan Arenal which was to experience Costa Rica and it's incredible and diverse rainforest and ecosystems, was to visit the Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park. Which was all booked as a whole and part of our Arenal tour. The excursion package would include a 1.5 hour walk through the rainforest to hopefully see some wildlife and certainly some plantlife if not. Note that the walk itself is generally on footpaths and hanging bridges, there is wildlife to be seen but the hike isn't very challenging and the area of National Park and rainforest has been modified for tourism.

Mistico Hanging Bridges - With our guide

✓ Arenal Volcano National Park Entrance Fee: This was paid in advance for us as part of our pre-booked tour, entrance fees to Arenal Volcano National Park is usually $15 standard Adult/Tourist entrance

Views of Arenal Volcano can be seen from the starting area and viewpoint of the rainforest walk. Food, water and other refreshments can be found here along with toilets and other facilities. Upon entering the 'hike'/walking zone, tourists are advised to spray for mosquitoes and other insects before entering the rain forest area itself.

Arenal posers - Views of Arenal National Park

The walk itself is enjoyable and I would recommend this, for a first 'hanging bridge' experience I enjoyed this part of the tour the most. My only annoyance is more to do with the people on the actual tour than the rain forest and hanging bridge experience. Often when travelling you hear things so stupid or so ignorant it is almost impossible to believe your ears. This, was one of those experiences, but I was conscious of  coming across a different style of traveller when I signed up to an All Inclusive resort experience. 

The guide from Mistico was professional, fun and most of all asserted the importance of speaking, learning and acknowledging the language of the country we were visiting. Throughout the tour he would introduce plant and animal life in Spanish always allowing the group to educate themselves, whether they wanted to or not. This is something that is important to me, not only as an avid Spanish speaker and learner but as someone who always puts respect for your host country at the forefront of all my trips. If you visit Costa Rica, please attempt to speak the local language and always try to use the local currency. US Dollars are not an official currency of Costa Rica.

There's a lot of wildlife to be seen also, although due to the dimly lit rainforest you can't always get the best photos. During our time with Mistico on the Mistico hanging bridges tour we saw two different kinds of monkeys, several tarantulas, snakes and a great curassow. We didn't actually see any sloths much to our groups disappointment. It's not uncommon that people have their hearts set on seeing a sloth when they visit Costa Rica. 


✓ Arenal National Park Weather: Expect humid warm and damp weather, you are in the rainforest after all

Blurry rainforest photo 
More views of the Costa Rican rainforest and Arenal National Park from the Mistico hanging bridges


Titoku Hot Springs, Arenal National Park, Costa Rica

After spending the majority of our afternoon on the Mistico Arenal walk it was time for us to leave Volcan Arenal behind and head to the second part of our excursion. This would be at Titoku Hot Springs. I should explain that this isn't my first volcanic hot springs experience. My first was actually in Baños/Baños de Agua Santa, Ecuador.

Titoku is clean and luxurious. The reception and facilities are what you'd expect in a hotel and fortunately for us we actually had the entire complex to ourselves. With encroaching plantlife and the beautiful views and surroundings and an hour to kill Titoku became the perfect way to relax and wind down a day exploring Costa Rica. Titoku Hot Springs are still situated in Arenal Volcano National Park although as mentioned earlier if you plan on visiting the lake and exploring more of this are Titoku Hot Springs are probably only accessible if you rent a car during your day at Volcan Arenal National Park. 

Along with Titoku Hot Springs in Volcan Arenal National Park there are a range of other hot springs and spa resorts scattered around the area. The active Volcano Arenal heats the ground which heats the water in the natural hot springs. Although the heating system of the hot springs is natural many of the pools are artificially made or altered for tourists. 


Titoku Hot Springs, Arenal Volcano National Park, Costa Rica


What to do in arenal volcano national park?

Arenal Volcano National Park things to do. Add visiting hot springs to your list, a fun and affordable way to enjoy the scenery. Mistico Arenal hanging bridges, take the 1.5 or the 2 hour hike route with your guide for views and the Mistico hanging bridges experience. The 1.5 hour Arenal hike includes 3 hanging bridges in total. Enjoy the views of Lake Arenal from one of the many picturesque Costa Rican restaurants. Enjoy typical Costa Rican food with a view. Book an Arenal Volcano National Park tour if you can't rent a car, book from in your resort or San Jose, the Costa Rican capital. Swiss Travel offer tours of Arenal Volcano Park and various options that can include overnight stays. Enquire about Arenal National Park tours in your hotel or hostel. 


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