Around the World... One Journey at a Time. Around the World... One Journey at a Time.

Costa Rica: Arenal Volcano

by Kathy 4. May 2013 06:36

Back to Costa Rica Index Page

<< Hanging Bridges Hike | Sky Trek Zip Lining>>


Arenal Volcano

With its tall symmetrical cone, Arenal Volcano is visually striking and presents the perfect image of what most people envision when they think of a volcano.

The last major eruption was in 1968, when it broke its dormant stage with a surprise explosion that buried three villages and killed 87 people. Up until 2010, visitors could witness almost daily lava flows or bursts of ash. Now, the volcano appears to be sleeping once again, but breathing hot steam to let us know it is still alive.

We spent four days in this area—hiking, zip-lining, volunteering at a wild animal rescue center, and crawling through some wet underground caves (full of bats and spiders). However, we would start and end each day at our “home base” at the foot of the volcano, which really enhanced our experience.

We chose to stay at the only hotel within the Arenal Volcano National Park—Arenal Observatory Lodge. It was originally built as a scientific research station for the Smithsonian Institute, and it is surrounded by 870 acres of primary rainforest, reforestation projects, and farmland. The hotel is far away from the masses of tourists who flock to this area. Getting to the hotel required a 15 minute drive on a washboard/potholed dirt road, but it was worth the effort. The setting was perfect for us—like a little slice of heaven.

The front of our room:

The tiled entrance wall:

The interior had two beds and a sitting area:

One of the best features of the room was the small patio area, where we spent a lot of time gazing at the volcano and just relaxing after our daily adventures.

Ben, with JoAnn and David on the patio next door:

Our rooms were tiered, so there was plenty of privacy when sitting outdoors. Here is a view looking down at the small yards outside our rooms:

I never grew tired of sitting outside and watching the changing cloud formations on top of the volcano. It was one of those “pinch me, is this real” experiences.

On our first morning, the sky was overcast, but the volcano was fully exposed—puffing out some steam over the front lip:

During the previous month, the volcano had been enveloped in dense clouds such that visitors couldn’t even tell where the volcano was located on all but two days! This month was very different, and we were getting a brilliant show!

Other views during our four days here:

Another reason why our back patio was such a great place to hang out was meeting our little friends—the coatis.

I had never seen a coati before, so this was pretty exciting! They would come and visit at least a few times a day. Obviously, they were used to getting food from guests (they weren’t coming for a chat!). As cute as they were, however, we never gave them a hand-out, as we knew that feeding wild animals was not in their best interests.

Sometimes, they got a little too close—like this little guy who peeked through the neighbor’s railing, spied me, and scooted down the wall to see if I had a treat for him:

Another critter who came to visit our room was a gecko that hung out in our bathroom for a few days:

Every morning, we enjoyed an abundance of fresh fruit, good coffee, and other items at the hotel’s free breakfast buffet:

While eating, we watched these Chestnut-Headed Oropendola enjoy their fresh fruit too:

At least one coati would be roaming around, sniffing for something to eat:

This couple was trying to get a good photo of the coati, and the man was enticing the coati to come closer by pretending that his thumb was something good to eat. Come and get it!

Heh, heh, heh--the joke was on him. The coati took a few sniffs and then promptly bit the man’s finger. Don’t mess with the wild animals, sir!

The first morning at Arenal, we went on the complimentary guided nature walk provided by the hotel after breakfast.

We started the hike by crossing a hanging bridge, which only allowed 5 people on at a time.

Genevieve and Sebastian:

JoAnn and David:

Even though we had taken the Hanging Bridges Tour yesterday, we still got excited about feeling the swaying motion under our feet.

Connecting with the Saino Trail, we got a great view of the volcano:

Our guide Christian said that only 40% of visitors actually see the volcano; the rest see a blanket of clouds. We felt so lucky!

Our hike took us through primary rainforest that had never been cut, as well as through secondary forest that had previously been cleared. One of the cleared sections had a large sign indicating that the area is still being used for volcano research:

A nearby breadfruit tree:

Primary rainforest:

Looking for wildlife:

One of the birds that Christian spotted was the Bareneck Umbrella Bird, which he had only seen 4 times in the past 9 years of guiding. Here is the bird through Christian’s telescope:

To be honest, I’m not a “bird person.”  While I think they are pretty, my heart doesn’t start yammering when I see one. However, show me a monkey, snake, or big fat spider, and I’ll start dancing. (Alas, there was no dancing this morning . . . although it was still a pleasant hike.)

Out of all the brightly colored birds in Costa Rica, Christian thought it ironic that the national bird was a basic brown—the Clay-Colored Thrush:

We passed some hard-working leaf cutter ants:

Christian told us that all the leaf cutter ants we see are females, who work 24 hours a day. The male ants stay back at the nest and fertilize the eggs. The females take the leaf chunks and chew them; then the chewed pieces ferment and grow fungus, which the ants eat.

On to the waterfall:

The climb down to, and up from, the falls was steep:

The falls were beautiful, and we all enjoyed a light dusting of spray on our faces.


Sebastian, climbing back up:

Christian was waiting for us back at the top:

Next came a hanging vine, which gave us a chance to play Tarzan:

Even David gave it a whirl!

The trail ahead:

Crossing the final hanging bridge, Danta Bridge:

The last stretch led us through an area with farm buildings:

The top of the volcano was now hidden in clouds:

An open air “Jungle Bus”, pulled by a tractor, brought us along a paved road back to the hotel:

Sebastian and Genevieve:

After I took the above photo, Genevieve announced, “Okay, now I get to take a picture of you and Daddy!” And so she did:

Genevieve and JoAnn, with the tiled mural in front of JoAnn and David's room:

There was one other hiking trail that Genevieve and I explored while the boys were playing at the pool.

Pool time:

The trail’s name was “Old Lava Trail”, and we envisioned walking across desolate black lava flows. (Ha! We should have read up on the trail first!)

The trail descended rapidly and was not maintained, although there were remnants of stairs indicating that it had been widely used in the past:

We reached a river, Agua Caliente (Hot Water), and there the trail ended.

We searched and searched for any signs that the trail continued on the other side. No luck. Back up the trail we went.

Even without the anticipated black lava, the jungle area was still fascinating, and we enjoyed the sights around us:

I will cover our other activities in the Arenal area in later stories. For now, I will leave you with one last photo of the volcano--this one taken from our airplane as we were leaving. The cone is completely free of clouds, and the volcano is shown in all its stark beauty:

Without a doubt, Arenal Volcano has a special place in our hearts.



Back to Costa Rica Index Page

<< Hanging Bridges Hike | Sky Trek Zip Lining>>




Costa Rica

Comments are closed

Map of Our Journeys

(click the map to enlarge)
Our travel map

Places We’ve Been, w/Quick Links

   Bumthang Valley
   Gom Kora
   Paro Valley
   Punakha Dzong
   Sangdrup Jongkhar
   Wangdi Phrodrang

   Janko Marca
   La Paz
   Laguna Colorada
   Laguna Verde
   Salar de Coipasa
   Salar de Uyuni
   San Pablo
   Santa Rosa
   Sud Lipez
   World’s Most Dangerous Road

   Banff National Park
   Battle Hill Nat'l Hist. Site
   Boya Lake Prov. Park, BC
   Burns Lake Bike Park
   Canyon Sainte-Anne
   Dawson Creek
   Eastern Townships
   Fort Nelson
   Jasper National Park
   Kluane Lake, YK
   'Ksan Historical Village
   Lake Louise
   Liard Hot Springs
   Niagara Falls
   Quebec City
   Thousand Islands
   Vancouver Island
   Watson Lake

   Forbidden City
   Great Wall at Mutianyu
   Hong Kong
   Summer Palace
   Terracotta Warriors
   Tiananmen Square
   Yungang Caves

Costa Rica
   Arenal Volcano
   Finca Corsicana
   Hanging Bridges
   Manuel Antonio
   Poas Volcano
   Proyecto Asis
   Sky Trek Zip Lining
   Venado Caves


   Amazon Rainforest
   Chaquiñan Bicycle Trail
   La Mitad del Mundo
   Napo Wildlife Center
   Papallacta Hot Springs
   Proyecto DCR
   Yasuní National Park


   Baja California
   Frida Kahlo Museum
   Hierve el Agua
   Marietas Islands
   Mexico City
   Monte Alban
   Oaxaca City
   Puerto Angel
   Puerto Escondido
   Puerto Vallarta
   San Agustin
   San Martin Tilcajete
   Santa Fe de la Laguna
   Santa María el Tule
   Studio of Jacobo Angeles
   Teotitlán del Valle

   Dead Vlei
   Elondo Village
   Etosha Nat'l Park
   Hippo Pools Camp
   Hoba Meteorite
   Khowarib Camp
   Moose McGregor's Bakery
   Mowani Camp
   Ngepi Camp
   Nkasa Lupala
   n'Kwzi Camp
   River Dance Lodge
   Seisriem Camp
   Treesleeper Camp

   Cañón del Pato
   Cerro de Pasco
   La Oroya
   Machu Picchu
   Nuevo Jaén
   Tingo Maria
   Yungay Memorial


South Africa

   Rock of Gibraltar
   Santillana del Mar

United States National Parks
   Arches National Park, UT
   Badlands National Park, SD
   Bandelier National Monument, NM
   Bryce Canyon National Park, UT
   Cahokia Mounds (UNESCO site), IL
   Carlsbad Caverns National Park, NM
   Canyon de Chelly Nat'l Monument, AZ
   Cape Hatteras National Shoreline, NC
   Capitol Reef National Park, UT
   Civil Rights Memorial, AL
   Death Valley National Park, CA
   Denali National Park, AK
   Devil’s Tower National Monument, WY
   El Morro National Monument, NM
   Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C.
   Glacier National Park, MT
   Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
   Grand Tetons National Park, WY
   Great Basin National Park, NV
   Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, HI
   Joshua Tree National Park, CA
   Kaloko-Honokohau Nat'l Hist. Park, HI
   Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks, NM
   King's Canyon National Park, CA
   Martin Luther King Jr. Nat'l Hist. Site, GA
   Mesa Verde National Park, CO
   Montezuma's Castle Nat'l Monument, AZ
   Monticello, VA
   Mount Rushmore National Memorial, SD
   Mt. Rainier National Park, WA
   Olympic National Park, WA
   Petrified Wood National Park, AZ
   Pinnacles National Monument, CA
   Pu'uhonua o Honaunau Nat'l Hist Pk, HI
   Pu'ukohola Heiau Nat'l Historic Site, HI
   San Antonio Missions Nat'l Hist. Park, TX
   Tuzigoot National Monument, AZ
   Walnut Canyon National Monument, AZ
   Washington Monument
   White Sands National Monument, NM
   Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, AK
   Wright Brothers National Memorial in NC
   Yellowstone National Park, WY
   Yosemite National Park, CA

United States, Cities and Places
   The Alamo, TX
   Alaska Wildlife Conservation Cntr.
   Alpine Loop in CO
   Anchorage, AK
   Antares Junction, AZ
   Arctic Circle, AK
   Barrel Oak Winery in VA
   Biloxi, MS
   Bottle Tree Farm in CA
   Calico Ghost Town, CA
   Canfield Mountain Trail System, ID
   Cape St. Vincent, NY
   Carson City, NV
   Carter Caves State Park in KY
   Chappie-Shasta OHV Area, CA
   Child's Glacier, AK
   Circle B Chuckwagon Show in SD
   City Museum in MO
   Cody, WY
   Corn Palace in SD
   Crazy Horse Memorial in SD
   Custer State Park, SD
   Dalton Highway, AK
   Dinosaur Tracks in AZ
   Discovery Place in Charlotte, NC
   Dry Falls (Sun Lakes-Dry Falls), WA
   Fairbanks, AK
   Front Royal, VA
   Gallup, NM
   Goffs, CA
   Grand Canyon Caves, AZ
   Grand Canyon Skywalk, AZ
   Grave Digger Monster Truck in NC
   Great Salt Lake, UT
   Hackberry General Store in AZ
   Hannibal, MO
   Hatteras Island, NC
   Hawaii (Big Island)
   Hickison Petroglyphs, NV
   Holbrook, AZ
   Hole in the Rock, UT
   Homer, AK
   Honey Island Swamp Tour in LA
   Hoover Dam, NV
   Hyder, AK
   Jim Gray’s Petrified Wood Co. in AZ
   John’s Peak OHV Area, OR
   Kailua-Kona, HI
   Keepers of the Wild Nature Park in AZ
   Kennecott, AK
   Kennecott Copper Mine in UT
   Kingman, AZ
   Lake Havasu, AZ
   Lake Tahoe, NV
   Las Vegas, NV (winter 2010)
   Little Brown Church in IA
   London Bridge in AZ
   Loneliest Road in America, Hwy. 50, NV
   Los Angeles, CA
   Lost Colony Show on Roanoke Isl., NC
   Lowe’s Speedway in NC
   Mardi Gras World in LA
   Mark Twain Museum in MO
   Meteor Crater, AZ
   Million Dollar Highway, CO
   Minnesota Zoo
   Mitchell, SD
   Moab, UT
   Moab, UT (dirt biking)
   Montgomery, AL
   Montpelier, ID
   Navajo Nation, AZ
   Needles, CA
   Nevada Beach, NV
   Newberry Springs, CA
   New River Gorge, WV
   New Orleans, LA
   Niagara Falls 
   North Pole, AK
   Oatman, AZ
   Old Faithful Geyser in WY
   Omak Stampede, WA
   Painted Desert, AZ
   Park City, UT (summer)
   Plymouth, NC
   Portage Valley, AK
   Portland, OR
   Prospect OHV Trail System, OR
   Resaca, GA
   Riverside State Park, WA
   Rock City in TN
   Rosa Parks Library and Museum in AL
   Roswell, NM
   Russian River, AK
   Salt Lake City, UT
   San Antonio, TX
   San Diego, CA
   San Juan Islands, WA
   San Francisco, CA
   Santa Catalina Island, CA
   Seattle, WA
   Sedona, AZ
   Shoe Tree in CA
   Shoe Tree in NV
   Silverton, CO
   Sonora, TX
   St. Louis, MO
   St. Paul, MN
   Talkeetna, AK
   Telluride, CO
   Route 66
   Twin Knobs Recreation Area in KY
   Virginia Beach, VA
   Washington D.C.
   Wayne Fitzgerrell State Park in IL
   Williamsburg, VA
   Winom Frazier OHV Area, OR
   Winslow, AZ
   Zion National Park, UT

Planning Our Adventures

For us, each journey begins with the initial heart pangs to venture to a certain part of the world. Then the ideas start coming together . . . ahh, the possibilities . . . and the dream evolves gradually into an actual plan. But, oh, the joy of the dream!  Click here to learn more about how we plan and prepare for our journeys.

Where Are We Now?

Click here to discover where we are now, as well as our uncoming travel plans.

Words for the Heart

“. . . and then the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

Anais Nin