Hiking a volcano was not on my bucket list, but it should be on yours! My entire goal for my last trip to Costa Rica was to see a sloth, which I did and wrote about earlier, but who can say no to, “Do you want to hike a volcano?”
Well, I can’t.
Clouds hung low as we entered the trail to Arenal National Park enhancing the feeling of adventure and mystery. We left the park map in the truck, deciding it wasn’t needed. My friends, who live in Costa Rica and have visited the park in the past, said there were directional signs. So, mapless, we entered into the cloud mist among tall vegetation – well over my head.
We walked along the trail and we did see a directional sign. We could hike a volcano, or walk around it. How often do you get the opportunity to hike a volcano? So, with little discussion, we headed up the path.
At first, it didn’t feel like we were on a path different from any other I’ve traversed. Aside from the beautiful trees and flowers, the occasional odd insect, and rare reptile, we could have been hiking anywhere. However, soon, the ground beneath our feet slowly transitioned from a sandy type of covering, to black rocks, small at first and gradually growing in size.
As we climbed, the hike got a little more strenuous, but still easily navigable in running shoes, until we reached our destination. The spot where we could go no farther and the “I hiked a volcano!” photo opp.
We spent a good little bit of time there, taking in the views and, of course, taking a lot of pictures. The sun burned away most of the lower cloud base and we could see for miles, though the top of the volcano was still cloaked by clouds, hiding the crevice that was active just several years before.
It was time to go back down, making room for new hikers to come up and enjoy the spectacular views. We came across more directional signs and decided on the longer path back around to the truck. It was a wonderful day to be out enjoying the natural beauty of a rain forest in Costa Rica. It was the rainy season and we were lucky to have a day with sunshine and few clouds. Though in the thick of the forest, it was hard to see the sun. We were shaded by century-old trees reaching their branches across the path overhead.
As we saw fewer and fewer people, apparently most people opt for the shorter route, I began to wish we had the map. I didn’t feel lost, exactly, but worried that perhaps we were going to come out at an exit far from where our truck was located. I was getting tired and would have liked some guidance on how much farther we would need to walk.
We were all exhausted from our trek and, just in time, we saw the entrance (now exit) to the trail. Though the long route may have been a bit too long for us, I’m glad we took it instead of the shorter option. The shorter path would likely have left me wishing we had more time in the forest and it was certainly the more worn path. I cherished the time we spent in the forest where it felt like we were all alone.
If you are planning a trip to Costa Rica, I recommend hiking the volcano. It is a memory you will have for the rest of your life. I would also like to share a bit more about what I learned from my experience:
- Entrance into the National Park costs $15 USD as of this writing.
- I hiked in my running clothes: a tank top along with running shorts and shoes and felt adequately dressed, but you will want to bring bug spray.
- Bring water, of course! Preferably in a reusable bottle.
- We visited the park in early October and there were several others on the shorter part of the trail with us. I imagine the number of people on the trail will be much higher in peak seasons.
- I would rate the trail as an easy hike, but the hike up to the volcano as intermediate. We didn’t have any trouble with the terrain, but we are all fairly active and fit. Someone who isn’t active could climb, but rests are encouraged.
- If you are able, take the long route around, which is about 3.5 miles or so. The shorter route is about 2 miles.
- Take the map. Seriously, take it. It is a piece of paper, so even if you don’t use it, it won’t add any weight to your pack.
One more thing to keep in mind: Arenal Volcano is still considered active. Seismic readings are found indicating it is in a resting phase, but it hasn’t erupted since 2010. Readings are monitored carefully and trails will be closed, if needed, but they are also the reason why visitors are not allowed to hike farther up the trail.
Have you visited Arenal Volcano? Tell me about your experience in the comments!