Parque Nacional Volcán Arenal

Trip Start Sep 17, 2010
Trip End Oct 03, 2010

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Coco's Sunset

Flag of Costa Rica  , Province of Alajuela,
Wednesday, September 29, 2010

I met the tour guide in front of the condo office for the trip to Volcán Arenal and he greeted me in English so I replied in English and he immediately asked if I speak Spanish. His English was excellent, as you'd expect from a guide for an English-speaking group, so I knew he wasn’t asking because he’d struggle to understand me in English.  I was totally blown away because I don’t think anybody has ever thought, based on my appearance, that I speak Spanish.

I switched over to Spanish and asked him why he asked.  He thought he detected a Spanish accent in my English.  Go figure.  Maybe if I were to stay here long enough I’d start to lose my English, though I can’t imagine that ever really happening.

Our first stop was at an 800-year-old Guanacaste tree that’s growing out of the middle of an intersection in Liberia.  The province I’m in is Guanacaste province and this is its signature tree.  The name of the province comes from the name of the tree in the language of the indigenous peoples of the area.  The fruit of the tree (which is not edible but had other uses for the indigenous peoples) is shaped like a human ear so their name for it comes from that fact in their language.

Volcán Arenal is an active volcano that appeared to be dormant until 1968 when it erupted destroying three villages, killing about 80 people and 45,000 cattle.  Since then the level of activity has been much lower and people, many of whom provide services to the hoards of tourists who flock to see the volcano, have settled back in.  It has, however, continued to belch smoke, ash clouds and lava flows; sometimes generating spectacular displays.

Of course I was hoping to see it put on a show for me but the bigger question was whether we’d be able to see it at all since there was a good chance it would be totally obscured by rain clouds.

To get there we had to travel all the way around Laguna de Arenal, a large, artificial lake created by ICE, the country’s electricity company, to generate hydroelectric power.  It’s 88 square kilometers (34 square miles) and is the largest lake in the country.  SCUBA divers can visit a town whose buildings still exist under the lake.  The people were all moved farther up the hillside when the dam was built and the valley flooded to create the lake.

We stopped at a private reserve to hike the trails in its section of rain forest.  It was actually more of a stroll than a hike since the trails were all level, well graded, graveled and drained.  They also built ponds, food stations and other animal amenities to attract wildlife, though the animals are not captive and are free to come and go as they wish.  I don’t know if that’s considered cheating but that fact, plus my guide’s greater knowledge of the wildlife and sharper eyes than mine combined to help me see and photograph more wildlife than I would have seen on my own.  The downside is that being with a group I had to move along at their speed and they didn’t stop as long as I would have liked most places so there were pictures I couldn’t afford the time to take.

Our next stop was at a hotel with a series of pools fed by a subterranean river of geothermally heated water.  The pools are arranged sequentially and as you move closer to the source of the water the temperature of the pool increases.  The hot water felt good but it very much had the feel of a highly commercial enterprise trying to imitate nature, rather than natural hot springs.

As the sun set, the time came when I was hoping to catch the glow of hot lava cascading down the slopes of the volcano or erupting from its crater set against the dark sky.  Clouds, however, totally obscured the volcano and there were no sounds of explosions so that part of the hoped-for show didn’t occur and, after dinner, we started the three-hour trip back home.
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Aaron on

I remember going to Arenal. I really enjoyed the hot springs and seeing the lava flow down the side of the volcano at night. It's pretty interesting that he thought that he heard a Spanish accent in your voice.

Aaron and Holli and Brooke

Chris Nordell on


Jeremy on

Totally cool pictures. My favorite is the Basilisk. BITCHIN! Its funny because I was just thinking of Costa Rica and both You and Pastor Bennet then mentioned it. I so wish I could go...

Doc Sellars on

It's really funny to hear that you have a Spanish accent when speaking English! What a beautiful place! Some of your pictures belong in National Geographic. Oh, sorry about the dirt road comment... I should've said that I am acquainted with dirt roads with some serious potholes. Sorry about making a comparison with the roads there.

Mary Anne Brown on

More beautful pictures... hope you are having a great time... we miss you..

Suzanne & John/ U of R on

Steve, this is a couple of years later & we are heading to CR next week -- hoping that some of the rain that you experienced in Sept '10 will be gone. Wanted to ask if this tour overall was worthwhile to you? It is one of the places we might visit while in Quepos. Thanks

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