The Wonders of Arenal

Catalina Calderon

Arenal NightHere nature speaks for itself: the majestic Arenal Volcano is the shining star of Costa Rica's northern zone. Both the incredible night view of incandescent lava descending from its cone and its awesome rumbles testify to nature's supreme power. Its truly a Costa Rica travel highlight.

Scientists say that Arenal is about two or three million years old. Just under 1,700 meters (5,100 feet) high, with an almost perfect cone and a crater about 140 meters deep, Arenal - active since 1968 - seems to know it's the center of attention. The volcano is a bit of a show-off, especially at night, when its ejection of lava and glowing hot rocks can resemble an impressive fireworks display - a treat for Costa Rica travel buffs!

However, the smoky giant is not the only star lurking on this stage: the surrounding flora and fauna are so rich that the area was declared the Arenal National Park in 1991. The 2,920-hectare park encompasses tropical wet forest, pre-mountain forest and dry cloud forest. It is home to more than 100 mammal species, including the Baird's tapir, sloths, white-nosed coatie, deer and jaguar. It is also home to parrots, parakeets and resplendent quetzals. Among the local flora species are mountain guayabo, frijo, rosewood, chicle tree, balsa, palm shrubs, ferns, algae and others. Arenal National Park borders on the Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve and the San Ramón Forestry Reserve. Together, the three form a great Costa Rica travel destination, the Arenal Conservation Area.

Arenal by DayAbout two kilometers south of the volcano is the Arenal Observatory Lodge, which provides a safe ringside seat for investigators and visitors alike. The lodge was built in 1987 as a research station for scientists from the Smithsonian Institute and Universidad Nacional de Costa Rica. The 860-acre (347-hectare) farm surrounding the Observatory Lodge provides access to 295 acres of primary and secondary forest, 250 acres planted with Macadamia, and a 185-acre reforestation project planted with Honduran Pine and Eucalyptus. Hikes to nearby Cerro Chato, an extinct volcano whose crater is now a small lake, may be arranged, and saddle horses are available for exploring.

Another Costa Rica travel jewel is beautiful Lake Arenal, artificially created in 1978 when the water of the Arenal River was diverted to fill and maintain what is today a 40,000-acre lake. Lake Arenal is the largest fresh water lake in Costa Rica, and a popular fishing place for guapote (Rainbow Bass) and machaca (Brycon Guatemalensis). It is also a favorite spot for windsurfing fans. A short distance from Lake Arenal is the smaller Lake Coter.

Observing the volcano's tantrums is not the only Costa Rica travel option - there is horseback riding, mountain biking and visits to nearby hot springs and pools offering soothing relaxation. All-day tropical river tours are also available, and there is butterfly and bird watching. Other activities one can enjoy in the area are horseback riding, white-water rafting on nearby rivers, boat excursions on Lake Arenal, and tours to the Venado caverns and the Caño Negro Wildlife National Refuge Reserve, north of the Arenal

Visit Arenal Volcano and Costa Rica on Adventure Life's Earth, Fire and Water tour!