Land Area: 12,080 ha
Hours: 8 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Arenal National Park
Undisputedly one of Costa Rica's foremost tourist attractions, the highly eruptive Arenal Volcano is the centerpiece of this new national park, which was declared in October of 1994. In addition to including in the national park system what is currently one of the world's most active volcanoes, the area now under park service protection encompasses the watersheds of several rivers and streams that flow into Lake Arenal, the country's most important source of hydroelectric power.
The imposing Arenal Volcano rises in nearly perfect conical form out of the western end of the San Carlos plains. Its periodic eruptions of ash and molten rock, accompanied by thundering sonic blasts, are an unforgettable experience anytime, but become extremely spectacular after dark. When the light of day has dimmed, the glowing red igneous rocks ejected with each eruption trace fiery arches in the night sky before crashing down on the steep slopes and finally extinguishing themselves.
Columns of lava also push their way down the sides of the volcano, and pieces of the advancing sections continually break off under the weight of new flows bearing down from above. At night, these falling pieces are visible as chunks of rolling red rocks, adding to the natural fireworks display between the frequent eruptions.
From the 600-meter elevation, where visitors are allowed to approach atop a lava flow from the 1968 eruption, Arenal rises another 1,000 meters (3,000 feet) to its 1,633-meter (5,000 foot) summit, and although the peak is still three kilometers away, it is definitely "in your face!"
There is little vegetation or wildlife to be seen in the immediate area of the main viewing site since the effects of the major devastating eruption of 1968 are only slowly being overcome. Nevertheless, this area offers a unique opportunity to witness the early stages of lava flow colonization by a handful of plant species adapted to the task. Farther away, there are other areas that escaped direct damage and provide better wildlife viewing in the forested sections.