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Arenal is known as the adventure capital of Costa Rica. Located in Alajuela province, a few hours drive from capital San José it’s a place where you can really connect with nature. With abundant outdoor activities, rainforests, lakes, volcanos and hot springs, there’s something in Arenal to appeal to all travellers.
Arenal Volcano towers above the region, an active stratovolcano which dates back around 7,500 years. The most devastating act of nature occurred in July 1968, when lava, rocks and ash from the volcano spewed down the mountainside, covering the villages of Tabacón, Pueblo Nuevo and San Luis. Today the volcano, now in passive state, continues to simmer silently in the distance, and if you wish to view it up-close there are treks along dedicated rainforest trails and old lava flows.
Visitors to the region can enjoy a whole host of activities from caving, mountain biking and waterfall rappelling to zip-lining through dense rainforests! Expect to see diverse wildlife such as armadillos, sloths and capuchin monkeys and birdlife including toucans, Amazon kingfishers and the rare jacana. For awe-inspiring views of wildlife and scenic Arenal Lake, head for Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park, and don’t forget your camera!
If you’ve exhausted city and beach life on your Costa Rican tour, Arenal is a welcome change. A tranquil area with calm lakes, hot springs and fresh air, you can discover flora and fauna in rainforests or horseback riding through lush countryside with Arenal volcano as your backdrop. There are several activities for water sports enthusiasts too, with kayaking, fishing, wakeboarding or white water rafting along rivers with class II, III and IV rapids!
Temperatures rarely vary in Arenal throughout the year. Weather is hot and humid most months with highs of mid-80 degrees Fahrenheit and lows barely dropping below 68 degrees. Rainfall is highest between May and October, creating a lush, tropical environment perfect for rainforest trekking, but if you wish to indulge in watersport activities on lakes and rivers December to April are great months to visit.
It’s possible to fly to Arenal from the Costa Rican capital San José, with a flight time of around half an hour. Alternatively, sit back and enjoy the views as you travel by bus. Several coaches depart for La Fortuna from San José daily with a journey time of approximately 4 hours. If there are a few of you travelling together, consider taking a shuttle transfer from the Costa Rican Beaches or San José or if you prefer a little more flexibility, why not hire a car in Costa Rica and stop off on the way to Arenal?
If you plan to drive to Arenal, you could stop off in the province’s capital, Alajuela. The second largest city in Costa Rica, it has all the amenities of a modern city and rich history to explore. In pre-Columbian times the region was inhabited by native tribes until the first Spanish settlers arrived in the mid-1600s. Much of this heritage can still be viewed in the architecture and museums around the city. In addition, Alajuela also produces much of the country’s coffee, sugar cane, maize and tobacco which is exported all over the world. Visitors can take a tour of a coffee plantation, sampling the award-winning blends along the way. If you time your visit well, and pass through the city on Saturday morning, you can experience the colourful Farmer’s Market which sells herbs, cheeses, fruits and clothing. Alternatively, spend a few weeks here and brush up on your Spanish skills with a local family!
When you depart Alajuela heading north towards Arenal, take a break in the pretty town of Sarchi. It’s the arts and crafts capital of Costa Rica, filled with shops selling homemade furniture and decorated handicrafts. During the 19th century oxcarts were used to transport items from the interior to port cities for exportation, and if you owned an oxcart back then, you really were somebody! That’s why today, you’ll see brightly coloured hand-painted oxcarts lining the streets and central squares as a nod to the town’s proud trading heritage.
La Fortuna is probably one of the most popular towns in which to stay close to Arenal. The name translates as “The Fortune” and the town sits beneath Arenal volcano surrounded by rainforest. Following the volcano’s eruption in 1968, La Fortuna was built as a central town to serve the area and has since become a popular travel destination. Locals are friendly and welcoming, outdoor activities plentiful, plus there are plenty of bars and restaurants where you can sample delicious local dishes.
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