The National Parks of Costa Rica
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Destination content © Christopher P. Baker, used from Moon Handbooks Costa Rica, 5th edition.
The 12,016-hectare Parque Nacional Volcán Arenal lies within the 204,000-hectare Arenal Conservation Area, protecting eight of Costa Rica's 12 life zones and 16 protected reserves in the region between the Guanacaste and Tilarán mountain ranges, and including Lake Arenal. The park has two volcanoes: Chato, whose collapsed crater contains an emerald lagoon surrounded by forest, and the perfectly conical Arenal. The park is most directly accessed from La Fortuna, but is also easily accessed via Tilarán and the north shore of Lake Arenal.

A joint project involving the Canadian International Development Agency and World Wildlife Fund Canada is helping local communities protect buffer zones where the land is under siege by drawing them into ecotourism. Several visitor sites provide toilets and drinking water. And trails and lookout points have been constructed.

The turnoff to the entrance is 3.5 km east of the lake and 2.5 km west of Tabacón. The dirt road leads 1.5 km to the ranger station, which sells a small guide and has restrooms. A dirt road leads north 1.5 km to a parking lot and hiking trails.

An interpretive center has been under construction for several years, two km southwest of the ranger station (but had yet to open at last visit). It will feature a museum with exhibits on vulcanology and local ecology, an auditorium for slide shows, a cafe, and souvenir store. Meanwhile, the Arenal Observatory Lodge (see Accommodation, below) has a small but interesting Museum of Vulcanicity.

Arenal Volcano
Volcán Arenal (1,633 meters) is a picture-perfect cone. It's also Costa Rica's most active volcano and a must-see on any tourist's itinerary. Note, however, that it is most often covered in clouds and getting to see an eruption is a matter of luck (the dawn hours are best, before the clouds roll in; seasonally, you stand a reasonable chance in dry season, and less than favorable odds in rainy season). Arenal was sacred to pre-Columbian tribes (it is easy to imagine sacrifices tossed into the inferno), but it slumbered peacefully throughout the colonial era. On 29 July 1968, it was awakened from its long sleep by a fateful earthquake. The massive explosion that resulted wiped out the villages of Tabacón and Pueblo Nuevo, whose entire populations perished. The blast was felt as far away as Boulder, Colorado.

It is regarded as one of the world's most active volcanoes. Its lava flows and eruptions have been constant, and on virtually any day you can see smoking cinder blocks tumbling down the steep slope from the horseshoe-shaped crater that opens to the west--or at night watch a fiery cascade of lava spewing from the 140-meter-deep crater. Some days the volcano blows several times in an hour, spewing house-size rocks, sulfur dioxide and chloride gases, and red-hot lava. The volcano's active vent is on the western side, and the normal easterly wind blows most of the effluvia westward. Explosions and eruptions, however, occur on all sides.

This is an small excerpt from Moon Handbooks Costa Rica. CentralAmerica.Com highly recommends that you enhance your vacation by taking a copy of Moon's comprehensive Handbook with you. For more information visit the Moon Handbooks page on this site.

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