Many of my Central America exploration stories usually begin aboard a long-distance bus and this one is no different. Travelling to the Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica after leaving our resort in Guanacaste Province. We travelled from the warmest driest area in all of Costa Rica, crossing the Continental Divide that splits Costa Rica and the America’s in two. The journey would take us from Guanacaste on the Pacific Coast to the dense rainforest of the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. After a morning of bus travel I arrived at Volcano Arenal and the Arenal National Park, Costa Rica.
ARENAL VOLCANO NATIONAL PARK – COSTA RICA
MY SECOND TRIP TO COSTA RICA – ARENAL NATIONAL PARK
For the purpose of this post I should mention that my recent trip to Costa Rica was one of a kind for me, it was my first and probably not my last All Inclusive resort experience and a far cry from my usual budget backpacker style of travel. We visited the Volcan Arenal National Park as part of a pre-booked excursion through our hotel, so the prices paid are reflective of that.We decided to take a planned tour of Arenal as it was easier as we were so isolated on our resort. I have read in my Central America on a shoestring Lonely Planet that this trip is still doable from Guanacaste to Arenal by public transport as Central America is very accessible. Something I learnt after spending 12 weeks here. Click here for more Central America.
GUANACASTE TO ARENAL – HOW TO GET TO THE ARENAL NATIONAL PARK
To get to Volcano Arenal National Park from Guanacaste you can simply book an organised tour from one of the many tour operators or resorts in the Guanacaste and Tamarindo areas of Costa Rica. If you prefer to do this trip without booking one of the Arenal National Park tours you can take a bus heading to Arenal Volcano/Arenal National Park from Liberia Airport. From Tamarindo there are to Arenal you must also pass through Libera. The public transport bus option to Volcan Arenal will require several bus changes and a little advance planning due to the distance and length of time it takes to get to Arenal National Park.
Smaller second class busses in Costa Rica are operated by TicaBus and operate throughout Central America and can take you to Arenal Volcano National Park. Larger longer distance busses can also be boarded from Liberia near the airport or from various hotels in the city. You can enquire in the airport for more details and bus timetables.
This trip on public transport can take up to 6 hours, if you do not plan on taking an organised excursion bare this factor in mind. It may be better to rent a car for this trip if you also plan on spending some time around Lake Arenal.
The region of Guanacaste is situated on Costa Rica’s Northern Pacific Coast with the Volcan Arenal National Park around 3 hours away towards the centre and capital of Costa Rica. We booked through our resort and undoubtedly paid over the odds for this excursion at $136 as mentioned. This is my first official resort excursion and all in all the ease and simplicity of the tour seemed worth the price, all things considered. Our excursion included lunch and dinner, entrance to the Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges and a trip to Titoku Hot Springs afterwards, towels included also. Regular adult entrance for the Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Walk is $26.
Our Arenal National Park tour was booked through the popular Costa Rican tour operator Swiss Travel, you can visit their office in San Jose or Liberia for more details. You can also book to take part in an excursion with Swiss Travel irrespective of whether you are staying within a resort like we were. Despite booking one day prior to the excursion our bus was not full, but I can imagine during the peak season (dry season in Guanacaste) tickets for excursions sell out quickly.
|A view of Volcan Arenal from one of the hanging bridges|
THE CONTINENTAL DIVIDE OF COSTA RICA AND THE AMERICAS
To get to Arenal National Park from Guanacaste you have to cross the ‘Great Divide’ which is the continental divide that splits the Americas down the centre with the Pacific coast on one side and the Caribbean coast on the other.
|Source: Google Maps|
Our first stop would be the banks of the man made Lake Arenal, situated underneath the shadows of Volcano Arenal in the National Park. Lake Arenal is Costa Rica’s largest landlocked lake/body of water the lake originally existed as a much smaller body of water at the foot of the volcano in Arenal National Park and has since been expanded several times. The reason for this is so Arenal Lake can house a hydroelectric dam and where better to have one than an area that has such heavy annual rainfall.
We spent around an hour in total eating lunch and dessert overlooking the picturesque waters of the Arenal Volcano National Park. I was surprised, although I shouldn’t be, at all the US real estate organisations selling land and property beside the lake. There’s clearly a market for American tourists throughout Costa Rica but I thought signage and advertising in a national park would be regulated more.
Costa Rica is widely covered by dense rainforest and ‘dry forest’ on the Pacific coast 25% of Costa Rica is registered as either conservation area or has National Park status and the country itself is undergoing efforts to become the first complete carbon neutral country on the planet. Pretty impressive if this can be achieved, efforts can be clearly seen on the route from Guanacaste to Arenal Volcano National Park as many wind farms can be spotted along the mountain range that defines the countries continental divide.
|Views of Arenal Volcano in the clouds – Photo overlooking the national park|
MISTICO ARENAL HANGING BRIDGES – ARENAL NATIONAL PARK
We visited Arenal for several reasons and the package excursion made it easier for us to do so as part of one of the popular Arenal National Park tours. Other than our main motivation for visiting Volcan Arenal which was to experience Costa Rica and it’s incredible and diverse rainforest and ecosystems, was to visit the Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park. Which was all booked as a whole and part of our Arenal tour. The excursion package would include a 1.5 hour walk through the rainforest to hopefully see some wildlife and certainly some plantlife if not. Note that the walk itself is generally on footpaths and hanging bridges, there is wildlife to be seen but the hike isn’t very challenging and the area of National Park and rainforest has been modified for tourism.
|Mistico Hanging Bridges – With our guide|
✓ Arenal Volcano National Park Entrance Fee: This was paid in advance for us as part of our pre-booked tour, entrance fees to Arenal Volcano National Park is usually $15 standard Adult/Tourist entrance
Views of Arenal Volcano can be seen from the starting area and viewpoint of the rainforest walk. Food, water and other refreshments can be found here along with toilets and other facilities. Upon entering the ‘hike’/walking zone, tourists are advised to spray for mosquitoes and other insects before entering the rain forest area itself.
|Arenal posers – Views of Arenal National Park|
The guide from Mistico was professional, fun and most of all asserted the importance of speaking, learning and acknowledging the language of the country we were visiting. Throughout the tour he would introduce plant and animal life in Spanish always allowing the group to educate themselves, whether they wanted to or not. This is something that is important to me, not only as an avid Spanish speaker and learner but as someone who always puts respect for your host country at the forefront of all my trips. If you visit Costa Rica, please attempt to speak the local language and always try to use the local currency. US Dollars are not an official currency of Costa Rica.
There’s a lot of wildlife to be seen also, although due to the dimly lit rainforest you can’t always get the best photos. During our time with Mistico on the Mistico hanging bridges tour we saw two different kinds of monkeys, several tarantulas, snakes and a great curassow. We didn’t actually see any sloths much to our groups disappointment. It’s not uncommon that people have their hearts set on seeing a sloth when they visit Costa Rica.
|Blurry rainforest photo|
|More views of the Costa Rican rainforest and Arenal National Park from the Mistico hanging bridges|
TITOKU HOT SPRINGS, ARENAL NATIONAL PARK, COSTA RICA
|Titoku Hot Springs, Arenal Volcano National Park, Costa Rica|