All About Arenal Volcano

If you are driving down the road and spot the perfectly shaped cone of Arenal Volcano, you will have arrived in La Fortuna, San Carlos, in Costa Rica. This is a small picturesque town, known worldwide for its undeniably breathtaking natural wonders and for being an adventure and birding hub.

While there are over 200 volcanic systems in the country, during your visit to La Fortuna your goal will be to focus on the Majestic Arenal Volcano. Locally famous after its eruption in 1968 that destroyed three towns, today it holds the “most active volcano” title, not only in Costa Rica but also in the world.

Although the volcano was declared inactive in 2010, columns of ash, underground rumble, and bright-orange lava flows and explosions are daily sights. If you are a volcano enthusiast, this article is for you. Learn about the history of Arenal Volcano, its natural attractions and how to get there.


With an altitude of 1,633 meters and a 140 meter crater, it woke up suddenly and abruptly with a shocking explosion of rocks, lava and ash on 29 July 1968. This resulted in 87 deaths and the total destruction of nearby towns Tabacón, Pueblo Nuevo and San Luis. Three additional formations occurred in the western flanks, only one of which remains to date.

Before its big eruption in 1968, Arenal Volcano was a volcanic mountain with a nearly perfect cone, covered with tropical forest and recording minimum vent activity. Geologically, at its 3000 years of age, Arenal Volcano is relatively young. Before the 1968 eruption, the last violent volcanic activity recorded was around 1500 BC.

The volcano has received many names throughout history. Its oldest recorded name was “Los Ahogados” (1852), Spanish for “The Drowned”. Other names include: volcán de Costa Rica "Volcano of Costa Rica" (1854), volcán del Río Frío "Cold River Volcano" (1861), cerro Arenal "Mount Arenal", cerro Pan de Azúcar "Mount Sugar Bread" (1896), volcán de los Canastos "Basket Volcano" or volcán Pelón "Bald Volcano" (1925).

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In 1922, it is given the name Volcán Arenal [Sand Volcano], by reason of its lava undergoing disintegration due to physical and chemical processes and resulting in lithic and crystalline sands that settle in the cone foothills, giving the volcano a sand hill appearance. Another distinctive feature of Arenal Volcano is its basin, of great importance for the Lake Arenal reservoir. It is used for hydroelectric energy generation to meet the electricity demands of the national interconnected system and irrigation projects in Guanacaste.

Tourist activities have not decreased in spite of the lack of volcanic activities. The quiet La Fortuna city is the entrance to Arenal Volcano and many accommodation venues, restaurants, and businesses.

How to get there?

If you have found these Arenal Volcano facts interesting, it is time for you to pack your bags and head to this natural wonder. To make sure you arrive to this destination, take any of the following routes:

The volcano is located 80 km northwest of San José, in the province of Alajuela. The easiest way to reach Arenal is by car. If you come from San José, it will take you around 3-4 hours to arrive at La Fortuna. Direct bus rides are available, departing from San José at 6:15 a.m., 8:40 a.m., 11:30 a.m., as well as several bus routes connecting throughout Ciudad Quesada.

Also, several buses operate along the San José-Arenal, Liberia-Arenal, and Tamarindo Arenal routes. If you wish to save time, consider flying there. If booked sufficiently in advance, you can get a domestic one-way flight ticket with local airlines such as Nature Air and Sansa for as little as $50-60 per person.

Come discover Costa Rica’s natural treasures!