The Arenal Volcano region is one of the most popular destinations in Costa Rica, thanks in part to the countless tours that operate in the area. Travelers have access to secondary rainforests, waterfalls, the country’s largest lake, cultural experiences, and a diverse selection of hotels in Arenal, which has earned it the adventure capital of Costa Rica title in the eyes of many. Whether you’re headed there to zip-line or just relax in the volcano-fed hot springs, Arenal has something for everyone.
Hike Along the Base of the Arenal Volcano.
Without a doubt, Arenal is the most popular and well-recognized of Costa Rica’s volcanoes. Until recently, it was the country’s most active volcano with an average of 41 eruptions per day. While it isn’t currently legal to hike to the top, visitors to Arenal can we hike along the base of the volcano with a naturalist guide to learn about old lava flows and local wildlife. Combine the hike with a visit to Ecotermales Hot Springs and you’ll have the quintessential Arenal volcano experience.
Related Article: 9 Best Costa Rica National Parks & Reserves
Soak in Arenal Volcano All-Natural Hot Springs.
Is there anything more relaxing than a soak in warm, thermal waters after a day of adventure? Formed when water is heated underground and bubbles to the surface, the Arenal volcano’s mineral waters have been used as therapeutic baths for more than two hundred years. Today, the hot springs are a highlight for travelers after a day of adventurous activities like whitewater rafting and waterfall rappelling. Hot springs entrance is included at some hotels, while other hot springs in the area can be visited with a day pass.
Related Article: Best of Costa Rica Hot Springs & Thermal Resorts
Fly Through the Forest Canopy by Aerial Tram or Zipline.
Arenal hosts one of the best zip-lining experiences in Costa Rica, offering incredible views with a side of adrenaline! You’ll ascend on an aerial tram to the top of an observation point overlooking Lake Arenal. From the observation point, set off on one of the highest and fastest ziplines in Costa Rica! As you fly through the treetops, you’ll be treated to incredible vistas with the Arenal Volcano looming in the background. This exciting Arenal zip-line is a must-do for anyone with a taste for adventure – all ages are welcome!
Experience an Arenal Sloth Tour
The sloth is one of Costa Rica’s most adorable mascots, ranking atop the Must-See Wildlife lists of many visitors. Known to be elusive and subtly tucked among the treetops, seeing a sloth out in the wild can be something of a challenge. Thankfully, the Arenal region is a great place to spot the sweet, smiling sloth of your dreams. Wildlife enthusiasts have a choice of an early morning sloth tour (in general, wildlife is usually best at sunrise) or an afternoon tour that departs after lunchtime. This walking nature tour takes you to the best locations for seeing sloths in Arenal, depending on recent sloth activity reported in the area. If you don’t have a whole day to dedicate solely to sloth tours in Arenal, there’s also a chance you could see one on the Arenal Hanging Bridges Hike and other local nature walks. The Nayara Resorts are known to have a few resident sloths, which guests can watch out for during their stay. The Club Rio animal sanctuary at The Springs Resort & Spa is often home to rescued sloths; this sort of sloth experience is more controlled in a zoo-like setting and is often a great fit for families with very young children.
Visit La Fortuna Waterfall.
The little farming town of La Fortuna (adjacent to the Arenal hotel zone) is named for its beautiful neighbor, the La Fortuna Waterfall. Surrounded by lush rainforest greenery, La Fortuna plummets 200 feet to fall into a pool of crystal-clear water. Visitors arrive at the park entrance, where the cascade can be observed from a viewing point high above. Then, walk down a long pathway of stairs (about 500, to be exact) for an up-close look at this amazing force of nature. Don’t forget a swimsuit – the pool is delightfully cool on a hot day! Note: Swimming is allowed on the safe areas along the edge of the cascade pool, but stay far from the powerful waterfall.
Related Article: 5 Costa Rica Waterfalls You Must Visit
Arenal Hanging Bridges Hike
The Arenal Hanging Bridges are the best place for a taste of the rainforest during your stay in Arenal. Visitors hike through a private nature reserve along well-maintained trails and across a series of fixed and hanging bridges. This unique vantage point provides a glimpse into life in the secondary rainforest canopy – a unique habitat for birds, monkeys, and countless other Costa Rican creatures. A naturalist guide accompanies guests and reveals secrets about the reserve’s flora and fauna and points out hard-to-spot wildlife. Expert tip: Don’t miss the optional waterfall extension trail at the end of the hike.
Cruise Along Lake Arenal.
With the mighty Arenal volcano and the surrounding hills as its backdrop, Lake Arenal is truly a vision. Costa Rica’s largest lake can be explored by kayak or stand-up paddleboard, but the most popular option is a boat ride followed by a gentle walk along the Arenal peninsula trail. Honeymooners should consider the sunset cruise for the ultimate romantic Lake Arenal memories. Even if you can’t fit a lake day into your itinerary, you can certainly enjoy the beauty it adds to the local scenery. Views of Arenal Lake can be admired from zip lines, hiking trails, and en route to your hotel.
Whitewater Rafting Tours Near Arenal
The Balsa River is one of the most popular rafting rivers accessible from Arenal. Rio Balsa’s Class II-III rapids are a great choice for anyone age 7 and up, regardless of previous rafting experience. As with any whitewater rafting trip, your professional guides will teach you the basics of paddling and safety before heading out on the river. The rafting portion lasts about two hours, during which you’ll enjoy scenic forest views and, if you’re lucky, a peek at some local wildlife. The Sarapiqui River can also be reached from the Arenal volcano region. Rafters can choose from level II-III or level III-IV rapids, depending on the desired adrenaline rush.
Look for Wildlife on a Safari River Float.
If getting on a raft and paddling through roaring rapids sounds too adventurous, try a safari float down one of the gentle rivers near Arenal. Floating down a river without whitewater rapids is a safe and unique way to experience the nature and wildlife of the Arenal Volcano region. About 45 minutes away, the Penas Blancas River offers a suitable safari float experience for travelers of all ages. If you’re willing to drive a bit further, you can explore the extensive network of rivers and marshes on a day tour of Cano Negro National Wildlife. The refuge is a thriving habitat for a variety of aquatic bird species such as Jaribu storks, roseate spoonbills, and egrets. To see more wildlife, visit in the green season when the rivers swell and the animals are plentiful.
Try a Costa Rican Cooking Class
There’s more to Arenal than zip lines and hot springs. If you’re the kind of traveler who gets excited about a destination’s culinary highlights, try a Costa Rican cooking class in Arenal! This is a great way to explore Costa Rica on a deeper level that involves all your senses. You have the option of getting hands-on with the while being guided by a professional chef, or simply sitting back as you watch and learn the art of local cuisine.
Dining Near Arenal Volcano: The Best Restaurants in Arenal
In the Arenal Volcano area, some of the best restaurants are in the hotel zone. Guests at Nayara Resorts, for example, have access to more than 5 unique dining experiences on-site. Stay at Tabacon Thermal Resort and you’ll have access to not only the best hot springs in Arenal but two of the best restaurants: Ave and Tucanes.
But if you’re looking to venture off the hotel property and explore the culinary scene in Arenal on a deeper level, we recommend a visit to La Fortuna. This small but bustling town hosts a cluster of local restaurants, shops, and tourist offices ready to delight visitors.
Located along the main road that connects downtown La Fortuna to the hotel zone, you’ll find Mercadito Arenal – a one-stop shop for casual and delicious international fare. This self-described “Gastro Market” offers sushi, tacos, burgers, pizza, coffee, and cocktails making it a perfect spot for families and groups!
Don Rufino is one of Costa Rica Experts’ longest-standing restaurant recommendations in the La Fortuna / Arenal area. Ask your driver or hotel concierge for their recommendations and they’ll probably sing the same praises for Don Rufino. This long-time Arenal favorite does local classics like ceviche as well as intriguing culinary inventions; try the Pejibaye dumplings, the baked BBQ pork pastries, or the date-stuffed meatballs. This place is popular, so be sure to make a reservation on their website.
We usually recommend eating the local specialties when you’re in Costa Rica: colorful tropical fruits, fresh seafood, Gallo pinto, fried plantains, etc. But there are some days when the only thing you want is a delicious pizza, and if that day comes and you happen to be in Arenal, check out Anch’io. Woodfire pizzas, hearty pasta, and world-class wines are the name of the game here, where Italian cuisine is punctuated by subtle local touches. The enchanting courtyard provides a romantic setting for your night in La Fortuna.
For something completely different, follow your nose to India Curry House and experience some of the mouthwatering traditional dishes made with local ingredients. It is a strong contender for the best Indian restaurant in all of Costa Rica –check it out and decide for yourself.
Organico Fortuna is the most popular destination for travelers who want to maintain their healthy lifestyle, even on vacation. The feel-good food includes acai bowls, fresh juices, plant-based soups and sandwiches, vegetarian and vegan-friendly tacos and burritos, noodles, nachos, burgers, salads and more. Herbivores and carnivores can enjoy protein-forward entrees like grilled chicken, fresh-caught tune, and shrimp avocado pasta (to name just a few).
Arenal Volcano Travel FAQ:
Arenal VolcanoThe Arenal Volcano is the most obvious star of the area, as it serves as the stunning background for your stay in Arenal. On a clear day, you can enjoy great views of the volcano from just about anywhere in the area. This massive volcano is not currently active, but nature and science lovers enjoy hiking around its base to learn about local ecology. Hikers of Arenal volcano are often hiking across old lava flows from past eruptions. It’s not possible to hike to the top of the volcano but a half-day guided hike is a great way to get to know this beheamoth wonder of nature.
Hot SpringsThe allure of volcano-fed thermal hot springs also play a big part in the Arenal volcano experience. There are several hot springs experiences offered in the Arenal area, all varying in quality. The Experts recommend one of three experiences:
- Tabacon Thermal Resort: Stay as a guest and you’ll receive unlimited access to the Tabacon Hot Springs, allowing you to enjoy them before and after the day trippers arrive. Couples will enjoy the adults-only Shangri-La section, which features romantic palapas, individualized service, and the famous Tabacon spa.
- The Springs Resort & Spa: Families flock to The Springs for the one-stop-shop Arenal vacation experience. The network of hot springs and pools at The Springs is conveniently adorned with a swim-up bar at the main pool and other small bar carts throughout the cleanly manicured grounds. More hot springs can be found at Club Rio, the outdoor adventure activity center at The Springs.
- Nayara Springs: Enjoy your own private thermal plunge pool at Nayara Springs, the adults-only sister resort to Arenal Nayara Hotel & Gardens. Perfect for honeymoons, celebrations, or simply indulging in one of Costa Rica’s best hotel experiences.
AdventureArenal is the adventure capital of Costa Rica. If you want to get your adrenaline fix in a visually stunning locale, the Arenal Volcano area offers the best variety of tours. Arenal is home to one of the best Zip-lining experiences in the county. There are equally thrilling Waterfall Rappelling tours, and Whitewater Rafting tends to be popular with all types of travelers. Hiking in Arenal will seem fairly moderate for advanced hikers, but the 500 steps at the La Fortuna Waterfall are no joke for most people! Don’t worry – the waterfall can be enjoyed from above thanks to the observation point near the entrance. Travelers with mobility restrictions can observe the waterfall from there and enjoy a snack at the café. Hiking the base of the Arenal volcano is a great morning or afternoon tour, and the Arenal Hanging Bridges hike offers a nature-focused experience. The blood-pumping part is walking across the bridges, which hang among the canopy, high above the floor of the secondary rainforest. Get to know Lake Arenal via kayak or stand-up paddleboard. Explore the area by mountain bike, with a number of a half and full-day tour options for experienced mountain bikers and leisure riders alike.
The Costa Rica Cooking class is also a popular way to enjoy a meal in the Arenal area.
- Papagayo: 2.5 - 3 hours
- Bagaces/Upala: 2 hours
- Tamarindo/Guanacaste Beaches: 3.5 hours
- Nosara/Punta Islita: 4 – 4.5 hours
- Monteverde: 3 hours by ground OR 45 minute boat ride + 1.5 hour ground transfer
- Jaco/Playa Herradura: 3.5 hours
- Manuel Antonio: 4.5 - 5.5 hours
- Central Highlands (San Ramon, Bajos del Toro, La Paz): 2 hours
- Tortuguero boat dock (Guapiles): 2.5 - 3 hours
- Pacuare River put-out (Siquirres): 2.5 - 3 hours
Suggested Itineraries: Costa Rica Family Adventure, Hot Springs Hideaway, Costa Rica Adults Only Romance, Active Costa Rica Adventure, Sloths and Treehouses
Approximate driving times from Arenal to popular Costa Rica destinations:
- San Jose: 2.5 - 3 hours
- Liberia: 2.5 - 3 hours