There are many places to visit in Costa Rica, but one of the most popular is the Arenal Volcano. It’s so popular, you might find yourself hiking up this volcano just for a spectacular view. And there’s no need to hire a guide—the Arenal Volcano is safe to hike, and the trail is easy to follow. Just be sure to check the weather conditions before you go, wear the right shoes, and bring plenty of water. The best time to hike is early in the morning, before it gets too hot. Allow yourself plenty of time to enjoy the views from the top and be careful on the way back down.
The trail itself is relatively easy. From the parking lot at La Fortuna, it’s a steady climb up to the summit. You’ll find a few forks in the trail along the way, but they’re clearly marked and, again, easy to follow. Some parts of the hike are rocky; other parts are muddy or steep. You don’t have to be super fit for this one; it’s just up and down on gradual inclines most of the way, so take your time and enjoy being out in nature.
Why You Don’t Need a Guide to Hike Arenal Volcano
The Volcano Is Safe to Hike On
This is one of the safest volcanoes in Costa Rica to hike on. There are several cinder pits in the crater where you can watch the volcano erupt, and that’s really dangerous! You don’t need to hire a guide to hike Arenal Volcano; it’s completely safe.
That being said, it’s still best to check trail conditions before you go. That way, you know what to expect. If the trail appears washed out or covered in mud, steer clear and wait a day or two until conditions improve.
The Volcano Is Easy to Find
Arenal is in the northern part of Costa Rica, about 90 miles from San Jose. Once you reach La Fortuna, you’ll see the volcano looming over the town. There are signs everywhere pointing towards it.
The hike is easy to do on your own
This is one you can do on your own. The hike up is only about a mile, so you don’t need to be very fit. The trail to the summit is easy to follow and doesn’t change much from the starting point all the way up. As long as you stay on the trail and look at your map, it’s easy to find your way.
You can also take a horse or mule. They’re really cute and will carry your stuff up the hill as well. They’ll cost more, but they’re worth it if you don’t want to carry anything.
You’ll Save Money by Not Hiring a Guide
Hiring a guide is the most expensive way to get to Arenal. There are all sorts of agencies scattered throughout San Jose that offer packages. There are options of guide to walk you up the Arenal volcano, guides to go on hike, guides to do rafting trips, and package tours. The prices vary wildly but expect to pay at least $50-$100 per person each way for the same amount of time as you would on your own.
What You Need to Know Before You Go
Check the Weather Conditions
This is the most important thing to do before you go anywhere in Costa Rica. The weather can change at any time and be completely different from what you think it will be.
Check the website for the Arenal Volcano National Park for current conditions. That way, if there’s a red alert, you’ll know not to go. Volcanic activity means it’s dangerous to go up because of volcanic activity. It doesn’t happen often, but you’d hate to get halfway up and realize it’s not safe to continue.
Pack the Right Shoes
Sturdy shoes with good tread are recommended. Not hiking boots, but not sandals either. You’ll do a lot of mud and water crossings, and you don’t want to get your feet wet if you’re unprepared.
Bring a Lot of Water
This isn’t just a hiking tip for the volcano. It gets hot on the trail. really hot. The temperature can get up to 115 degrees in the afternoon, so pack more than enough water and drink it all before you leave home. Bring plenty of water with you on all hikes, especially when it’s hot outside. You don’t have to bring a whole bottle—a 1 liter bottle is perfect for a day hike.
Bring a Folding Chair
In Costa Rica, you don’t often get to sit down while you’re hiking. The trail gets crowded, especially during popular times of the day. Bringing a folding chair or two is a good idea. You’ll probably see people sitting on top of the crater with their chairs, enjoying the view and relaxing. You can even buy beer and just bring it up with you to enjoy it up there.
The Best Time to Hike Arenal Volcano
Early Morning Is the Best Time to Hike
The best time to hike Arenal Volcano is early in the morning, before the sun gets too high in the sky. This will help you avoid the heat and the crowds. If possible, go before sunrise so you can watch the sun rise over the volcano. This is a great activity for anybody who wants to get up early, enjoy nature, and see an incredible view without having to pay more than a guide. It’s also a good idea to start your hike early so that you can reach the top before the afternoon thunderstorms roll in.
Avoid Hiking in the Afternoon
Hiking in the afternoon can be really hot and really crowded. It’s better to go early in the morning or late in the day. These are two times when you can see the volcano without being bothered by crowds, and they’re also two times when you’ll have cooler temperatures. Those who do like to hike after work will find it’s best to do it either later in the day or earlier in the morning. Afternoon thunderstorms are common in this area, and you don’t want to get caught in the volcano during one of these storms.
The Hike Itself
The Trail Is Well Marked
The trail up Arenal Volcano is well marked and easy to follow. There are signs at all major intersections, and the path is wide and clear. There are a few steep sections, but nothing that requires any special equipment or experience. It’s a relatively easy trail, but you should allow yourself plenty of time. There are sections where it gets muddy and slippery, especially when it rains.
Allow Plenty of Time for Hiking
Allow yourself at least 3–4 hours to hike Arenal Volcano, even if you’re an experienced hiker. The round trip is about 7 miles (11 km), with an elevation gain of around 1,000 feet (300 meters). If you start early in the morning, you’ll avoid the heat of the day and have plenty of time to enjoy the views from the top.
Be Prepared for the Weather Conditions
Be prepared for changing weather conditions when you hike Arenal Volcano. The summit can be cold and windy, even on a warm day at lower elevations. Bring a jacket or sweater, even if you don’t think you’ll need it. And be sure to wear sunscreen, as the UV rays can be intense at high altitudes.
What to Do When You Reach the Top
Enjoy the Views
The best thing to do when you reach the top is just to sit back and enjoy the views. There are two lookout points on the way up. These are great places to rest and take pictures, but there’s no reason to stay there any longer than necessary.
Take Plenty of Pictures
You’ll probably want to take pictures of your climb up the volcano. There are some great views on the way up, including a view of La Fortuna and Lake Arenal. There are also some fantastic views at the top of Arenal Volcano. Of course, you’ll want to document your hike with lots of photos! Be sure to get a few selfies with the volcano in the background, and also don’t forget to snap some pics of the incredible views. Your friends and family will be so jealous when they see your amazing photos.
Be Careful on the Way Back Down
The way down is a lot easier, except for the mud. There are a few muddy sections, and it can get slippery, so it’s important to use caution. If you see signs of recent mudslides on the path, then be sure to take extra care. You’re probably not going to fall off the edge of the volcano or get hurt if you slip, but it’s not fun to get muddy either! It’s best just to walk carefully and watch your steps.
Hiking Arenal Volcano is an easy and enjoyable experience that can be done without hiring a guide. You’ll save money and have more control over your hike if you do it on your own. Just be sure to check the weather conditions, wear the right shoes, and bring plenty of water. The best time to hike is early in the morning, before it gets too hot. Allow yourself plenty of time to enjoy the views from the top. Be careful on the way back down and take plenty of pictures to remember your experience.
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Arthur Lewis is a hardcore hiker, traveler, and adventure seeker. He is a blogger and writer for “Hiking Mystery,” and he lives in New York City with his pet dog, Chipi.
He is very fond of the outdoors and has visited many countries, including Iceland, Portugal, Brazil, and Costa Rica. He also loves to explore nature by means of hiking, cycling, and kayaking. He is an expert on travel, and he helps other people find the best way to travel by providing information about their options.