A trip or cruise extension to Arenal Volcano has been one of the main attractions of Costa Rica travel packages for over 20 years. But the Arenal Volcano has become quiet recently. Should travelers still consider Arenal for their Costa Rica vacation plans?
The Arenal Volcano became active on July 29, 1968 with a piroclastic flow that devastated an area of about 12 square kilometers west of the volcanic cone. Then, for the following 42 years, Arenal has been active with gas emissions and lava flows. Between 1984 and 1994 there were frequent explosions that would emit pyroclastic materials into the air (ash and blocks of lava). Other types of flows due to the lava front breaking up or the volcanic cone collapsing are more recent, with the last ones on May 24, 2010 and October 10, 2010.
In the past few years the volcanic activity started diminishing. Sometimes the volcano would pass days and even weeks accumulating material in its crater and forming gases before another explosion occurred or the dome would collapse forming a piroclastic avalanche. All of this suggests that the volcano was beginning to loose its energy.
Since July 2010 there have been no new lava flows. There are still signs of steam and other hot gases and occasional collapses of the cone, however we have not witnessed any new ash or lava activity. According to the vulcanologists we have consulted, this further indicates that the volcano is entering a more dormant or less active phase. Although it is difficult to predict the future, they now think that Arenal will remain quiet and emit steam for decades or longer.
The volcano remains an imposing presence as the centerpiece of Arenal National Park, and continues to be attractive to visit. It is one of the few natural laboratories in the world where visitors, accompanied by a professional guide, can learn about the zone that was devastated on July 29, 1968 – about the materials expelled from the volcano, rock formation from recent lava flows, the natural regeneration of the vegetation, flora and fauna in area, as well as many of the area’s natural wanders.
Given the decrease of volcanic activity, we suggest that travelers considering a trip to Arenal consider the wide variety of other attractions in the area instead of the volcano itself. And fortunately there are many Arenal attractions and tours that genuinely merit attention.
The area has vast rainforests with hundreds of bird species and tropical wildlife and offers great hiking. Additionally there are canopy tours, a gondola ride, horseback tours on country roads, biking, boat tours on the lake, birdwatching, waterfalls, canyoning, the Danaus reserve, volcanically heated hot springs, bridge walks, visits to farms and campesinohome-cooked meals to name a few. The Arenal area is a base for day trips to Caño Negro which has tremendous wildlife. Arenal is also part of our combined tour packages, its is a common component of custom Costa Rica vacations and it is a popular trip extension for our Costa Rica small ship cruises.
We are sure travelers will enjoy the variety of attractions and activities Arenal area has to offer. But we suggest that travelers no longer visit Arenal to view the “active volcano” or visit expecting an active volcano with nightly fiery eruptions.
If the volcanic activity changes again, we will be sure to let you know.
AdventureSmith Explorations thanks our our partners John Aspinall & Leo Chaves at Costa Rica Sun Tours for their contribution to this article.