Arenal Volcano Area

Arenal Volcano (Arenal Volcano National Park)

Arenal Volcano is one of the seven active volcanoes in the country. It is a large perfect steaming cone that offers an amazing landscape and raises over 1,630 m (5,350 ft). The main geographical features in the area includes Arenal Volcano, the famous forest covered Cerro Chato and the large Lake Arenal.

At approximately 7000 years old, it is the youngest volcano in the country. Arenal Volcano had been one of the most active volcanos in the planet until the year 2010, when it ceased most of its activity. The pyroclastic flows used to be enormous and frequent.

Arenal Volcano and the surrounding foothills are part of the important watershed that produces the water for the human enlarged Lake Arenal, the largest body of freshwater in Costa Rica with approximately 85 km2. The original natural size of the lake was tripled and it is the result of a 1979 hydroelectric project. The dam is an interesting flexible clay dike where locals and visitors park in sunny afternoons and even have BBQs. The reservoir is also used to supply water for agriculture to the lands of Guanacaste in the dry north Pacific. This hydroelectric project initially generated 70% of the country’s electricity and currently provides 17%. Cerro Chato, meaning “flat mount” in Spanish, is an inactive crater which sits southeast from the nearby Arenal Volcano and it is completely covered by forest. Volcanologists believed it first erupted 38,000 years ago and that it ceased activity 3,500 years ago. A beautiful emerald green lagoon fills up what once was the crater.

The topography and climatic conditions combine to create extraordinarily diverse ecosystems. Primary and secondary lowlands and pre-montane rainforests, semi-open land, pasture lands, lake shores, and agricultural lands all come together to boast a tremendous wildlife, and of course, exquisite birdlife.

Arenal Observatory Lodge And Trails (750 m / 2,460 ft)

Arenal Observatory Lodge is surrounded by the Arenal Volcano National Park. About 43% of the endangered bird species and 51% of the endangered mammals of Costa Rica inhabit this vast area. Overall this conservation area contains 47% of the reptiles and amphibians, 51% of the birds, and 48% of the mammals of Costa Rica. Annual temperatures range from 17ºC to 30ºC with an average temperature of 23ºC. The slopes where the lodge sits receive approximately 4000 mm of annual rainfall.

Arenal Observatory Lodge is the only lodge in the area within the boundaries of Arenal Volcano National Park. When the national park was created in 1991, the boundaries engulfed the site of the present day lodge.

Arenal Observatory Lodge was built in 1987 as part of a scientific research station for the Smithsonian Institution. After Arenal Volcano’s eruption in 1968, Smithsonian Institution scientists began researching the area and would camp in the property. Some cabins were then built to host the researchers and the facilities expanded over the years to what the lodge is today.

Nowadays the lodge offers 48 comfortable rooms in various buildings spread over the property. Five rooms are fully equipped for handicapped travelers, with rooms, bathrooms, hallways, parking areas, and even the new swimming pool designed accordingly. The restaurant offers great meals and incredible volcano views. A spa is also available, appointments are required. Wi-Fi is available at the lobby by the reception area.

Beautiful gardens and nicely groomed trails through primary and secondary rainforest. Beautiful pastures that offer amazing landscapes and spectacular volcano views, allow easy access to the 352 hectares (870 acres) property.

The gardens surrounding the facilities offer endless opportunities for birding and photography. The feeders in front of the restaurant’s deck attract the large Montezuma Oropendolas and other smaller birds like Hepatic Tanager, Scarlet-rumped Tanager, Emerald Tanager, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Shining Honeycreeper, Green Honeycreeper, Yellow-throated Euphonia, Blue-gray Tanager, Silver-throated Tanager, Crimson-collared Tanager and Bay-headed Tanager.

Porterweed hedgerows attract several hummingbird species like Black-crested Coquette, Violet-headed Hummingbird, Magenta-throated Woodstar, Brown Violetear, Steely-vented Hummingbird, Stripe-throated Hermit and occasionally, Snowcap.

Different Ficus trees at forest edge attract a variety of great species like Crested Guan, Great Curassow, Keel-billed Toucan, Yellow-eared Toucanet, Rufous-winged Tanager, Emerald Tanager, Silver-throated Tanager, Hepatic Tanager, White-throated Thrush, Tawny-capped Euphonia, Masked Tityra and Black-crowned Tityra and occasionally , the rare Lovely Cotinga.

Saíno, Hormiga and Danta Waterfall Trails expose a fantastic forest, at different stages of their succession, they produce habitat variance to host a great number of species. This trails are quite productive if you are looking for antbirds: Ocellated Antbird, Bicolored Antbird, Dull-mantled Antbird, Spotted Antbird, Chestnut-backed Antbird, Zeledon’s Antbird and Dusky Antbird. Other attractive species are Nightingale Wren, Song Wren, Thicket Antpitta, Bare-necked Umbrellabird, Smoky-brown Woodpecker, Tawny-faced Gnatwren, Streak-crowned Antvireo, Black-throated Wren, Carmiol’s Tanager, Sharpbill, Spotted Woodcreeper, Golden-crowned Warbler, Orange-bellied Trogon, Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant, Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush, Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer and Long-billed Hermit.

Pastureland trails offer incredible landscapes and the chance to see great species of raptors like Ornate Hawk-Eagle, Black Hawk-Eagle, White Hawk, Great Black Hawk and King Vulture. Additionally, some species like Eastern Meadowlark, Gray-crowned Yellowthroat, Golden-olive Woodpecker, Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Brown Jay, Tropical Pewee, Brown-hooded Parrot, Black-cowled Oriole, Gartered Trogon and occasionally the amazing vocal Three-wattled Bellbird.

Other wildlife on the property include Mantled Howler Monkeys, White-faced Capuchins, Central American Spider Monkeys, White-nosed Coaties and Brown-throated Three-toed and Hoffman’s Two-toed Sloths.

Dirt Road To Arenal Observatory Lodge (589 m/1,932 ft)

This road offers fantastic opportunities to observe a great number of species as it traverses through different habitats.  Laughing Falcon is a regular find, as well as good chances for Ornate Hawk-Eagle and Three-wattled Bellbird, Thicket Antpitta, Yellow-billed Cacique, Long-tailed Tyrant, Keel-billed Toucan, White-throated Magpie-Jay, White-crowned Parrot, Crimson-collared Tanager, White-necked Puffbird and Gray-headed Chachalaca.  

Dirt Road To Lake Arenal Dam (564m/1,850 ft)

Another road worth checking is the one heading towards Lake Arenal, quite productive with Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Gartered Trogon, Black-throated Wren, Broad-billed Motmot, Rufous Motmot, Keel-billed Motmot, Great Curassow, Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher, Long-tailed Tyrant, Sepia-capped Flycatcher, Great Antshrike, Bare-crowned Antbird, Ocellated Antbird, Bicolored Antbird, Chestnut-backed Antbird and White-fronted Nunbird.

Great Potoo, White Hawk, Gray-headed Kite and Ornate Hawk-Eagle are also possible along this road.

Night birding in the area can produce Black-and-white Owl, Great Potoo, Striped Owl, Spectacled Owl, Mottled Owl, Crested Owl, Common Pauraque and Barn Owl. The grounds of Arenal Observatory Lodge tend to be good for Spectacled Owl and Black-and-white Owl.

Bogarin Feeders And Trail (275 m/902 ft)

Right in La Fortuna, conveniently placed, you can take some time to visit the Bogarín Trail and feeders. A unique setup for observation and photography allows for good looks of Yellow-throated Toucan, Collared Aracari, Montezuma Oropendola, Gray-headed Chachalaca, Crimson-collared Tanager, Blue Dacnis, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Green Honeycreeper and Golden-hooded Tanager. A small watering hole just below the feeders provides good views of often difficult to see White-throated Crake. The Bogarín Trail offers a nice loop through second growth with a small stream. Ideal to watch some interesting mixed flocks as well as Russet-naped Wood-Rail and Uniform Crake. This is also a good location for sloths. We often stop at Bogarín when our tours visit the Arenal Volcano Area.