Northwest of the Costa Rican capital San Jose is Volcano Arenal, one of the world’s ten most active volcanos. Located in the appropriately named area of La Fortuna, this conical shaped volcano rises to a height of 5,358 feet with a crater that spans 460 feet. Estimated to be less than 7,000 years old, it is considered young by geology standards. After being dormant for hundreds of years it erupted back to life in 1968 destroying the town of Tabicon and killing seventy-eight people. It’s current activity is less destructive but impressive nonetheless.
The western slope is a constantly changing no man’s land of falling rocks hurled from the crater, periodic lava flows, and fumaroles, plumes of hot steam and gases. The best view is from the Arenal Observatory Lodge which sits atop the relative safety of the next ridge over. The lodge has a restaurant with panoramic windows and a spacious observation deck. Though originally constructed by the Smithsonian Institute for research, you will find far more tourists than scientists on the trails that wind thru the property leading down to the base of the volcano. The northern slope is home to several geo-thermal hot springs. Tabicon Springs, a nearby resort, is still in the path of the 1968 lava flow that wiped the town off the map and periodically is evacuated for safety reasons. Just a short distance away is the almost comically over themed Baldi Termae hot springs. The eastern slope opposite the observatory, is known as the green side is lush with vegetation taking full advantage of the rich volcanic soil.
It is easy to arrive and say “Take me to the Volcano!” (You didn’t think you were going to read an article about volcanos without some Joe vs The Volcano reference did you?)as this temperamental giant is the livelihood of the friendly people of La Fortuna. The town has a variety of lodging, excursion opportunities and shops, as well as dining options. One of our favorites is the Lava Lounge, an open-air restaurant run by an expat, who has taken charge of the local stray dog population, spaying, neutering and providing veterinary care for them.
Claudia and I were blessed with two days of relatively clear skies, as most visitors will tell you the volcano is frequently shrouded in cloud cover. Observing the raw forces of mother nature was riveting. Whether we were in the hot tub of our resort on the east side or on the observation deck on the west side it is almost impossible to take your eyes off the volcano. We spent hours on the observation deck feeling the rumble, and watching the car sized boulders being launched out of the crater bounce down the side leaving audible sizzles and plumes of steam and gas behind. No IMAX needed to enjoy the awesome show.
Other Blog posts about Costa Rica http://gwnunn.com/blog/2011/03/travel-photo-of-the-week-21mar11/