COSTA RICA  |  Arenal Area, Costa Rica Travel Guide
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Arenal Area, Costa Rica

Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica (cc)
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Arenal Volcano

Arenal is the most active volcano in the western hemisphere and its presence dominates the northern town of La Fortuna. If Poás and Irazú have only whetted your appetite for volcanoes, Arenal will make you drool. The farmland around is a deep green, primary and secondary forests blanket the midlands, and towering above it all is classically cone-shaped Arenal – smoking, rumbling, spewing car-sized boulders and spitting red-hot lava that lights up the night sky (when it’s not covered in clouds and raining, that is). There are no guarantees that you’ll even get to the volcano’s summit. The last time we were here it was raining or cloudy for four days straight.

Arenal began its life about 4,000 years ago and grew to 1,633 meters/5,372 feet in height from near continuous eruptions until just before the Conquest. Then it went silent and allowed nature to cover it with forests and vegetation. So everyone forgot it was a volcano until a few small fumaroles opened at its summit in 1938, then again in 1958 and 1960. In 1967 the water temperature of the Río Tabacón, a spring-fed river that descends the slopes of Arenal, suddenly rose. It was a warning of danger, but so few people lived in the area – and no volcanologists – that it went unheeded. At 7:30 am on July 29, 1968, Arenal Volcano erupted with a pyroclastic flow that raced down the mountainside and incinerated the villages of Tabacón and Pueblo Nuevo – taking the lives of 78 townspeople. Huge incandescent boulders exploded out of the cone, halfway up the mountain, and left large craters as far as 10 km/6.2 miles away.

Things are much quieter today, but Arenal can still be deadly. During the summer of 2000, an eruption flowed down a crevice and enveloped a young American woman, her daughter and a Costa Rican guide while they were on a hike at the edge of the safety zone. All three were badly burned. Sadly, the guide died two days later; the girl a short time after.

Last updated February 22, 2012
Posted in   Costa Rica  |  Arenal Area
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