You must first make your way to the town of Fortuna, located on the west slopes. There are several options. Leaving from San Jose is the most popular option. For other options and cities, check any of the travel agencies in Monte Verde, Tilaran, or Punta Arenas. Just about every hotel in Costa Rica seems to double as a travel agency, so you don't have to look around for one. It does pay to check prices at several locations, however. To reach Fortuna from San Jose, meet one of the three times a day buses at Atlantico Norte terminal. Buses currently leave (as of 2004) at 6:15 AM, 8:40 AM, and 11:30 AM. Alternately, you can take any number of guided tours from San Jose. There's too many too list, and every hotel or hostel in San Jose can book one. Make sure to shop around. This is one place where it is recommended that you take a guided tour. It's easier than independent travel, and the locals know much history about the volcano, and also know the best trails and viewing places. They also know where to find the rich wildlife in the area. See several recommendations below. Since you probably have to rent a car to visit independent of a guided tour anyway, you really wont save any money doing it on your own. If you do visit independent of a guided tour, first drive or take a taxi to the Arenal Visitor Center. To do this, drive 15 kms west of Fortuna and turn left at the Parque National sign. Follow the dirt road 2 kms to the visitor center (open 7 AM to 10 PM). the dirt road continues 1.4 kms to a parking lot and a good viewing area. This is the trailhead for the West Slopes hike.
Arenal is one place where it pays to go on a guided tour. There are several to choose from. All hotels in Fortuna can book any of the several tour options. All tour guides speak English. Most tours include a trip to one of the several hot springs in the area as well.
We went with Eagle Tours. They were excellent. Their phone and fax numbers are as follows (make sure to dial the international code first if calling from overseas!):
There are several other guiding services. The following have been recommended by Lonley Planet:
There is one main trail inside the park. the West Slopes Trail starts at the trailhead mentioned in the Getting There section. The trail is about 4-5 kms in length and is a loop hike. Along the way, you will see lots of lush vegetation through the rainforest, have a good chance of seeing wildlife, and have several opportunities (if the weather co-operates) to view Arenal. On our hike we saw a coati, several toucans, and several monkeys. We also witnessed an explosion from Arenal! Have your camera ready and take lots of film!
The only special equipment needed is a camera!
If you have information about this route that doesn't pertain to any of the other sections, please add it here.