When visiting the area around the Arenal Volcano, one of the top activities to do is to head on out some hiking trails. There are several hikes to choose from around the volcano area, with one of the top ones being the Arenal 1968 trail.
Arenal 1968 offers volcano views, rainforest & lava trails, and plenty of wildlife to enjoy along the way. This guide will go in detail about what to expect at Arenal 1968 and how to best plan your trip to this beautiful area.
1) Arenal 1968 Eruption & Background
Let’s start off with a quick background of what Arenal 1968 even means.
For hundreds of years, Arenal volcano was thought to be dormant (and even extinct). However, on July 29th 1968, Arenal Volcano came to life and had a massive eruption. The eruption lasted for several days covering the surrounding countryside with lava and ash.
Villages were destroyed, crops were ruined, and many people lost their lives during this violent eruption. Since 1968 the volcano has been quite active with its last eruption in 2010.
Today, there are several areas surrounding the Arenal Volcano that offer maintained hiking trails and activities to take part of during a trip to Arenal. One of these areas is Arenal 1968.
At Arenal 1968 you will find two hiking trails -> the shorter Lava Flow 1968 Trail or the longer Forest Trail that also includes the Lava Flow 1968 Trail.
Beyond the hiking trails themselves, you can also find several volcano and lake viewpoint areas, various wildlife to look out for, and a cafeteria to enjoy after your hike.
Arenal 1968 should not be confused with Arenal Volcano National Park. That is a separate area just down the road from Arenal 1968. Check out the last section of this guide for a comparison between the two.
» Visit Arenal as part of a 10 Day Costa Rica Itinerary that takes you around the country
2) How to Get to Arenal 1968
In general, the easiest way to get around Costa Rica will be by having your own rental car. This way you can go at your own pace, head to the attractions you want to on your schedule, and not need to worry about transportation in general.
There are no public buses that can get you to Arenal 1968, and most of the other attractions around La Fortuna like the La Fortuna Waterfall. Instead, you must rely on taxis, group/private tours, or having a car.
At the end of the day, a rental car would be my recommendation here as it does offer the most flexibility.
The drive from La Fortuna is just 20 minutes covering 10 miles / 16 km. If coming from that direction, the route is pretty simple. Head on Route 142 for about 9 miles, and then turn left onto Calle Real el Castillo.
About a mile down the road you will see the entrance to Arenal 1968 on your left hand side.
Note: this is the same way to get to the Arenal Volcano National Park, which is just another minute up the road.
→ Feel free to take a look at Rentalcars.com for a variety of car options to choose from for your time in Costa Rica. You will be able to filter by price, car type, rental company, & more to find the best car rental for your trip.
3) Where to Stay in La Fortuna
In and around the town of La Fortuna there are plenty of hotel options to choose from. Most of the resorts are not located within the town itself, but rather on the outskirts of town surrounding the volcano.
Below are three highly recommended options to choose from that surely will not disappoint. Since these are some of the more highly rated spots, you will want to book your room as soon as possible!
The Arenal Observatory Lodge is located as close as it gets to Arenal Volcano. The property itself has over 860 private acres of land full of walking trails, wildlife, and volcano viewpoints. If you are lucky enough to grab a room here, you will get to enjoy all of that and more during a visit.
One of the most popular thermal pools to visit in the area is located at the Tabacon Thermal Resort. It is by far one of the nicest and most relaxing thermal areas in the area. Instead of just taking a quick visit there, why not stay on the property itself!
A great overall option in the area is Hotel Los Lagos. Here you will find a whole variety of thermal pools, ziplining, wildlife, and some volcano views. The property itself is just so beautiful to walk around and enjoy during a stay.
4) Arenal 1968 Trail Map
Below is the Arenal 1968 trail map to give you a better sense of the layout.
In orange you can see the Lava Flow 1968 Trail (Sendero Colada) and in yellow is the Forest Trail (Sendero Del Bosque). They do meet up with one another closer to the volcano itself.
Before or after your hike, you can also head to the main viewpoint area closer to the entrance (marked #3 on the map). Here you will take in great views of the Arenal Volcano, Lake Arenal, and the surrounding natural beauty.
5) Arenal 1968 Park Details
Below are some helpful details about the park itself as well as the hiking trails.
Opening Hours: 8:00AM – 6:00PM
Admission Cost: $17 USD
Lava Flow 1968 Trail (Sendero Colada 1968)
Length: 1.6 Miles / 2.5KM
Duration: 1 Hour
Forest 1968 Trail (Sendero Bosque 1968)
Length: 2.8 Miles / 4.5KM
Duration: 2.5 Hours
Note that the Forest 1968 Trail is marked as a “High” difficulty. This is because there are portions of the trail that can get a bit more uneven and rocky with elevation along the way. If you are not suited for that type of terrain, I would recommend just taking part of the shorter Lava Flow 1968 Trail.
How Long is the 1968 Arenal Trail
One of the main questions I have come across is how long the trails are in the park. That answer depends on which trail option you choose as well as your overall fitness level.
The above stats are taken from the park’s signboards, which say that the shorter Lava Flow trail will take an hour and the longer Forest trail (including most of the Lava Flow trail) will take 2.5 hours.
During my time on the trail, I spent closer to 3.5 hours in the park as a whole. That time includes hiking on the longer Forest trail, enjoying the main viewpoint area near the entrance of the park, and taking in several other views along the way.
If you are just looking to walk the trails, without much stopping then 2.5 hours is closer to the duration of the hike. However, there are several views to enjoy and wildlife to encounter that can prolong your time there.
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7) Arenal 1968 Volcano View and Lava Trails
After making your way to the Arenal 1968 entrance, parking your car, and grabbing tickets, it is time to head out on the trails.
Since I took part of the full loop here, I will go about the rest of the guide with that in mind. If you plan to just take part of the shorter Lava Flow 1968 Trail, you can still use this to get an idea of what it will be all about. The Forest Trail meets up with the Lava Flow Trail so both are covered.
The whole area is also well marked with trail signs, so you should have no issue following along and getting yourself going in the right direction.
Arenal Viewpoint Area
Off the bat though, I would recommend checking out the main viewpoint area towards the entrance of the park, perched on a small hill. From this viewpoint, you will be able to have some stunning views of the Arenal Volcano in one direction and Lake Arenal in the other.
Note: the Arenal Volcano can be covered in clouds from time to time (especially the top of it). Sometimes all it takes is a little bit of patience for the clouds to clear, while in other instances you may be left with clouds all day.
After heading down from the viewpoint spot, start following the orange and yellow trail markers pointing you in the right direction.
You will pass by some small lakes, where you hopefully will have some nice Arenal Volcano reflections to enjoy. Shortly after you will reach the trail intersection. To your left will towards the Forest 1968 Trail and to the right will be the Lava Flow 1968 Trail.
Forest 1968 Trail (Sendero Bosque 1968)
Heading to the left will immediately get you surrounded by the unique flora and fauna of Costa Rica as you head into the forest.
The trail is mostly dirt, with rocks that can be found all along the way. There is also some elevation incline and decline to expect here. In steeper places you may also find maintained rock staircases to help you out.
After hiking through the forest for about 20 minutes you will be welcomed to Lago Los Patos. This 72 feet / 22 meter deep lake was formed by the 1968 volcanic eruption of Arenal.
You will then circle around the lake for a bit as you take in the views from different angles, and continue along in the rainforest.
Soon after the lake area you will be warned with a sign signaling the beginning of the rocky terrain. Below are some photos to give you an idea of what this type of terrain entails. After continuing upwards on the rocky terrain, you will soon leave the forest and enter the Lava Flow portion of trail.
Lava Flow 1968 Trail (Sendero Colada 1968)
After enjoying the forest and all that it entails, you will soon be pointed to the Lava Flow Summit viewpoint. Here is where you will also meet up with the Lava Flow 1968 Trail.
The trail around here continues to be rocky as you are now following the “lava flow”. You can see the black colored rocks on either side of you as you continue higher towards the viewpoint area.
At the viewpoint, you will be welcomed to some 360 degree views of the surrounding forest with the Arenal Volcano directly out in front of you and Lake Arenal out back.
After spending some time taking in the views, it is then back on the trail as you finish up on the Lava Flow 1968 Trail. This trail is going to feel much different than the forest portion. No longer will you be surrounded by the trees, but instead by the lava rocks.
As you follow the trail, you will be welcomed to a continuous lava dirt path surrounded by greenery as the Arenal Volcano peeks out in the distance.
The path then will begin to circle back to the entrance of the park as you leave the lava terrain and volcano behind.
First you will make your way through the tall grass fields, before entering the forest for the last portion of trail back to the entrance.
While the views, landscape and terrain were top highlights at Arenal 1968, so were all the different animals spotted along the way. Most of the animal activity did happen to be within the Forest section of trail, however there certainly was some activity on the Lava Flow portion as well.
Below are just some of the animals that I was able to get a picture of during my time out in the park:
8) Arenal 1968 vs. Arenal National Park
A popular question that comes up is whether to go to Arenal 1968 or to the Arenal National Park. For most visitors, choosing just one of them is usually enough when it comes to hiking around the Arenal Volcano area.
They both offer multiple trails (in the forest and along the lava flow), a wealth of wildlife, and some stunning views of the volcano and surrounding landscape.
By now you should have a pretty good sense to understand what Arenal 1968 is all about and what it offers its visitors.
On the contrary, Arenal National Park offers two main areas to visit along with 3-4 different trails to choose from. Not only do you have a similar setup as Arenal 1968 with forest trails and volcano views, but the park also has an additional sector to visit closer to Lake Arenal.
To be honest it is quite difficult to choose between the two. On one hand Arenal 1968 is open longer (6pm vs 4pm), and seems to be the less crowded out of the two. On the other hand the National Park offers a bit more variety in terms of landscapes and viewpoints.
» Learn more about the experience in the Arenal Volcano National Park guide up on the site
Below are some photos of the Arenal National Park area to give you a sense of what type of experience it will offer.
I hope this guide has given you a better idea of what Arenal 1968 is all about. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to write them in below. Also don’t forget to check out the other Costa Rica itineraries and guides up on the site like the guide about the Cerro Chirripo hike.
Have fun out there and safe travels!