My Most Perfect Day in Arenal

I’ll be the first one to raise my eyebrows at somebody who has visited somewhere one time and throws around words like “perfect.” But you guys. I’m pretty convinced I spent the perfect day in the Arenal Volcano area in Costa Rica.

Here’s something that we didn’t come across in our research when we were planning for Costa Rica – the entrance to the Arenal Volcano National Park is on the northwestern-ish side of the volcano. We stayed, of course, on the southeastern-ish side (at Brisas Arenal if you’re wondering!). Traveling around the volcano is no quick task and we were so jammed for time, so our goal was simple: maximize the fun and minimize the travel time.

Enter one of my favorite hikes I’ve ever done – Cerro Chato.

Cerro Chato - Arenal Costa Rica

Hiking Costa Rica: Cerro Chato

There are TONS of hikes in the Arenal area. But Cerro Chato happened to be the most convenient and the man who checked us in to our hotel recommended it. A quick Google showed review after review with the words “difficult” and “really challenging” involved.

So obviously we were going to do it.

We talked to a couple of people about the hike and most of them used the word “alto” and “loco.” With each doubting sentence, I felt my confidence start to crack. Cerro Chato is an inactive volcano next to Arenal that boasts a green lagoon and also contributed to the formation of La Fortuna Waterfall. All Trails says it is a four mile out and back trail with 2283 feet of climbing, but those numbers didn’t seem to align with how people described it.

But I set the anxiety aside and payed my entrance fee.

Quick side note: a lot of the trails in Costa Rica cost a few colones. You pay the Cerro Chato entrance fee at the Green Lagoon hotel. I believe there is an alternate trail from the Arenal Observatory on the other side!

As soon as we started the hike, we were climbing. It was a pretty gradual uphill with some pretty spectacular views. I’ll admit it, I was thinking that this hike wasn’t shaping up to be too bad.

Cerro Chato - Arenal Costa Rica
If there are stairs, how hard can it be…right?

Oh, how I should have known.

Cerro Chato - Arenal Costa Rica
Actually more representative of the hike! And this was a tame part!

Eventually you enter into a rainforest area and that’s where the climbing…hm, scrambling? really begins. And you’re mostly climbing mud. We overheard a small group and the guide was warning to check your handholds before you grabbed onto them – conveniently placed twigs could easily be a snake!

Cerro Chato - Arenal Costa Rica
Said guide hamming it up with a snake!

We spent the whole time searching for some animals, but didn’t have much luck beyond bugs and one snake. The trail was fairly well trafficked with people on the way back down from the top. They gave various reports on the extra bit of the trail to add on and go down to the lagoon. Most people were saying that the extra trek wasn’t worth it and it was pretty treacherous. We decided to wait and see what was in store!

We reached the summit and peeked out over the edge to get a glimpse of the lagoon. And didn’t see much, aside from a very literal glimpse. There was no way we WEREN’T going to climb down to the lagoon!

And, alright. Those passerby were right about ONE thing: it was maybe a little bit “treacherous.” But they were so, so wrong about it not being worth it!

Cerro Chato - Arenal Costa Rica

If you’re in pretty good condition and don’t mind the threat of some scrapes and sliding, I say go for it! There were some moments that I never thought I’d reach the bottom, but we made it.

After relaxing at the lagoon, it was time to head back up. And that’s where the REAL freaking fun begins. I’ve not been outdoor rock climbing (yet!!), but I 100% used some climbing skills to get back up to the summit. It was like a puzzle. Challenging both mentally and physically! I had a huge smile slapped across my face the entire time.

Cerro Chato - Arenal Costa Rica

Once we made it back up, we realized that there was a view of Arenal at the summit! The fact that we totally missed it the first time around really shows how cloudy it was that day. We relaxed some more with some snacks and other travelers and then headed back down towards the start of the trail.

Cerro Chato - Arenal Costa Rica
You can almost spot Arenal! But more importantly – can you spot the mud?

What to Do After the Cerro Chato Trail?

Cerro Chato - Arenal Costa Rica

Super bonus? After this physically taxing hike, you can also choose to check out La Fortuna Waterfall! Just keep in mind that there are 500 steps to get there. We went one hour before closing and it wasn’t totally crowded with people – highly recommend that!

Now, Cerro Chato is definitely a hard trail. Adding 500 steps onto the end of that didn’t help heal my quads at all. My legs were FEELING it. But the (other) lovely thing about the Arenal area is that there are also plenty of hot springs to choose from to soothe your aching muscles.

Cerro Chato - Arenal Costa Rica
We splurged and went to Ecotermales. If you do this, go around 6:30 – everybody is eating dinner!

And that, my friend, is my perfect day in Arenal. Sweaty, smelly, covered in mud, and a huge smile on my face.

Let’s Chat!

  • Tell me about your favorite hike you’ve done! I’m probably going to add it to my list…