Arenal Volcano National Park in Costa Rica contains a number of fantastic hikes for tourists, both in, and around the park. While Arenal Volcano cannot be climbed, it remains a destination for regular tourists and bird-watchers alike to visit. One of the hardest hikes in the region, Cerro Chato, allows visitors to climb a nearby inactive volcano with a crater lake. Even though Cerro Chato is a great hike, views of Arenal Volcano are obscured from it, due to the extensive coverage from primary tropical forest in the region. In contrast, the hike to the Danta Waterfall provides great views of the tropical forest, the volcano, a waterfall, Arenal Volcano, allows for wildlife viewing, and is accessible for most hikers.
Directions: The Danta Waterfall hike departs from the parking area for the Arenal Observatory Lodge, which is located within Arenal Volcano National Park. The Observatory was built in 1987 as a private observatory to study the Arenal Volcano by the University of Costa Rica; but was later closed, and later re-opened as a private hotel within the park. The access road to the Observatory Lodge is open from 8am-10pm daily; and there is no charge to park or hike in the area. From the parking area near the lodge, it is a one kilometer moderate hike to the base of the Danta Waterfall. The trail heads east along an access road for .2 kilometers, before reaching a junction that is well-signed.
From the junction, the trail heads south through secondary tropical forest, and descends down to the base of the waterfall, which is located along the Danta River. At .9 kilometers, the trail descends down a series of steps, which depending on the season can be slippery from the rain. At this point, visitors will have an excellent view of Danta Waterfall, which is twenty feet high (6 meters), and of the Danta River, which flows down toward Arenal Lake. From the waterfall, visitors can either return back the same way they came, for an out-and-back hike of two kilometers (1.24 miles) roundtrip, or can continue along the trail network to other regions of the park, such as Cerro Chato. This hike is an easy to moderate hike that is suitable for most hikers, due to the short distance, and the relative ease of access.
Tips: Some of the best views of Arenal Volcano (assuming it is not cloudy or rainy) can be found from the deck at the Arenal Observatory Lodge, which is a short walk from the parking area for this hike, and is also accessible to the public. The hotel also has a well-maintained museum about volcanology and the Arenal Volcano, which again, is open to the public during the day, and also free of charge. Finally, the Danta Waterfall hike, although short, provides excellent opportunities to view wildlife – birds, snakes, and mammals; and during my time on the trail, I managed to see all three (as evidenced by the video below).