The Arenal Volcano is one of Costa Rica's most extraordinary sites, drawing thousands on Costa Rica tours every year. This nearly-perfect, conical volcano reaches 5,357 feet into the sky and for the past 40 years has offered regular eruptions that fascinate locals and visitors alike.

But that was not always so. Costa Ricans did not even know that Cerro Arenal, or Arenal Mountain, was a volcano until 1968, when it suddenly erupted for the first time since the Spanish had arrived there in 1500 A.D. The eruption demolished the nearby towns of Pueblo Nuevo and Tabacon and killed about 78 people and 45,000 heads of cattle. In addition, the piroclastic flow ruined nearly six square miles of land.

Successive eruptions that year formed craters along the eastern slope of the "mountain," and the explosions that have come out of it since then have launched ash, lava and avalanches into the surrounding areas. Since its comeback, the volcano has maintained a steady pattern of minor eruptions every day, delighting visitors with satisfying puffs of smoke and drips of lava.

Over the past year, however, Arenal’s energy has diminished, until last summer it ceased to emit lava, only sending the occasional plume of smoke into the air. Vulcanologists believe that the volcano is entering a more dormant or less active phase, and could remain quiet for years to come.

The important thing to remember when considering a Costa Rica tour that includes Arenal is the large number of other nature travel options available in the area. International Expeditions’ tour includes hiking trails to see the lush flora and spot the plentiful tropical bird species, as well as exploring hanging bridges in the jungle canopy. After soaking in a volcanic hot spring, you can sample traditional cuisine and bond with locals at a nearby ecological farm.

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