Up for a challenging but very rewarding hike that offers stunning views and private swimming in a volcanic lagoon? Chato Volcano (Cerro Chato) is one of La Fortuna’s best kept secrets for intrepid travelers who want to explore Arenal’s less famous cousin. Dormant for thousands of years, Cerro Chato makes for a memorable day trip and is ideal for those who want to escape the usual tourist crowds.
Fast facts about Cerro Chato
Entrance cost: $10 per person
Open: 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily
Elevation: 3,609 feet above sea level
Location: La Fortuna, within the boundaries of Arenal Volcano National Park
Best time to visit: year-round, though hikers should embark in the early morning
Round-trip hike duration: From 3 to 5 hours, including time spent at crater lagoon
Best suited for: Intermediate level hikers in good physical condition
Helpful tips for hiking Cerro Chato
The Arenal region sees much more rain in the “dry” season months of December through April, and as such, the trail leading to Cerro Chato can get quite muddy throughout the year. Whether embarking on a guided or self-guided tour be prepared with the following items: ample water (a camel back is especially useful), insect repellent, snacks, bathing suit, sunscreen, a quick dry towel and non-restricting pants or shorts. Be sure to wear sturdy hiking boots as the path can become extremely slippery in parts. Be aware that most of the climb is vertical in nature, so unless you’re in relatively good physical shape, you or your companions may not be up to the challenge. However, plenty of kids (ages 8 and up) have enjoyed this trip and the trails are well-marked.
Swim in a volcanic crater lagoon
One of the greatest rewards for those who tough out the steep climb up Chato Volcano is a refreshing swim in its blue-water lagoon, which rests inside the crater. The water is incredibly chilly, but a terrific way to reinvigorate your muscles after a strenuous one to two-hour trek uphill. Laguna Cerro Chato measures more than 500 meters wide and is flanked on all sides with lush cloud forest. The hike down, while faster, is often made more difficult by mud, rocks and exposed roots. Watch your step, and use a hiking stick if needed. Most travelers set out for their ascent before 8 a.m. to avoid the heat of the day, but be ready for rain, mist and fog at any time.
Bring your camera and enjoy the scenic views
The last section of the trail that summits Cerro Chato is a continuous ascent up a staircase carved into the hillside, with virtually no flat areas. But all travelers who make the journey say the hike was totally worth it, for the panoramic views alone. Along the way, you’ll traverse through heavily wooded forest that opens into green pastureland and the vista of Arenal Volcano from the top is spectacular (though this will depend on the cloud cover). The primary trailhead departs from the Green Lagoon Lodge, near the La Fortuna Waterfalls, where a map accompanies your entrance ticket.