The Arenal Volcano has been one of the main attractions in Costa Rica for years. The lava flows, smoking craters and dramatic explosions made this one of the “must see” locations in Costa Rica. Then, in October of 2010, the Arenal Volcano went quiet.
To be able to give you an accurate explanation of what the situation is with Arenal, we spoke to the volcanologist that we rely on for this kind of information, his name is Gerardo Soto.
Gerardo is a geologist whose specialty is Volcanology. He has his degree in Geology from the University of Costa Rica and his specialization is from the Japan International Cooperation Agency. He lived in Japan for 4.5 years and was a professor at the University of Kagoshima.
Gerardo currently works in subterranean exploration and is an international consultant on subjects having to do with Seismology, Volcanology and Geology for Peru, Dominican Republic, Salvador, Bolivia and Panama.
Gerardo has been our adviser since 2003 when we asked him to help us define Safety Guidelines for our guests after some travelers were killed by a pyroclastic flow. What Gerardo tells us about the Arenal Volcano at present is:
In addition to Gerardo's observations, we have recent reports from the OVSICORI, which translated is the Institute of Volcanology and Seismology of Costa Rica. Their report says that short recesses in activity are normal within a volcanoes eruptive activity.
Although they don't know for sure, it's possible that these declines occur due to an emptying of the magmatic chamber. The volcano is still producing gas emissions through the north east opening and although unconfirmed, there have been recent reports of explosions. The geophysical patterns of activity are the same.
Although the volcano is not producing tremendous eruptions or lava flows, that doesn't mean that its activity has ceased. If anything the excessive pent up pressure could cause an eruption at any moment. Given the fragility of the crater walls, these landslides could be caused either by gravity or by eruption. It is estimated that the pressure it capable of causing eruptions that could travel up to several kilometers.
We need to be more vigilant than ever. As long as we stay outside of the 5km radius surrounding the volcano, there is a chance that guests will be there to see it if/when it releases its pent up pressure.
After an avalanche of hot gases (pyroclastic flow) killed a guide and visitor in 2000, Costa Rica Expeditions created a new visitation policy for the Arenal area. The tragedy made us reassess the volcano’s danger.
Over the years we have hired the services of three different vulcanologists to help us determine the safest visitation policy for the Arenal Volcano Area. We strongly recommend that guests enjoy their visit and the views of the volcano from safer distances, that is, outside a 5KM radius.
Although many local tour companies offer tours on the flanks of the volcano - including horseback rides, hikes and drives - CRE recommends avoiding these areas. Many tours are carried out in the dips and valleys below the volcano; the most likely routes for an avalanche of burning rocks and deadly gas.
The main road that goes around the north side of the volcano serves as a visual boundary between high and reduced risk areas. The road (most of it**) is within a reduced risk area as there is a geographical depression between the volcano and the road. This would slow down and likely stop any pyroclastic flows from reaching the road itself.
**NOTE: The areas close to Los Lagos, El Novillo and Tabacon Spa are exceptions to this and should be regarded as HIGH RISK areas.
Please consider the two lists below. They are based on how the risk increases depending on the amount of time that you spend in an area subject to the influence of an eruption. The first is a partial list of places to be avoided and the second, areas where you can enjoy your stay with lesser risk of injury should an eruption occur.
Important Note: Costa Rica Expeditions guides and drivers will NOT visit high-risk areas and are instructed to keep guests away from them. If a guest insists, he or she is free to arrange transportation on his/her own.
COSTA RICA EXPEDITIONS 257-0766 or 2521-6099