Hiking the Cerro Chato Volcano in Costa Rica


The rule of the day was this: First person to muddy their butt bought the team a round of beer.

Our path didn’t start off too bad. Sure, it was a little hot, but I was thankful to have the sun at my back after the bout of rain that morning that had threatened to drench us from the beginning of our tour. We stopped periodically and Andres, our local guide, educated us about the surrounding flora and fauna.

What’s the difference between a primary and secondary forest?

What the heck’s the deal with these leaf-carrying ants? 

What’s this chain of volcanoes and their history? 

These were all questions he’d answer as we steadily climbed the 1,000 plus altitude change.

Kyla was the first to fall, and, luckily, the last. Somehow, through the twisted gnarls of mud and wood and jungle fern, I managed not to lose my footing. Instead, I walked sideways and crablike along the steep, natural steps that were our path from the top of the edge of dormant volcano Cerro Chato to its expansive green lake. At an 80 degree angle we carefully crept our way down until the dense forest opened up and we knew the burning muscles and ‘whydidn’tIdomorecardiobeforethistrip?’s were worth it. Totally worth it.

We cooled off in the water and ate sandwiches on the shore, which had been packed—along with fruits, juice, and granola bars—by our tour company, Red Lava. We had conquered the most challenging part of the day, but there were still seven more hours to go on our day-long tour.

After our dip and lunch, we started out again and as soon as we got to the path leading around the crater and down, the rain began. At first it came slowly, and the tops of the trees protected us. At first. Soon, though, the drops became torrents and we all took turns muddying our shoes and pants as we tried to make it through the forest’s path. That game you play as a child, trying to avoid all the cracks in a sidewalk, became our own, but instead of avoiding cracks we tried to avoid the mud. We sought fallen logs and branches and tried to leap from one to another until, inevitably, we missed and white shoes became dark brown.

It didn’t matter, though. It wasn’t cold, even with the rain, and we had found good company in each other, a hodgepodge mix of strangers hailing from New Zealand, Britain and the US, led by Andres, who sustained us with little chocolates and encouraging “Just five more minutes!” lies that kept us chugging through the inclines.

A plunging waterfall, lake sunset and Arenal-observatory later (the clouds even parted enough for us to see the top of the peak!), we found ourselves sipping cocktails in a river. Arenal’s geothermal activity naturally heated the spring, and there we lounged after a long day, our faces slathered in volcanic mud that supposedly would rejuvenate our complexions.

Very nearby, guests at Tabacon Resort were paying at least double for what we had: hot springs, spa masks, and a boozy drink.  We had earned that luxury with sweat, and had learned a lot about the rainforest and its inhabitants. I’m pretty sure we got the better deal.

As the guides began to clean up and announced that we had to get back into the van to return to town, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “Just five more minutes!”

The tour I participated in was the Two-Volcano Tour, which included transportation to and from my hostel, lunch, one cocktail, a hike to Cerro Chato, swimming, waterfall, suspension bridge, Arenal Observatory Lodge, and the entrance fee to the national park where the volcanoes are located. Price: $75

Red Lava Tours offers many more tours: hikes, horseback riding, canyoneering, canopy, overnight trekking and more. For prices and details, go to their website.

Don’t forget to follow along as we write our next guide book for Costa Rica! Check out the hashtag #GGGinCR and Sara’s account (username @SaraMelanie14) on Instagram and Twitter for up-to-date adventures!


Special thanks to the team at Red Lava Tours for subsidizing my day. All opinions are my own. 


About Author

Sara learned the value of travel at an early age, on annual family trips in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Not to be relegated to the North American continent, she made her first trip overseas at the age of 13 and has been finding ways to travel ever since. She has explored Etruscan tombs in Italy, made hostel beds in Ireland, and hiked volcanoes in Costa Rica. Follow her travels near and far at www.saramelanie.com

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  1. Pingback: Welcome to the Jungle: 3 Reasons to Go to Costa Rica Now!

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