Climbing Cerro Chato, Costa Rica
Cerro Chato, a dormant volcano in northern Costa Rica, last erupted 3,500 years ago. It is located in the shadow of the Arenal Volcano, which was the country’s most active volcano until 2010.
Cerro Chato is now a primary rainforest teaming with wildlife. Those willing to tackle a rigorous two-hour trip to the top will be rewarded with a secluded green lagoon nestled in the volcano’s crater and a hike where you’ll encounter few people.
This is a physically demanding hike that can be treacherous and often quite muddy. The leg descending the volcano’s crater into the green lagoon has some near vertical sections where getting down on all fours is the best mode of transport. You’ll find yourself occasionally with hands clenched to tree roots, legs dangling as you slowly lower yourself down the trail. If you’re a novice hiker looking for a leisurely half-day stroll, a hike to La Fortuna Waterfall or the Hanging Bridges would better fit the bill.
It is also recommended that you don’t begin this hike after noon. Average hikers will need a full two hours to climb up, perhaps an hour taking in the lagoon experience, and another two hours making your way back.
To access the trail-head, go to the Arenal Observatory Lodge (directions). The charge to enter the lodge is $8 USD per person. If you’re driving, the guard will direct you further up the main road to parking near the reception area. The lodge itself boasts amazing close-up views of Arenal Volcano. Once parked, follow the signs (which are readily visible around the lodge parking area) to Cerro Chato.
The first thirty minutes unfold over gravel roads that roll past picturesque farmland and unique trees. Magnificent views of the Arenal Volcano are available only at this point during the hike, so take your photos here.
You will eventually approach a sign with an arrow pointing left of the rainforest canopy. (See photo below.) It might not be immediately apparent, but follow the trail directly into the rainforest canopy. You’ll see additional signs for Cerro Chato once in the canopy. This is where the fun begins!
The trail will lead you through dense rainforest. After another hour, you’ll reach the summit of Cerro Chato where the green lagoon makes its first appearance directly below. This is a great spot to take a quick break, sit on a tree root and and reload with a power bar since the green lagoon itself doesn’t have any place to sit.
The last leg of your hike, scaling down the crater to the green lagoon, is the most difficult part of the trip. Although average hikers will be able to do this in 20-30 minutes, take your time to ensure secure footing and safely progress down the remainder of the trail. Fortunately, scaling back up the crater is much easier.
Once you’ve reached the lagoon, take a dip in the emerald green water and revel in your accomplishment! The water is generally pretty cold, but it’s perfect after a strenuous two-hour hike and for washing off your muddy legs. If you stay still while in the lagoon, you’ll feel little fish crowd around your feet to nibble at your skin… a very surreal experience and not the best scenario for those who are very ticklish!
After completing your hike, grab a cold beer at the lodge for the perfect ending to your hike.
Cerro Chato (Dormant Volcano)
Height: 3,740 ft (1,140m)
Hike Time: Approximately 4 hrs round trip
Hike Length: Approximately 6km round trip
Trail-head Access: Arenal Observatory Lodge (directions)