Cerro Chato is a dormant volcano located next to the Arenal Volcano in La Fortuna, Costa Rica. According to arenal.net, the volcano has been inactive for 3,500 years and has an elevation of about 3,740 feet. The hike is beautiful but quite challenging, mostly due to the steep inclines and mud. It is recommended that only people in good physical condition do the hike, and I now understand why!
The entrance to the hike is about a 10 minute drive outside of the town of La Fortuna. The hike is open from 7:00am to 2:00pm, but we saw people starting the hike when we were ending in the afternoon, so I think you just have to purchase a ticket before the trail closes. Tickets cost $12 USD for adults and $6 for kids.
We started the hike at 9:00am. The skies were clear and there was no rain that day–lucky for us because the trail was already pretty muddy. I can’t imagine doing the hike if it had rained!
The hike started out on a wide gravel road with gorgeous views of the countryside and volcano. There were a few rest stops on the way up, including tables and benches on an overlook and a little gazebo. After that, the hike starts to get more intense.
Besides it being an incline (you are hiking up a volcano, after all!), the trail was fairly muddy. We had to use our arms and legs to climb and hold on to branches when the mud was slippery. It was quite the adventure–tiring but fun!
We got to the top where the overlook is located around 11:00am, meaning the beginning of the hike took us just about 2 hours. At the top, there is a beautiful view of the volcano and some big logs to sit on. Make sure to bring plenty of water and snacks, as you’ll probably want to take a break at this point in the hike.
While some hikers decided to stop there, take a rest, and head back down to the entrance, many people make the more muddy trek down to the laguna verde (green lagoon). This part was a steep decline, even more muddy than the first trail up, and required lots of branch-grabbing. Make sure to wear clothes you don’t mind getting dirty or muddy. We ended up slipping and sliding quite a bit on our way down this muddy path to the lagoon! The good news is that this part of the hike only takes about 20 minutes. Then, you’re at the lagoon.
Once you get to the lagoon, you’ll realize it was well worth it to get a little muddy on the way down. The lagoon really is a beautiful light emerald green color like the pictures show. And after sweating so much, taking a swim in the lake was really refreshing. Some people brought or wore their swimsuits, but I ended up just going right in while wearing my gym shorts and sports bra. We dried off pretty fast on the hike back to the entrance anyway. It was a pretty hot day!
After swimming and eating some snacks, we hiked back up the slippery, muddy path to the lookout again. We started heading back down to the hike entrance at noon and reached the entrance 1.5 hours later.
It’s worth noting that if you would like to do the hike with a tour guide/group, there are many day trip options available. La Fortuna is a very touristy town, and you’ll find plenty of businesses offering to take you on day trips like this one. They usually provide transportation to/from your hotel as well. I personally did not think it would be worth it to pay the extra money for a tour guide for the hike. It was straightforward and only had one path, so it would be impossible to get lost. We ended up going independently, but if you’d like to go in a group or have transportation to the hike entrance, you can easily find a tour company in town.
The Cerro Chato hike, while strenuous, is well worth it…besides, how many people can say they’ve swum in a lagoon in a volcano before!?
Total distance hiked: Maybe somewhere between 2 and 3 miles
Total time (hiking, swimming, etc.): 4.5 hours
Total cost: $12 USD/person
Total day trip time: About 5 hours if staying in La Fortuna
What to bring:
Bring all the hiking necessities and be prepared for hot temperatures, rain (depending on the season), and mud! I recommend the following:
– Swimsuit (or you can swim in your clothes like I did)
– Appropriate hiking shoes (I wore chacos which were good, especially when walking through mud)
– Food (fruit, vegetables, nuts, etc.)
– Camera or phone for pictures
– Cash (they do not accept credit cards, so make sure to have some colones or USD with you to pay for the entrance fee)
Pura vida! 🙂