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A Volcano Hike Along El Silencio Trail

Destination: Arenal

While I was well away from the high risk zone, there was something slightly thrilling yet unsettling about sleeping so close to an active volcano. Last night, Arenal's loud, thunder-like booms woke me twice.

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Disoriented by sleep, I stumbled about my room, wondering if a storm was rolling in. A few hours later the sun rose and blue skies prevailed. Finally, a clear and beautiful morning in La Fortuna!

I joined a nice group of travelers from Jamaica for Montana de Fuego's buffet breakfast and enjoyed the view of Arenal from our table. Making the most of the sunshine, I took a morning dip in the pool and wandered to the hotel's own tilapia-filled lake (the source of my fresh fish last night), home to some of the funniest looking ducks I've ever seen.

I spent a few hours checking out the many art galleries and wood shops lining the road out of La Fortuna. There were lots of wood carvings from mahogany, ron-ron and Guanacaste as well as hammocks and indigenous art. Arenal loomed on the horizon, dwarfing everything around it.

Late afternoon, I joined Sunset Tours for a volcano hike along El Silencio Trail. While not actually hiking the volcano itself, we were close enough to hear loud rumbles and had fun trekking in the rain. Our outgoing guide, Jaime, explained that we kept a distance for a very valid reason- potential pyroclastic flows.

A mixture of hot rocks and gases, a pyroclastic flow can move at speeds of 80 kilometers per hour, wiping out everything in its path. Such dangerous avalanches have occurred as recently as 2006. We were assured, however, that due to Arenal Volcano's constant strombolian activity and careful monitoring, an eruption the magnitude of 1968 was not imminent. At least, we hoped not today.

We began at an observation point and saw rivers of black marking where old lava flows had destroyed vegetation along the slopes. Amazingly, pre-1968, locals would regularly climb the volcano, which was then called Arenal Peak or Pan de Azucar (sugar loaf).

The wet drizzle was fitting as we hiked an easy trail through the rainforest, spotting spider monkeys, a sleeping sloth and a black-cheeked woodpecker. Jaime pointed out a spiky red fruit known as monkey comb, along with massive ceiba and ironwood trees that kept us relatively dry in the rain.

Our volcano hike ended with a visit to the same washed-out bridge near the Observatory Lodge that afforded great lava views. Arenal's thick, boulder-strewn lava was much different than the smooth, liquid lava of most Hawaiian volcanoes. Later, most of the folks on our Sunset Tour visited one of Fortuna's many hot springs (an add-on option of the tour). After two hours of walking in the rain it sounded like a perfect idea, but I would be going tomorrow.

Ravenous from the hike, I devoured some fresh tilapia ceviche and avocado salad at Montana de Fuego's restaurant before heading back to my cozy room.

A Volcano Hike Along El Silencio Trail in Pictures

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