The Origins of El Castillo

Two major events led to the origins of El Castillo. The first, the eruption of Volcano Arenal in July1968 forced the evacuation of hundreds of local residents to safer elevations and the second, the construction of Arenal Dam, Costa Rica’s most important hydro-electric project and the creation of Lake Arenal buried the destroyed villages under 200 feet of water.

Evacuees from the 1968 eruption of Arenal Volcano

Photo by Tom Simkin, 1968
(Smithsonian Institution).

Prior to 1968, the area was a quiet horse and dairy-farming community, with ranches running out from the old villages of Arenal, Tabacon, Pueblo Nuevo and San Luis up the sides of what residents believed to be simply a mountain- Cerro Arenal and its sister peak, Cerro Chatto. When the first eruption hit, the volcano spewed toxic gases, rocks, lava and ash over an area of more than 15 square kilometres. Three villages were completely buried and two others irreparably destroyed. 87 people and countless livestock were killed in the first eruption.

The volcano has remained active, off and on, ever since. While the last violent eruption occurred in 2010, steam constantly surrounds the three craters at the top of the mountain and in recent days, gases have pushed rocks out of the crater to go tumbling down the side of the mountain.

In 1972, the federal government of Costa Rica approved the construction and subsequent expansion of a dam at the east and west ends of the river valleys, some 25km apart. Today, Lake Arenal contributes almost 1/3 of all the power consumption of Costa Rica, now supplemented by the wind farms on the ridges at the east end of the lake. Around this time, the government also created the Arenal National Forest, some 30,000 acres of pristine rainforest and a permanent monitoring station for the Volcano.

To compensate local families for their loss of land, the government gave land grants around the newly created lake. One of them, originally deeded to four local families, became the present village of El Castillo (actually three villages-Castillo, Fosforo and Million). The abandoned ranches can still be seen at the lower elevations of the current volcano, a reminder to local residents of life before the volcano.

Out of great tragedy came opportunity and today, Arenal is the second-most visited tourist attraction in Costa Rica, after Manuel Antonio. A reported 500,000 visitors a year find their way to La Fortuna and the Arenal region.

Two major events led to the creation of the current village of El Castillo. The first, the eruption of Volcano Arenal in July1968 forced the evacuation of hundreds of local residents to safer elevations and the second, the construction of Arenal Dam, Costa Rica’s most important hydro-electric project and the creation of Lake Arenal buried the destroyed villages under 200 feet of water.

Prior to 1968, the area was a quiet horse and dairy-farming community, with ranches running out from the old villages of Arenal, Tabacon, Pueblo Nuevo and San Luis up the sides of what residents believed to be simply a mountain- Cerro Arenal and its sister peak, Cerro Chatto. When the first eruption hit, the volcano spewed toxic gases, rocks, lava and ash over an area of more than 15 square kilometres. Three villages were completely buried and two others irreparably destroyed. 87 people and countless livestock were killed in the first eruption.

The volcano has remained active, off and on, ever since. While the last violent eruption occurred in 2010, steam constantly surrounds the three craters at the top of the mountain and in recent days, gases have pushed rocks out of the crater to go tumbling down the side of the mountain.

In 1972, the federal government of Costa Rica approved the construction and subsequent expansion of a dam at the east and west ends of the river valleys, some 25km apart. Today, Lake Arenal contributes almost 1/3 of all the power consumption of Costa Rica, now supplemented by the wind farms on the ridges at the east end of the lake. Around this time, the government also created the Arenal National Forest, some 30,000 acres of pristine rainforest and a permanent monitoring station for the Volcano.

To compensate local families for their loss of land, the government gave land grants around the newly created lake. One of them, originally deeded to four local families, became the present village of El Castillo (actually three villages-Castillo, Fosforo and Million). The abandoned ranches can still be seen at the lower elevations of the current volcano, a reminder to local residents of life before the volcano.

Out of great tragedy came opportunity and today, Arenal is the second-most visited tourist attraction in Costa Rica, after Manuel Antonio. A reported 500,000 visitors a year find their way to La Fortuna and the Arenal region.

Two major events led to the creation of the current village of El Castillo. The first, the eruption of Volcano Arenal in July1968 forced the evacuation of hundreds of local residents to safer elevations and the second, the construction of Arenal Dam, Costa Rica’s most important hydro-electric project and the creation of Lake Arenal buried the destroyed villages under 200 feet of water.

Prior to 1968, the area was a quiet horse and dairy-farming community, with ranches running out from the old villages of Arenal, Tabacon, Pueblo Nuevo and San Luis up the sides of what residents believed to be simply a mountain- Cerro Arenal and its sister peak, Cerro Chatto. When the first eruption hit, the volcano spewed toxic gases, rocks, lava and ash over an area of more than 15 square kilometres. Three villages were completely buried and two others irreparably destroyed. 87 people and countless livestock were killed in the first eruption.

The volcano has remained active, off and on, ever since. While the last violent eruption occurred in 2010, steam constantly surrounds the three craters at the top of the mountain and in recent days, gases have pushed rocks out of the crater to go tumbling down the side of the mountain.

In 1972, the federal government of Costa Rica approved the construction and subsequent expansion of a dam at the east and west ends of the river valleys, some 25km apart. Today, Lake Arenal contributes almost 1/3 of all the power consumption of Costa Rica, now supplemented by the wind farms on the ridges at the east end of the lake. Around this time, the government also created the Arenal National Forest, some 30,000 acres of pristine rainforest and a permanent monitoring station for the Volcano.

To compensate local families for their loss of land, the government gave land grants around the newly created lake. One of them, originally deeded to four local families, became the present village of El Castillo (actually three villages-Castillo, Fosforo and Million). The abandoned ranches can still be seen at the lower elevations of the current volcano, a reminder to local residents of life before the volcano.

Out of great tragedy came opportunity and today, Arenal is the second-most visited tourist attraction in Costa Rica, after Manuel Antonio. A reported 500,000 visitors a year find their way to La Fortuna and the Arenal region.