The active Arenal volcano is the main attraction in this part of Costa Rica. However it is also a very beautiful and scenic part of the country with primary forests, Costa Rica’s largest lake and several noteworthy tourist attractions. Volcán Arenal which rises 5,436 feet above sea level is the most active and no doubt the most studied of all Costa Rica’s volcanoes.
It booms and rumbles with an unnerving consistency and its nocturnal pyrotechnics have struck awe in the hearts of thousands of observers. With its perfectly conical shape and its continuing activity, Arenal is a picture book image of a volcano. Daily ash columns, underground rumbling, glowing red lava flows and sudden explosions make Arenal a must-see on any tourist’s itinerary.
Seeing a great night time eruption like shown in the posters is a matter of luck due to cloud cover. However, even when the summit of the volcano is covered you can often see the lava flows farther down the side. Occasionally the activity quiets down for a few weeks, but generally it puts on several eruptive displays a day. This is a beautiful part of Costa Rica and there is plenty to do besides volcano watching.
What to do in Arenal
Cascada La Fortuna
A visit to this 230 foot tall, beautiful waterfall is one of the Arenal area’s most popular trips. You can hike to the waterfall from La Fortuna, it’s about 3 ½ miles. Start at the south side of the church and there is a road with a sign for the waterfall. If you have a 4 wheel drive you can drive as far as the overlook. There is a small fee to hike down a very steep trail to the bottom of the fall where you can take a swim (use extreme caution as the river can be wild).
Arenal Botanical Gardens
These lovingly designed gardens are about 25 km (15 miles) north of the Arenal Lake dam. Well laid-out trails lead past hundreds of varieties of tropical plants from Costa Rica and all over the world. Lots of butterflies and birds are attracted to the gardens. There are self-guide booklets in English, German and Spanish. Michael, the owner, is usually on hand to answer questions. Open 9 am to 5 pm except Sunday afternoons
The caverns, a 1.5 mile system of limestone chambers replete with stalctites, stalagmites and underground streams, are not for the faint-hearted. To explore them, you must wade through the ankle to knee deep underground stream. At some points it is necessary to crawl. Bats and tiny colorless frogs inhabit the caves, which also contain seashell fossils, and a “shrine” that glows luminously. You clothes will get wet and dirty, so take a change. There are changing rooms available. You can rent rubber boots, flashlights and helmets. If you wish you can take a guided tour from La Fortuna and some hotels in the area or guides are available at the caverns.
Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge – One day Tour
The Caño Negro National Wild Life Refuge is the best ecological site with the emerald basilisc, iguanas, river turtles and caimans and is considered one of the best sites in America to see wild animals concentrations. Also are common on this area jaguars, ocelots. Giant Ant Bears and others.
Cano Negro is one of the first areas in giving special emphasis on the handle of biological sources according with the human life development, combining tourist activities with the protection of the natural resources.
Getting To Arenal
You can travel to Arenal by car or on regularly scheduled flights. It is about a two and a half hour, scenic drive by car from San Jose.
Tabacon Resort and Spa
I remember the first time I went to the springs in Tabacon, there wasn’t a hotel, just a night guard who let us in and lets us stay for a while. At that time I thought it would be a great place for a hotel, but I never did think that such a great place like Tabacon would be built there. Tabacon offers a really unique experience as you are able to sit in springs that are heated by the volcano that you are looking at each night AND if you are lucky and its a clear night you will get to see the lava coming from it.. Its really a unforgettable experience.
The hotel itself is split into two sections: One part for reception, rooms, restaurants, etc…, and the second part about 300 meters away is for the hot springs, another really nice restaurant, and the incredible naturally heated pool.
What makes a great stay at the hotel is by going on day trips from the resort then spend the late afternoons and evenings at the hot springs and pool. The hot springs themselves are incredible and very lush with beautiful paths and pools and are open at night until 10PM. This makes for a perfect ending after a long day of hiking, zip-lining and swimming at the waterfalls! By staying at the you get access to the more luxurious part of the hot springs which is on the very top. It was more private and quiet which is nice.
The rooms at the hotel are amazing and most have a large suite, large seating area, dining table and an incredible bathroom with lots of extra “touches”.
Note: The hotel rooms are not near the hot springs. They have a shuttle that runs every 10 minutes and you can take your robes from your room to the hot springs. You can also walk there and it takes about 5 – 10 minutes…
The Springs Resort and Spa
This resort is great for both families or couples. It has a Great location, exceptional service, spacious and clean rooms but not and the grounds including the pools are amazing. General feeling you get there is of serenity and relaxation. Therefore, if you’re looking for a place to party, then, I think you want to look at other options. The grounds are sprawling you never feel crowded regardless of how many people are there. As long as you’re up for a little walking you’ll love it! By and large the Springs are outstanding and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
The Springs Resort is located off the beaten path and surrounded by uninterrupted nature. Fantastic views of the volcano and surrounding area from the rooms.
Room was well-appointed, spotless, and spacious. I think you will find to have more than enough closet/dresser space for storage. The balconies are very large with seating for four, plus a hammock and of course, a spectacular view of the Volcano. The bathrooms ahve Double sinks and they are big! And the shower? You could spend your whole time there in it as its one the nicest you will see in any hotel. H
The property itself is absolutely beautiful. The whole property in away from the main town of La Fortuna and incorporates the natural surroundings with the property itself. There are variety of hot springs throughout the property and a couple even cater to kids. The best part about having this many pools around is that never seems overly crowded. The one spot where there tends to be the most people is the main pool as that has a swim up bar to it.. so go figure!
As with the pools there are quite a few eating options from your standard lunch and dinner menus to a more deluxe dining area. Also the restaurants and eating areas are spreads fairly far apart so none of them seem overly crowded. The food was good and the atmosphere was incredible. How bad can a eating experience be when you sit outside looking at a pristine forest and see howler monkeys near by. If one wanted to save some money, you could leave the resort and go to a restaurant but I don’t really think its worth the effort. Is the food here more expensive then at local restaurant? It is, but your paying for more then just the food and the ambiance and atmosphere, more then make up for the extra you may pay.
Things to do while at the hotel
Down the road from the resort is the Club Rio. Here you can do a whole slew of activities such as rafting, horseback riding to hike through a nature preserve. In addition, the people they have running these activities are top notch and cannot be more obliging to any concern or request you may have.
This is a place that has to be seen in order to be appreciated. The people who own this hotel also own the incredible Peace Lodge near San Jose. I have a special affinity for this resort as a group of use were instrumental in helping find the land on which this place was built. Little did we know at the time what a gem of a property was going to built here.
Volcano Lodge and Springs
When I am looking for a hotel in Arenal I would like it to have 3 essentials: hot springs, cocktails and a volcano view (not neccesarily in that order). And with that in mind the Volcano Lodge and Springs has all this plus more and at a very reasonable price considering what you get.
The “more” that I mentioned above is that your breakfast is included and is wonderful buffet , complete with an eggs to order station (TIP: the omelette is excellent). The lodge also has beautiful landscaping, is close to town whether by taxi or driving. ( To La Fortuna is about 10-15 mins / $10 cab ride) and the hotel offers a list of activities to choose from for you do during the day ( My recommendations are listed above)
There were two large hot spring pools and a regular swimming pool on the property and there is also an area where the wild turkey and other birds come to eat the fruit that is set out.
The rooms vary in size and amenities depending on what you are looking for but they all have a patio and wonderful views of the volcano. If you get lucky and its a clear night, you will be able to see the lava flowing from the volcano all while sitting on your porch.. Its really an amazing and unforgettable experience.
BONUS: The front desk is open 24 hours a day in case you need anything at an odd time.
Arenal Observatory Lodge and Spa
The Arenal Observatory Lodge is one the oldest but yet still one of the best places to stay in Arenal. You can get an idea on how long the hotel has been there when you see its great location and how close it is, compared to the other hotels, to the Volcano itself. Due to its age you have to understand that the rooms are not as “modern” as places that have been built more recently but the location and atmosphere more then make up for any lack of conveniences.
Getting to the lodge can sometimes be a mystery as the lodge itself is a bit far from La Fortuna, the main town of the area, and the roads here are gravel at times. That said once you make it there, you have the chance a to do a ton of activities that won’t require you leaving the hotel. These activities include horseback riding, hiking, swimming, birdwatching just to name a few. However, if you want to go to La Fortuna and don’t or can’t drive there, the hotel offers a shuttle at certain times at a cost of about 8 dollars per person. There is also a free guided walk each morning and I highly recommend that you take it.
The garden and grounds at the lodge are, are well maintained and absolutely beautiful, as you might expect and are worthy of stroll arounds. There is an extensive network of trails around the property, a sun deck where you can view many birds, a swimming pool and frog pond as well as a observatory.
Included with the price at the hotel is breakfast and its a good one! There is plenty of choices to choose from including eggs, pancakes, sausage etc. plus fresh juice, cereals, fruit, homemade bread and muffins/cake.. A great and filling way to start your day but you will probably burn off all those calories with all you will be doing each day!
As I mentioned at the beginning the rooms are what some would call basic but they are clean and comfortable and do not have a TV, which, may not be such a bad thing, especially if you are on vacation. They do have WIFI so you can always use your prime video or netflix accounts if you need to. All the rooms have a view of the Volcano which, on a clear night, can be a unforgettable experience. They are also just steps away from the forest so you should here plenty of wildlife during the night especially. A lot of people complain that the howlers monkeys make too much noise and wake them up earlier then they may have liked but thats not such a bad alarm clock.. for me.