Costa Rica: Volcán Arenal

This recently dormant volcano is a must for nature lovers and adventure seekers alike. The mystic volcano rises up out of verdant hills soaring into the clouds that make it appear as though it expands up into the heavens. On a clear day, if you are lucky (and patient), you may see a wispy cloud drift away enabling you to see the top of this historically temperamental volcano and it will give you chills. Beyond the volcano there are hot springs, tropical jungle, a brilliant azure lake, waterfalls, and all of the wildlife you could desire including howler and capuchin white faced monkeys, toucans, hawks, hummingbirds, kuwaitis, and a plethora of candy colored avians for your gazing pleasure. Below are my recommendations for exploring this area. We stayed two nights, but if you have the time, I would suggest staying one additional night for good measure.

When to go: There is no dry season, the lush jungles receive rainfall year round. However, there is a “less-wet” season from January-April.

Must see: Volcan Arenal, hot springs (we did these and had the entire place to ourselves, a very romantic option; Eco Termales is also a nice, upscale resort-feel option, and if you are looking for more of a water park feel check out Baldi. Also, the the public hot springs are free!)

Skip: La Fortuna, this base town located at the bottom of Cerro Arenal has a sleepy old west feel with a lot of tourists and cinder block architecture. I recommend escaping into the lush jungle above the town where you feel as if you are floating in the clouds.

Stay: Arenal Observatory Lodge. This is a must. Located high up in the lush jungle with a view of the volcano that is so good people pay just for entry for the day, you can enjoy coffee on the huge observatory deck as you watch the clouds drift past the volcano and colorful birds feast on watermelon all day long. The rooms are fairly nice for Costa Rica and the brand new spa comes highly recommended. The lodge was originally created by a local family to host Smithsonian scientists studying the active volcano and all of their tools are still functioning and intact around the huge property for you to peruse. Within the bounds of the property there are numerous hikes, a 2km roundtrip walk to a waterfall, the strenuous Cerro Chato hike starting point and amazing early morning bird tours (also, highly recommended!) All tours can be arranged with the Lodge at their friendly, multilingual front desk.

Transport: In many ways Costa Rica’s tourism is so well developed that you feel as if you are back home (great for safety, not so great for cost). You can get to Arenal from anywhere in the country for a cost. We took a private shuttle from San Jose (approx. 3.5 hours). Note that cab rides to anywhere will run you $20 each way (ouch!). To leave Arenal heading west, you can take a ferry across Lake Arenal and then a shuttle onward to your next destination. All hotels and hostels will set up shuttles for you, just make sure to reserve as soon as you arrive so that you can leave on your desired date.


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{1. Feasting wildlife. 2. Lake Arenal. 3. Waterfall Trail. 4. Arenal Observatory Lodge. 5. Paradise Hot Springs. 6. Volcan Arenal heading west across the lake.}


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