We stayed at the Arenal Observatory Lodge at the beginning of what turned out to be a fantastic Costa Rica trip which included subsequent stops in Monteverde/Santa Elena and the Osa Peninsula (our favorite).
We rented a 4 wheel drive at the San Jose airport and drove up to Arenal. It's a fairly long drive (3.5 hours) but the countryside is beautiful. Having read lots of other reviews about how bad the road were, we were initially hesitant to drive, but were very glad we did.
If you do drive: get the 4 wheel drive option - but make sure you understand when to use 4L, 4H, etc. We used 4L a number of times on the trip (mainly after we left Arenal to go to the Monteverde).
Arenal Volcano is GORGEOUS - but check ahead of time to see which side the lava is flowing on. We verified that we would be on the lava side during our stay and it was absolutely incredible.
The Arenal Observatory Lodge has an awesome view of the volcano. In fact, our room (one of the Smithsonian Rooms) had a huge picture window facing the volcano. The bed was pushed up close to the window. Why? It had to be: the volcano is so close; it pretty much fills the window (see photos).
Now - a disclaimer - we were extremely lucky: the weather was perfect. We were told that the volcano is often socked in with clouds. So go with the expectation that you may not see much of the volcano.
At night we were awakened by what sounded like distant explosions. This was the volcano erupting (more like spitting out glowing red boulders). We'd lay awake for a few minutes and just watch - in awe - as red boulders tumbled down the volcano's face. (see time-lapse photo)
The lodge is pretty far removed from the town of La Fortuna (30 minute drive - partly unpaved) so your food options are going to be limited. The lodge itself has a restaurant with mediocre lunch and dinner (we ended up driving towards town to eat). But their breakfast buffet was really fantastic: bacon, eggs, sausage, fresh juices and fruit.
Definitely take some of the guided tours they offer (they offer a free, morning hike where we saw some howler monkeys and even an anteater). The night tour into the park was awesome (they provide basic flashlights, but if you have a really good one at home you should bring it).
The only real complaint we had was the front desk staff. The big guy at the front was one of the rudest people we met the entire trip. Fortunately, we only dealt with him a couple of times.
We would **ABSOLUTELY** recommend staying at the Arenal Volcano Observatory Lodge. A few suggestions:
1) Bring bug repellant (it wasn't as bad as we expected, but we needed it)
2) Bring a good flashlight (we saw quite a bit on the night hikes)
3) Stay in Arenal for two or three days at most (we saw everything we wanted to see in two)
4) Bring good hiking boots (something with ankle support)
5) Enjoy the beautiful countryside and friendly Ticos.
6) Bring a tripod (even a small travel one)
7) Bring binoculars (we wish we had brought a pair)
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Situated only 1.7 Miles from the majestic Arenal Volcano and with a spectacular view of Lake Arenal, the Arenal Observatory Lodge (AOL) offers guests the opportunity to DISCOVER, EXPLORE and RELAX. Located within the Arenal Conservation Area and surrounded by rainforests and nature, AOL sits on an 870 acres property, which consists of 400 acres of reforestation, 270 acres of natural forest and 200 acres of cultivated land. The hotel offers 48 comfortable rooms surrounded by gardens, the majority with a direct view of the volcano and/or the forest. The 7 miles of well-maintained trails for walking, horseback riding or biking running through the property provide good opportunities to observe a variety of flora and fauna. Approximately 500 species of birds live in the area making AOL a preferred destination for bird watchers. Activities at the hotel include hikes to the waterfall or to explore Cerro Chato (an extinct volcano with a small lake in the crater), horseback riding, bicycling through the trails, enjoying a refreshing swim in our pool, or simply relaxing with a massage in our SPA. The hotel is well located to serve as a base for a variety of excursions such as the Cano Negro Nature Refuge, hot springs, Venado Caves, Canopy Tours, Arenal Hanging Bridges, Fishing, White Water Rafting, Canyoning, Biking etc. It also serves as a very interesting stop before heading on to Monteverde Cloud Forest or to the beaches of the Pacific coast. Arenal Observatory Lodge is the perfect place for adventure lovers, families, and honeymooners. With its spectacular location, great service, and friendly personnel you won't be disappointed ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- Arenal Observatory Hotel La Fortuna De San Carlos
- Arenal Observatory Lodge & Spa Costa Rica/La Fortuna De San Carlos