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“Great Location - Service/Food OK”

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Arenal Observatory Lodge & Spa
Certificate of Excellence
GreenLeadersBronze level
Lutz, Florida
Level 3 Contributor
18 reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 11 helpful votes
“Great Location - Service/Food OK”
Reviewed 20 February 2008

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)

  • Liked — The view!
  • Disliked — The front desk person.
  • Stayed October 2007, travelled as a couple
    • Value
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    • Check-in / front desk
    • Rooms
    • Cleanliness
    • Service
Helpful?
6 Thank Rob-N-Angela
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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Plymouth
Level 5 Contributor
48 reviews
26 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 80 helpful votes
Reviewed 19 February 2008

A truly fantastic place and the only place to watch the volcano!! Lovely understated rooms but dont expect TV, internet, phone...you're not here for that. Long 4WD access adds to the remoteness, long may it stay that way!! Beautiful grounds, lovely trails, fantastic animal and birdlife and a truly wonderful pool. Restaurant unlikely to win any awards but waiting staff fun and one of the best breakfasts we had in Costa Rica.

Snakes, Orupendula (birds you'll hear before seeing), humming birds, Koati, monkeys and an erupting volcano. What more can I stay.

Ask for a room away from the main building. Take your walking and swimming gear along with a raincoat, camera and binoculars.

Truly fabulous. Will remember our stay for a very long time!!

P.S. If you're after a Hilton, go and stay elsewhere in one of the MacResorts along the road from La Fortuna.

P.P.S Do NOT confuse this place with Arenal lodge!

  • Stayed February 2008, travelled as a couple
    • Value
    • Location
    • Check-in / front desk
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    • Cleanliness
    • Service
    • Business service (e.g., internet access)
Helpful?
4 Thank Jonnymitch
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
nyc
Level 3 Contributor
2 reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 4 helpful votes
Reviewed 18 February 2008

On our second day of our honeymoon-we were trying to kill time because we didn't want to go back to our disgusting room at Linda Vista hotel, right down the road. We decided to check out Arenal Observatory Lodge and were jealous of what we saw. Guests chilling on the deck overlooking the volcano, beautiful grounds complete with infinite pool, hiking trails, and lots of other activities. We were thrilled when Estaban told us there was a room available for the next few nights. We checked out of Linda Vista early--headed back to the lodge and the view from our room was incredible. Room #28 has a wall-sized window at the foot of the bed overlooking the volcano-perfect for the 5:00 am viewing time when you can usually see the top. Our stay there was heavenly--be sure to check out the guided tours to the volcano--the night time one leads you back through the jungle at dark. Drinks were cheap at the bar, restaurant was good enough and everyone just hangs out at the deck at night enjoying the view. Estaban certainly saved the first 3 days of our honeymoon from being a total bust. We couldn't spent long enough at this place and will certainly be headed back soon!

  • Liked — Everything was perfect!
  • Stayed February 2008, travelled as a couple
    • Value
    • Location
    • Check-in / front desk
    • Rooms
    • Cleanliness
    • Service
    • Business service (e.g., internet access)
Helpful?
3 Thank queens-to-rica
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Helena, Montana
Level 3 Contributor
13 reviews
10 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 21 helpful votes
Reviewed 14 February 2008

If you travel to the La Fortuna area and want to experience the Arenal Volcano, the Rain Forest and local wildlife this is your only option! My wife and I traveled to Costa Rica for ten days, first we went to Arenal and then down to Manuel Antonio (please see review on LaPosada Bungalows). We stayed at the Arenal Observatory Lodge from Feb 1 thru the 5th, 2008. The observatory lodge is within the National Park located on an old tree plantation in between the Volcano and the Cloud Forest to the south. The lodge is 15 minutes from the nearest village and is a 30 minute drive to the nearby town of La Fortuna. The facility is spread out over hundreds of acres of land and there are only 20-30 rooms so it’s never crowded. There are many miles of hiking trails and multiple hanging bridges all within the Lodge’s vast property, you will experience waterfalls, exotic birds ect….all for the price of your hotel room!

There are only a hand full of lodges in which you can currently see the lava flow (South-West side of the volcano) while there are a few other hotels on the lava side (Iguana, Linda Vista) they are much further away from the volcano than the Arenal Observatory Lodge. At the lodge you do not need binoculars or a spotting scope to see the lava flows, you are so close to the volcano it feels like you are on the volcano itself. There is a steep river and canyon located between you and the volcano to protect you just incase of a rare pyroclastic explosion…..although its so close to the volcano the location of the lodge is actually in the safe zone. Geologically speaking there are no safe zones but that only adds to the strangeness and eerie feeling of being around the volcano. Before making plans make sure to check out Arenal.net to see an updated map with the direction of lava flow.

I recommend going during the dry season and booking a Smithsonian Room, it really isn’t much more expensive and it is worth the view. Due to the high humidity and the high elevation of the volcano it is very rare to see the full volcano view (from top to bottom). While we were there we had two full days with little to no clouds! It was an incredible view. On the overcast days you may get a glimpse of the top of the volcano really early in the morning. I recommend staying at least three nights, this will give you plenty of opportunities for some good viewing, even in the dry season there maybe lingering clouds and rain events that may last for days. I was told by the local guide (works for the lodge) it is almost impossible to see the volcano during the rainy season.

If you want to experience the night life or hang out in a crowded city with a bunch of human beings this is not the place for you. There are many hotels near the town of LaFortuna where you can stay at. Because we stayed four nights we rented a car so that we can take the half an hour drive from the observatory lodge into town for cash, dinner, hot springs ect., although most of our time was spent at the Lodge.

The highways we experienced from San Jose airport to La Fortuna (Arenal) and from La Fortuna down to Manuel Antonio are not as bad as folks make it out to be. The roads are well paved!!! These roads however are very narrow and do go up and over some very tall mountains, this makes the roads very windy and steep. If you do rent a car, I would suggest relaxing and taking your time, the local drivers drove like maniacs and it didn’t matter how fast or slow I was going. Be careful where the roads make sharp curves, watch out for semis and buses coming around the corner, sometimes they have to use two lanes. Some of the larger villages and towns that you pass thru it can be very hard to lose your sense of direction. While winding thru the city streets trying to find the highway on the other side of town, watch out for one-way streets! They aren’t very well marked.

To get to the lodge there is approximately ten miles of gravel roads, while I have heard some reviews speak of how awful the roads were we had no problems getting to the lodge (in the dry season). We rented a small 4x4 jeep but we even saw small passenger cars making the journey. There are a lot of pot holes but its no problem if you take your time, everywhere in the country the Costa Ricans (Ticos) drive like a bat out of hell, it takes time to get use to their driving and I did try to stay out of their way but eventually I realized that its okay to take it easy while driving because the locals are use to the laid back tourist driver.

Bird Lovers Paradise: Every morning the Lodge puts out fruit which attracts the most beautiful birds I have ever seen. All types of species, colors, shapes and sizes. Every now and then the locale Coatimuti (Raccoon like animal) would show up and steal a piece of mango.

Breakfast (included with the price of the room) is muy muy bueno with a wide selection of traditional breakfast with the traditional Tico meal (rice/bean mix, fruit ect). Dinners are okay, a little spendy for what you pay for but the view and experience make up for it.

Plan ahead….the lodge sells out early. While we were there, many tourists would come and visit the lodge to hike or just to view the volcano. They fall in love and decide to switch hotels; most were turned away by the staff due to the lodge being completely booked.

If you like to hike this is the place to be, there are many trails to choose from for every skill level. There are very easy concrete paths, wide open gravel trails and the famous trail to the extinct crater of Cerro Chato! This trail is not for the faint of heart, this is a steep 5 hour hike but I would call it more of a climb than a hike. The trail goes straight up the side of the extinct volcano and the trail is built around the tree roots, makes sense will all the rain that they receive. The laguna within the crater is very beautiful. The trail does continue on to the La Fortuna Waterfalls. If you like hiking than this trail is a must!

Most of the staff is fluent in English and were glad to help if we needed anything. The young gentleman at the front desk was very friendly and helpful. There are no TV’s in the rooms, but who wants to watch the tube when you can experience the best show of all…..Mother Nature! As other reviews have mentioned, the Howler Monkeys should wake you up around 5 am if they don’t then the volcano and birds will! While sleeping at night, I would be awakened every hour or two from some of the larger eruptions, I would continue to watch the lava “firework” show and then fall back to sleep. Its like no other experience I have ever had……Simply Incredible…..If I ever get the opportunity to go back to CR this is where I will be!

  • Stayed February 2008, travelled as a couple
    • Value
    • Location
    • Check-in / front desk
    • Rooms
    • Cleanliness
    • Service
Helpful?
6 Thank NEWyoTraveler
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Calgary, Alberta
Level 2 Contributor
6 reviews
6 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 9 helpful votes
Reviewed 14 February 2008

We spent three days at Arenal in late January and thoroughly enjoyed our stay. The first two nights we were in the rooms across from the Bar/Restaurant and had a balcony where you could view the volcano. The first day was very windy, cloudy with lots of heavy rain but the next two days the clouds disappeared and the volcono put on quite a show both during the day and night. Quite spectacular. Expect to hear a lot of "booms" - almost like a very loud thunderstorm. The hiking trails around the lodge are very good and not too difficult. The rooms were large as were the bathrooms. You can expect to see cracks in the walls due to the constant volcanic activity but nothing alarming. The third night we were in one of the Casona rooms which are about half a mile from the Lodge and have a view of Lake Arenal rather than the volcano. The room is a bit smaller than the ones at the Lodge but very quiet with a very nice patio. The roads are very rough but we knew that prior to going in so it was expected. All in all we enjoyed the Lodge very much and found the staff very friendly and helpful, in particular, the restaurant manager, Rigo.

  • Liked — Everything
  • Disliked — Road in
  • Stayed January 2008, travelled as a couple
    • Value
    • Location
    • Check-in / front desk
    • Rooms
    • Cleanliness
    • Service
Helpful?
2 Thank JudithDiana
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Sterling Hts, MI
Level 4 Contributor
26 reviews
15 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 41 helpful votes
Reviewed 23 January 2008

Not just a hotel, it's an experience. First, if you can get a Smithsonian room, get one. The bed faces a wall of windows that look out on the volcano. You lay in bed at night watching the red hot rocks breaking into hundreds of pieces as they roll down the face of the mountain as it erupts. In the morning you'll be awakened to the sounds of howler monkeys within a hundred yards of your room. Take part in the free guided hike in the morning and also one in the evening which you pay for. We were able to see the eruptions as well as an abundance of birds including hummingbirds,toucans, parrots, and parakeets on these hikes. The food at the lodge, while not gourmet, was very good and we didn't feel like we was getting gouged with the pricing. Some have complained about the road back to the lodge. We were in Costa Rica during the rainy season and while the road is entirely passable I would recomend some type of SUV for ground clearance and 4 wheel drive doesn't hurt. We rented from a company called Europecar and they had the best rates, close to half the price, of the usual American companies we rent from. We also recomend you rent a GPS (TOM TOM or the like) as the roads and signage is interesting. Because the lodge road can be a challenge your trips into town will be few and far between. We stayed 2 nights and wish we had time to stay longer. We will definately stay at the Arenal Observatory Lodge again when we return to Costa Rica.

Stayed August 2007
Helpful?
5 Thank b1j2m3c1
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Level 5 Contributor
22 reviews
13 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 21 helpful votes
Reviewed 23 January 2008

I agree with the previous post - this is THE place to see the volcano!! We got lucky and got a Smithsonian (best view) room for one night despite booking late.

The road to the hotel is a dirt road which is exciting! Just avoid the pot holes! We made it just fine in a little Peugot and a 4 x 4 would have no problem at all.

It was cloudy when we arrived, so we resigned ourselves to not seeing the lava. Then my husband woke me up snoring, and I've never been so grateful for being woken up at 3am because there was the most terrific display going on in front of our eyes! The bed is right up to the window and the view of the volcano fills the window. It is simply amazing to watch the lava flow down the side of the volcano towards you whilst you are still lying comfortably in bed! We got up and went and sat outside for close to an hour. It's not just the view of it, but the sounds of the rocks coming down which all add to the experience.

I will admit that we didn't exactly find the front desk staff overwhelmingly friendly, but they were ok. We enjoyed the included breakfast and the free morning hike which included a waterfall and viewing the volcano from another side which shows the side where half gets lava flow and the other doesn't, remaining green.

The room was nice enough - worth the $144 (including tax and breakfast) IF you get to see the volcano!

It is a chance you have to take!!

  • Liked — The stunning lava displays - if you get lucky enough to see it!
  • Disliked — The front desk staff were not very friendly
  • Stayed January 2008, travelled as a couple
    • Value
    • Location
    • Check-in / front desk
    • Rooms
    • Cleanliness
    • Service
Helpful?
2 Thank hobokenkitchen
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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Additional Information about Arenal Observatory Lodge & Spa

Property: Arenal Observatory Lodge & Spa
Address: 23 Km West of La Fortuna City Center, Located at the Base of the Arenal Volcano | Main Road to Arenal National Park, Arenal Volcano National Park, La Fortuna de San Carlos, Costa Rica
Phone Number:
Region: Costa Rica > Province of Alajuela > Arenal Volcano National Park > La Fortuna de San Carlos
Amenities:
Bar / Lounge Free Breakfast Free High Speed Internet ( WiFi ) Free Parking Children Activities (Kid / Family Friendly) Kitchenette Restaurant Room Service Shuttle Bus service Spa Suites Swimming Pool Wheelchair access Airport Transportation
Hotel Style:
Ranked #1 of 69 Speciality Lodging in La Fortuna de San Carlos
Price Range (Based on Average Rates): ££
Hotel Class:3 star — Arenal Observatory Lodge & Spa 3*
Number of rooms: 50
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

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