Arenal Volcano, the youngest volcano in Costa Rica and easily the most active is surrounded by Arenal Lake at its West flank and Cerro Chato, an inactive volcano, at its East. The nearest town, La Fortuna, has everything a tourist needs and is heaven for back country folks like us.
We stayed at Arenal Observatory Lodge, hiked Cerro Chato and enjoyed a dinner and shopping in La Fortuna. Check out the images below.
This panoramic shot of the volcano and lake is actually 5 images stitched together using Photoshop. Taken from the most West corner of the Lodge deck during a spectacular sunset.
Arenal Observatory Lodge
Arenal Observatory Lodge is the only private entity in Arenal National Park. The lodge was originally an observation station for a Costa Rican University, it was and is still sometimes used by the Smithsonian for scientific research. There are even Smithsonian Rooms which are separate from the rest of the facility that you can pay more to stay in. Those rooms are closer to the pool and spa so if you are traveling with children it’s probably best to stay there. We used both the resident and green season discount to get a great deal on a decently sized room in the main area.
The hiking trails were by far our favorite part of this location. The map that was given to us was exact and easy to read. All of the trails were well marked and the somewhat optimistic time frames given by the staff were not so far off. (No official trail rating system exists in Costa Rica but it is coming soon.) The 300+ hectare facility has a varied landscape that makes each hike different and interesting. There are many short trails that wind through the manicured gardens and longer hikes that lead through pastures and forests to waterfalls and hanging bridges.
The Cerro Chato hike was no joke. You can expect a mostly vertical climb for about 3 hours. When you reach the top you are rewarded with a flat area, and thank goodness because I was about to die, and a view of the natural lagoon inside the crater. You should take a dip before heading back down but remember that wet underwear for three hours is no fun. We were lucky to have a sunny and mostly dry day. If it is raining or there is very high humidity on the day you plan on taking this trail you may want to reconsider. Take along plenty of water and rain covers for your camera gear.
La Fortuna Town
Hotels and restaurants a-plenty. Gift shops of all sorts. There are even two chocolate shops. I found myself complaining about a $12 personal pizza but spent $16 on chocolate. My favorite was the beer flavored chocolate truffle at the place across from the park in the main square. I bought a whistle from a man on the street that had 5 different animal shapes on it and played it annoyingly all through dinner. I really felt like I was on vacation.
We found out about access to free hot springs from CR favorites Michael and D’Angelo of travelcostaricanow.com . The entrance to the naturally warm river is in between La Fortuna and the Observatory Lodge so it was easily added to our day. There are about 50 different places that want to sell you a day pass to get in the hot springs and enjoy their pricey bar when all you really need to do is stop at Mega-Super (grocery) fill your cooler and head towards the yellow gate on your left hand side about 3 km outside of town.
*Note to people heading from Limon using a GPS – There is a turn that is missing from the maps. Turn onto Route 4 from Guapiles. Do not head through San Jose first you will lose about an hour and a half.