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Arenal


Arenal Volcano, rain forests, monkeys, birds, & butterflies

Lake Arenal, hot springs, lava flow, Santa Elena, & Tilajari

Plants, epiphytes, insects, humming birds, & coatimundi

Canopy tours, hanging bridges, sky walks, & zip-lines

Arenal Observatory Lodge

Picture of Arenal Volcano erupting at night.

Arenal Volcano erupting at night (picture is a time espouser).

Tours

We use the best tour operator to book all kinds of tours to Costa Rica, including independent tours and packages. If you have a group we can design a tour for your group. Check with us for details or for other information. Please contact us to book your travel. We book travel worldwide. Check out our Special Promotions.

Regions of Costa Rica

Costa Rica can be broken down into a number of regions or specific destinations. You can start with an overview of Costa Rica. For specific details of a region or destination choose the one of interest. There is the Central Region, which includes San Jose and the Central Valley, and features the Poas Volcano and the La Paz Waterfall Gardens. San Jose area hotels are found on a separate web page. Hotels at other destinations are reviewed with a specific destination's web page. To the north of San Jose is Arenal where you find the spectacular Arenal volcano, and Monteverde where the very impressive Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is located. Tortuguero is found in the eastern part of Costa Rica on the Caribbean Sea. There you see great wildlife from boats in rivers and canals. The region in the northwest adjoining the Pacific Ocean is Guanacaste. This is where you find popular beaches and the beach town of Tamarindo. This is the driest part of Costa Rica. The Central Pacific region includes the Jaco area and the near by Carara National Park. The Central Pacific also includes Manuel Antonio and the very popular Manuel Antonio National Park. In the southwest region on the Pacific coast is the Corcovado National Park. It is in a remote location, but is a great place to visit. Contact Us for more information.

Tilajari

Toucan at Tilajari.

Toucan at Tilajari.


Lizard at Tilajari.

Jesus Christ Lizard at Tilajari.

Tilajari is located south of Lake Arenal, and is a possible jumping off point to visit the Arenal Volcano and nearby attractions. However there is much to see at Arenal, and there is an advantage to staying close to the volcano. While at Tilajari we saw the beautiful Toucan pictured at the top of this page and the very interesting Jesus Christ lizard pictured above. It was also an opportunity to see a macaw up close, as seen in the picture with Jeff below.

Nature guide Jeff holding a Macaw.

Naturalist guide Jeff holding a macaw at Tilajari.

Arenal Volcano

One of the most important places to visit in Costa Rica is the Arenal Volcano National Park, which includes the volcano, Lake Arenal, and rain forests. Arenal Volcano has a height of 5,328 feet (1,624 meters) and is the most active volcano in Costa Rica and one of the most active volcanoes in the world. In 1968 there was an eruption that killed about 100 people. Today the volcano is closely monitored by scientists, and if there is any indication of an eruption the area would be evacuated.

On one of our trips to Arenal the volcano was erupting about every two hours. You hear an enormous bang, and stuff comes flying out of the top. This is very exciting! The most impressive time to view eruptions of the volcano is after dark. Then you can see big red hot blocks of lava flying out of the top and molten lava going down the sides. The picture at the top of this page of Arenal Volcano erupting was taken by Jeff Otico, an outstanding naturalist guide and photographer. This picture is a time exposure, and each arc defines the trajectory of a big block thrown out of the volcano. Unfortunately, the volcano is sometimes covered by clouds, and then you hear the eruptions but cannot see them. Also, at times the volcano is silent with no eruptions.

Hot Springs

A hot spring with water heated by Arenal Volcano.

Eco Thermal hot springs with water heated by Arenal Volcano.

Hot spring water, which is water heated by the volcano, is found in a number of places where you can swim or simply rest in the water. Places to consider include the Tabacon Hot Springs and the Eco Thermal Hot Springs, pictured above. This is a very relaxing way to spend an evening, and we have spent time in both springs.

Wildlife & Nature Walk

Inspecting lava from eruptions at Arenal Volcano.

Inspecting lava from eruptions at Arenal Volcano.


Nature guide Jimmy leading group on a nature walk.

Nature guide Jimmy leading group on a nature walk.

The primary reason for going to Arenal is the volcano, especially when it is active. But there is an abundance of wildlife there too. Birds that you might see include hummingbirds, kingfishers, woodpeckers, parrots and toucans. There are also mammals, reptiles, and insects. Expect to see and especially hear lots of monkeys. They do get up early, and howler monkeys are heard in the early mornings through the jungle. You can take a nice nature trail through the rain forest that leads to the volcano where you can inspect old lava flows as shown in a picture above. You want to do this with a qualified naturalist guide so you will know where to go and more importantly not to go. Several people walked on the slope of the volcano a number of years ago and were killed during an eruption. They had gone into an area where they were not supposed to be, ignoring warning signs. Naturalist guide Jimmy, holding the tripod, was leading our group shown in the picture above.

Arenal hanging bridge.

Arenal hanging bridge.

Howler monkey seen from hanging bridge.

Howler monkey seen from the hanging bridge.

There is a nature trail that takes you through the Arenal hanging bridges, which provide a view of wildlife at tree-top level in their natural habitat. The walks alternate between paths at ground level and on the hanging bridges. The Arenal Hanging Bridges tour is great for viewing plants, birds, and animals. The tour is both interesting and exciting, especially when you encounter monkeys. If there are no clouds you get a good view of the Arenal Volcano from some of the hanging bridges. I was presented with a photo opportunity from the hanging bridge pictured above. A howler monkey was high in a tree a short distance away and swinging through the air. As you can see I got its picture. You often see beautiful wildflowers like the one pictured below. From time to time you see leaf-cutting ants. They work very hard taking small pieces of a leaf and carrying the pieces away. In the picture below they have pretty much removed the leafs they were working on.

Flower seen on nature walk.

Flower seen on nature walk.


Leaf cutting ants seen on nature walk.

Leaf cutting ants seen on Arenal nature walk.

Arenal Lake

Near the volcano is the man-made Lake Arenal. This is Costa Rica's largest lake, and due to prevalent winds the lake is a popular place for windsurfing. You can also go boating, fishing, and kayaking. If you are going from Arenal to Monteverde you can shorten the trip by going by boat across the lake. The alternative is to be driven around the lake, which takes quite a bit longer.

Zip-line tours

There are zip-line (canopy) tours where you attach yourself to a zip line and glide through the air from one tree platform to another. Such tours are very popular and quite thrilling to many people. However, a word of caution is in order. Zip-line tours can be dangerous, and a few people have been killed on them in Costa Rica. It is important to realize that the Costa Rican government does not regulate zip-line tours. As a result, we only recommend zip-line tours that meet certain standards verified independently by the ground tour operator in Costa Rica. If you take a zip-line tour you must assume the risk, and it is very important that you follow instructions. Fortunately, the vast majority of people that do zip-line tours experience no problems.

Other things to do

In the Arenal area there are other things to do including horseback riding, white water rafting, kayaking, and rappelling.

Lodging at Arenal

Arenal Observatory Lodge

Arenal Observatory Lodge.

Arenal Observatory Lodge. Volcano behind Lodge is nearly hidden by the clouds.

A number of hotels in the area have rooms for viewing the volcano. The closest hotel to the volcano is the Arenal Observatory Lodge, which was built for Smithsonian research scientists in 1987 to study the volcano. Scientists from all over the world have gone there to do research on the volcano. The Arenal Observatory Lodge, pictured above, is the only hotel located within the Arenal National Park. The lodge has been greatly expanded since the early days, and it is only about 1 mile (1 1/2 kilometers) from the volcano. Even though it is quite close you need not worry as lava is not thrown towards the lodge. Some of the rooms have big picture windows facing the volcano, see pictures below, and you can lie in bed at night and during an eruption if there is no cloud cover you can view the spectacular show unfolding before you. The dining room at the Arenal Observatory Lodge also has a great view of the volcano. A number of room types are offered including standard, Smithsonian, and junior suites. We prefer the Smithsonian rooms, which have the big picture windows facing the volcano. The large restaurant is a pleasant place for meals and for meeting others staying at the lodge. The lodge also has a pool, seen below. If you spend the night in the Arenal Observatory Lodge you will very likely wake up to the sounds of howler monkeys in the morning.

Room at Arenal Observatory Lodge.

Room at the Lodge with view of Arenal Volcano.


Pool at Arenal Obversatory Lodge.

Pool at Arenal Observatory Lodge.

Regions of Costa Rica

Costa Rica can be broken down into a number of regions or specific destinations. You can start with an overview of Costa Rica. For specific details of a region or destination choose the one of interest. There is the Central Region, which includes San Jose and the Central Valley, and features the Poas Volcano and the La Paz Waterfall Gardens. San Jose area hotels are found on a separate web page. Hotels at other destinations are reviewed with a specific destination's web page. To the north of San Jose is Arenal where you find the spectacular Arenal volcano, and Monteverde where the very impressive Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is located. Tortuguero is found in the eastern part of Costa Rica on the Caribbean Sea. There you see great wildlife from boats in rivers and canals. The region in the northwest adjoining the Pacific Ocean is Guanacaste. This is where you find popular beaches and the beach town of Tamarindo. This is the driest part of Costa Rica. The Central Pacific region includes the Jaco area and the near by Carara National Park. The Central Pacific also includes Manuel Antonio and the very popular Manuel Antonio National Park. In the southwest region on the Pacific coast is the Corcovado National Park. It is in a remote location, but is a great place to visit. Contact Us for more information.

 

Photo of erupting volcano by Jeff Otico. Remaining photos by Sunny Breeding. We sell prints and images.