If you could paint a volcano in the richest colours imaginable and surround it with idealised tropical rainforest interspersed with birds and flowers of all the colours of the rainbow you wouldn’t be far from imagining Arenal Volcano. Hot water rivers flow from the flanks of the perfectly conical volcano feeding hot springs, whilst forests and rivers play host to every activity under the sun.
It sounds like paradise but alas, the secret is out and Arenal is a very busy and touristy spot with large resorts and a host of tourist activities and attractions. So, should you include Arenal on your Costa Rica holiday? In our minds, Arenal is not a must see, but if you want an injection of fun in your trip, with loads of activities and the biggest and best zip lines, are fascinated by volcanoes or you simply can’t resist the allure of a hot spring then go for it and you’ll love it.
The best hotel in town is Nayara a high quality resort that hides its scale well amidst beautiful gardens and a number of chic little restaurants. Even so, it does feel ever so incongruous in a country renowned for eco tourism and small eco lodges. For somewhere a little simpler in a more natural setting (and a lot cheaper), Arenal Observatory is a good option set within the national park itself. Casa Luna is another lovely good value 3* option with simple rooms but lovely views of Arenal from the pool and hot tubs. We tend to avoid Tabacon (both the hotel and hot springs) as it is just too busy.
In terms of activities, our highlights include the skytrek zipwire, the hanging bridges and a hike in the Arenal National Park. This is also a good place to go rafting if you are not headed to Pacuare. The skytrek zipwire is a serious concern with a huge visitor centre with restaurant and a total of 7 zip lines covering a massive distance in a zig zag over a vertiginous canyon. This particular zipwire is not recommended for those who are scared of heights or young kids who don’t like to be out of their comfort zone.
Arenal gets extremely busy during peak periods especially during spring break and the first two weeks of July when Costa Rican and US school Holidays coincide.