Arenal is famous for its volcano, set in a National Park, and the huge Lake Arenal. The area is around 3.5 hours north west from San Jose and is well worth the trip. Around 1.5 hours south of Arenal is the Monteverde cloud forest which is a great place to learn about Costa Rica’s eco systems.
On this leg of our journey (our route was San Jose – Poas Volcano/Tortuguero – Arenal/Monteverde – Manuel Antonio – Osa Peninsular), we stayed at the Nayara Lodge hotel in Arenal which was wonderful and included a jacuzzi on our balcony. The restaurant, Amor Loco, was also great with indulgent velvet armchairs! We then stayed at Trapp Lodge in Monteverde which was a cosy place to stay.
The highlights of our Arenal and Monteverde visits were:
ONE. Arenal hanging bridges
The hanging bridges are spectacular and give beautiful views out over the wet and misty rainforest which is full of moss, orchids and cheeseplants growing naturally in the wild. We spotted howler and spider monkeys, snails, poison frogs, leaf cutter ants, a mot mot bird and various hummingbirds. We recommend doing this with a guide, to make the most of the wildlife.
TWO. Arenal Volcano
Our hotel looked out on to the volcano which made an impressive back drop to our Arenal activities. The volcano used to be Costa Rica’s most active, but is now in a dormant phase. You can still hike the lava walks around the volcano though, as well as discover the nearby waterfalls and volcanic hot springs.
THREE. Jungle ziplining
Jungle zip-lining was quite the experience. We went on a tour with Sky Adventures and had an excellent time! On arrival we were given helmets and strapped in to our special belts then given some basic instructions about what (not) to do. Then we went up the mountain by steep cable car which carried us over the tree canopy to the first zip line which was a short practice wire. The practice zip line was cleverly set up so that we could not see the first ‘proper’ zip line just round the corner. When we saw the first proper zip line we all gulped: it vanishes in to the distance and you cannot even see the end of it. Our guides were brilliant though, cheering us all on.
After the first shaky landing our nerves started to settle so that as we zig zagged our way back down the mountainside via long zip lines we began to regard ourselves as experts. The views were magnificent (once relaxed enough to enjoy them!)
If ziplining isn’t your thing, then you could also try abseiling or white water rafting, which are also both offered in the area.
At the end of our visit, we felt we could have stayed longer and explored more of the area. We preferred Arenal to Poas Volcano and would perhaps recommend forgoing Poas for more time at Arenal.
FOUR. Monteverde quaker museum and cheese factory
The Quakers settled in Monteverde during the time of the Korean War (1950s) and are determined to preserve the area’s natural beauty and biodiversity. They need some tourists but do not wish to be overrun by them. There is therefore no government investment in road building here and the area is thus more natural than built up areas such as Arenal. There is an on-site potter at the museum where the potter makes pots from local clay inspired by the ancient artefacts dug up locally. The clay is coloured red, black and brown from local minerals so the pots are entirely locally produced.
The Quaker cheese factory had AMAZING local ice cream and we watched cheese being made.
FIVE. Nature walks
We visited the Curi Cancha Nature Reserve, which is part of the cloud forest, and were able to go at our own pace and follow our own route without the need for a guide. We saw a beautiful blue and red birds, a spider monkey family, incredible strangler fig trees and lots of hummingbirds.
We also did a guided walk in the Monteverde Reserve. This part of the area was much busier and we were a bit surprised at the number of tour guides. On this walk we saw a variety of birds, lots of toucans and the legendary Quetzal bird.
Thanks for reading! I hope this was helpful to learn about Costa Rica. Check out my other posts on Poas Volcano & Tortuguero, Manuel Antonio and The Osa Peninsular if you’re planning to visit the country to help plan your itinerary.