Far from the tourist center of La Fortuna, the village of El Castillo offers a more secluded place to view Costa Rica’s Arenal Volcano. Arenal Observatory Lodge, one of the few hotels on this side of the mountain, offers impressive views of the volcano, plus well-maintained hiking, horseback riding, and mountain-biking trails.
Built in 1987 as a Smithsonian Institution scientific research station, this sprawling complex was constructed atop a ridge just 1.7 miles (2.7 kilometers) from the crater, a safer location than La Fortuna from the lava and ash eruptions that rocked the region throughout the 1980s and ’90s. Today, Arenal is a quieter, though still active, volcano that can be viewed from Arenal Observatory’s restaurant and hotel.
Even when the mountain is veiled in mist, there’s still plenty to do on the Observatory’s vast grounds. You can explore 800 acres of rain forest, gardens, and farms on more than 7 miles (11 kilometers) of trails, some of which connect to Arenal National Park. The Observatory offers several guided treks, including special tours for birders, and many other activities and amenities.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Five rooms and some public areas are wheelchair-accessible, including bathrooms, hallways, and parking areas, and there is a paved wheelchair-friendly trail in the gardens and rain forest.
- The Arenal Volcano is in a dormant phase, with very little activity, and may continue to slumber for hundreds of years.
- Pack rain gear, hiking shoes or boots, a flashlight, plastic bags for wet gear, insect repellent, and binoculars.
How to Get There
The 5.6-mile (9-kilometer) dirt road from the turnoff to El Castillo is unpaved and can be rough, particularly in rainy season. If the weather’s been wet, ask about road conditions before driving there in a standard vehicle. However, taxis waiting at the La Fortuna bus stop are equipped to handle difficult road conditions. There is also a local shared shuttle between the lodge and La Fortuna.
When to Get There
The main gate to the hotel closes at 11pm. If you will arrive later than 11pm, you will need to contact reception. During the rainy season, you may experience brief heavy downpours with periods of clouds and sunshine from May to November. The dry season is December to April.
Baldi Hot Springs
A popular respite following a day of hiking, Baldi Hot Springs, which is located in La Fortuna at the base of the volcano, is a large resort with 25 pools of thermal water that are rich in minerals and are said to have healing properties. Lockers and towels are available on-site, and a buffet lunch is included in the admission price.