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.