A beautiful, easy 3.5 hour drive from the airport (via San Ramon) on roads that were in great shape. Based on all the reviews we read we tried to upgrade our compact to a small 4-wheel drive, but they didn't have one available...and that ended up being OK (even for the long, steep and in places rough) driveway to the lodge from the highway.
We booked a standard room, but got a free up-grade to a Junior Suite that was not "luxurious" but was clean, comfortable, and fully outfitted with everything we needed. Expect to be awaken early by an amazing symphony of bird songs (that began about 4:45). The first night we left our windows open and it was REALLY loud. Closing the windows lessens the volume, but earplugs are necessary if you really don't want to hear the chorus. We enjoyed waking up with the birds so just dampened the volume by shutting the windows.
The staff at Arenal Lodge made our stay memorable. The highlights of our 3 day stay centered around the activities on the property lead by "Miguel." We did a nature hike with him (8:15 am most days) that was fascinating as he interpreted the natural and cultural history of the area. We saw lots of interesting wildlife (e.g., howler monkeys, birds, insects, and a couple of posionous snakes) on the hike. The 2-3 hour hike was well worth the investment of our time. We also enjoyed a horseback ride that he led. They purposely keep the group size small on the horseback rides so there is a pretty good chance that your group will have a "private tour." Miguel made sure that my wife who is afraid of horses and hasn't riden much had a really gentle horse. She wasn't sure she was up to the trip, but ended up really enjoying it as we got out to see more wildlife (including a sloth, and a really large non-posionous snake) and learn more about the area and Miguel's life. Trips offered by local tour operators are relatively expensive, so if you are on a budget take advantage of these free offerings from Arenal Lodge...and give Miguel a nice tip!
We too found the food at the Lodge resturant to be good. They have a diverse dinner menu. The food was prepared and presented well. The prices are about what you'd expect to pay in the US for comparable food...and not so different from what you will find eating out in most places in La Fortuna. A buffet breakfast was included with our package. Make to order omeletes (make sure you specify how many eggs you want or you will end up with a huge omelete), and a variety of breads, hot dishes (vegetables, always rice and beans, etc...) cereal, pancakes, fresh fruit and juices make for a nice start to the day. There is some variety to what is offered each day. If you can, get a table next to the back window where you can watch birds come into feeders. We brought our binoculars to breakfast each day to enjoy the amazing show!
The maids did a great job with the rooms -- everyday arranging our clean towels in creative animal shapes. We've seen a lot of that in our travels, but not as creative as we saw at Arenal Lodge.
There is free wifi in the main lodge (reception/front desk and resturant areas) that made it convenient to keep in touch. If you don't want to haul your laptop or tablet or smart phone with you there are also a couple of personal computers available for your free use. I found the internet connection to be pretty slow so don't count on being able to download large documents/pictures, etc...
Others have commented on how remote this Lodge is. They are right. It's about a 20-25 minute drive into La Fortuna where there are a ton of resturants, banks, etc... That said, the remoteness was part of what we most appreciated about Arenal Lodge -- quiet, peaceful and not over-run with tourist activity.
The only other tip I would offer is to bring a small flashlight to help you navigate the property at night. The walkways and stairs are poorly lit on a property that is rather large and spread out.
In terms of area activities that we particularly enjoyed: the Butterfly Conservatory in El Castillio and the hike into Fortuna Falls were both fantastic. Finding the road to the trail-head to Fortuna Falls was a challenge...but worth figuring out. (Once you get to the falls most folks hang out around the plunge pool immediately below the falls, but there are better swimming holes and privacy just downstream.) The best deal on good food in La Fortuna is at Soda La Parado which sits on the main drag in town across from Parque Central. They have a large and diverse menu -- we had everything from traditional food to Pizza and it was all excellent.
We spent the first half our visit to Costa Rica in the Arenal Volcano area and the second half on the Pacific Coast -- two totally different experiences. We most enjoyed our time at Arenal Lodge!
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Arenal Lodge provides guests with the excitement of staying in an authentic rainforest lodge with breathtaking panoramic views of Costa Rica’s famous Arenal Volcano and Lake Arenal. Guests will enjoy a casual and relaxed rustic lodge setting with the added value of a complimentary breakfast daily. Located on 2000-acres of beautiful tropical rainforest, the lodge is situated near Arenal Volcano National Park. The lodge is surrounded by rainforest - housing hundreds of exotic birds, small animals and the beautiful tropical flowers and trees of Costa Rica. and is it's own local tourist attraction due to its exclusive location with breathtaking panoramic views of Arenal Volcano and Lake Arenal. The lodge features a full service restaurant with local and international cuisine, gift shop, three heated outdoor Jacuzzi's, an infinite edge swimming pool, walking trails, a butterfly garden, horseback riding, a game-room and outdoor playground for children, fitness room, sauna, and free wireless high speed internet access.Guest rooms and suites feature cable TV, telephone, coffee maker, clock radio, and all have private baths. Complimentary crib and wheel chair are available on request. ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- Arenal Hotel La Fortuna De San Carlos
- Arenal Lodge Costa Rica/Arenal Volcano National Park