We stayed for five nights/four days nights in January. Overall we were disappointed.
Firstly the hotel website says that standard rooms offer another way 'to enjoy a breathtaking view of the Arenal volcano and/or contemplate the beauty of the lake from your balcony'. Well our room (2) looked out into (pine) forest - not at all unpleasant, but dark and enclosed is not what they sell themselves on. There were two chairs outside our room front door, on the route from reception to other rooms and I guess if you sat there you would see the volcano , maybe that is what they meant? The room itself was large, clean and very comfortable with a safe and coffee maker. However it was a bit damp and airless when it came to gettiing anything dry.
The observation deck (10 second walk from our room) is stunning - you walk in to a jaw dropping view of the volcano and turn the corner to see an equally stunning one of the lake. Neither of these can be faulted but what was less great was the large number of external groups coming in at all times of the day to see the view and robbing us of any sense of privilege or privacy as guests. It is not a place you are likley to get a relaxing evening glass of wine in peace. I did not like it as a resident but if you are in the area I recommend this visiting as the best way to enjoy the fabulous location.
The pool was lovely and generally deserted (people told me it was too cold but it suited me), walks in the grounds were nice, the gardens were beautiful. We saw plenty of birds and butterflies everywhere as well as monkeys (howler and white faced), coatis, squirrels and agoutis, and frogs. However as we did not have a car, two or three days would have been plenty - one or two to hike the trails and one to do Cerro Chatto. Most of the trails are in the open farm area rather than primary forest.
Cerro Chatto is very eroded and a quite steep 1500m long climb up but I see no reason why anyone would want to pay $35pp for a guide (we didn't but the hotel 'strongly recommends' suggesting that it is for wellbeing rather than enhanced interesting nuggets). Sure a few people miss the turn off the farm track first time, but you realise quickly. Once on your way up you simply cannot go wrong, the path at the top is muddy and there is a signposted option of walking through to La Fortuna. There is also the option to slither down a very steep muddy route to the water, but you are not going to get lost.
The main reason we came away feeling unhappy was that we felt ripped off. With no car and not much spending money we could only really eat at the hotel. Boring or poor food is almost acceptable if it is affordable, high prices are OK if the food is lovely, but apart from breakfast - which was absolutely fine - the food was overpriced and seriously under interesting, varying between just one meal that was fine (nicely-cooked fish) but still expensive - about $20, to pretty foul (pasta in white sauce served with fried bread, overcooked fish etc). Such a massive disappointment and galling. The ingredients were there the cook just did not seem to care, and you got the impression that the hotel felt itself rather more superior than it was. And that ties into the second disappointment: with three notable exceptions, Eric at the bar, Jonathan in the restaurant and Lionel on reception, we often found the staff unhelpful and aloof - and sometimes rude (particularly the receptionist on the morning we left).
I think we paid $95 for our standard room but not sure as it was booked through an agent. It was part of a 5.5 week trip and looked like the most upmarket place on our itinery - we had been seriously looking forward to it and were so pleased when we first arrived and went out to the observation deck. The location is great but it's simply not enough: overall it is over-rated, and impersonal and the restaurant is a rip off. I wish we had stayed somewhere else - or spent just a night. We stayed in nine places and this is the only one I would not be happy to return to.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Situated only 1.7 Miles from the majestic Arenal Volcano and with a spectacular view of Lake Arenal, the Arenal Observatory Lodge (AOL) offers guests the opportunity to DISCOVER, EXPLORE and RELAX. Located within the Arenal Conservation Area and surrounded by rainforests and nature, AOL sits on an 870 acres property, which consists of 400 acres of reforestation, 270 acres of natural forest and 200 acres of cultivated land. The hotel offers 48 comfortable rooms surrounded by gardens, the majority with a direct view of the volcano and/or the forest. The 7 miles of well-maintained trails for walking, horseback riding or biking running through the property provide good opportunities to observe a variety of flora and fauna. Approximately 500 species of birds live in the area making AOL a preferred destination for bird watchers. Activities at the hotel include hikes to the waterfall or to explore Cerro Chato (an extinct volcano with a small lake in the crater), horseback riding, bicycling through the trails, enjoying a refreshing swim in our pool, or simply relaxing with a massage in our SPA. The hotel is well located to serve as a base for a variety of excursions such as the Cano Negro Nature Refuge, hot springs, Venado Caves, Canopy Tours, Arenal Hanging Bridges, Fishing, White Water Rafting, Canyoning, Biking etc. It also serves as a very interesting stop before heading on to Monteverde Cloud Forest or to the beaches of the Pacific coast. Arenal Observatory Lodge is the perfect place for adventure lovers, families, and honeymooners. With its spectacular location, great service, and friendly personnel you won't be disappointed ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- Arenal Observatory Hotel La Fortuna De San Carlos
- Arenal Observatory Lodge & Spa Costa Rica/Arenal Volcano National Park