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Lake Arenal, Costa Rica

Great Destination:

Value for Money:

Total Stars:

Personality Types that Like it Best

Did You Know … ?

  • Lake Arenal’s dam produces 35% of Costa Rica’s electric energy.
  • The now-quiescent Arenal volcano began erupting regularly in 1968 after a 400-year hiatus.
  • Arenal (the town) was relocated because the original site was flooded by the Arenal Dam.
  • Costa Rica has 112 volcanoes, of which five are active.
  • Fifty-eight percent of the country’s bird species can be found in the Arenal park area.

A lake and its environs

Lake Arenal, in northern Costa Rica and at the heart of a popular tourist area, is largely a manmade affair, dating from construction of the Arenal Dam in 1979. The lake, the country’s largest at 33 square miles, offers options for several kinds of activities, including boating, fishing, kayaking and windsurfing. Indeed it is renowned as a windsurfer’s destination.

Better yet, the lake is surrounded by green pastures, rain forests and an important park — the nearly 30,000-acre Arenal Volcano National Park. The park’s centerpiece is, clearly, the Arenal volcano, which had been one of the world’s most active, allowing most tourists to count on seeing an eruption no matter when they visited as long as they hung around for at least 24 hours.

In 2010, this natural wonder fell dormant, but visitors still come to the area and even climb sections of the volcano for reasons other than a desire to see a fiery mountain. Those other reasons range from hot mineral springs and spas to activities associated with the area’s wildlife (especially, birds), the forests, rivers and rugged terrain.

The area is most appealing to venturesome travelers, no doubt a reflection of that terrain and the kinds of activities on offer. Besides windsurfing and climbing the Arenal volcano to look at old lava fields, options include canopy tours on a zipline, ambitious hikes, kiteboarding, mountain biking and whitewater rafting.

Some travelers in the middle of the personality scale give the area good ratings, too. They, as do the adventurous, like hiking, horseback riding and relaxing on the lake in a kayak.

Other things appeal across the personality spectrum. The Lake Arenal area is called a bird-watcher’s paradise, for example.

In addition, just about everyone — from the most active person (who needs to come down from all the action, after all) to the most laidback — likes a nice soak in hot mineral springs. Volcano-heated waters, diverted into pools, make that kind of treat possible.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Go windsurfing on Lake Arenal, considered one of the best places to pursue this sport. Kiteboarding is an option, too.
  • Swing across the trees from platform to platform in Arenal Volcano National Park on a zipline. It’s the thrilling way to do a nature tour.
  • Follow a hiking trail, starting near the Arenal Observatory Lodge, to the extinct Chato volcano (last eruption: 5,000 years ago). Its lopsided crater holds a small lake. Hike on the Arenal volcano, too.
  • Tour the area surrounding Lake Arenal by horseback or mountain bike, or put on the hiking boots and hoof it.
  • Donate a day to a wild animal rescue shelter, Proyecto Asis, near the volcano. Projects for volunteers can include feeding rescued animals (which include caimans and wild boars), repairing trails, painting, planting trees or repairing cages.
  • Recharge on a whitewater rafting trip on the Balsa or Toro river, near the Arenal volcano.

Things to do for Centrics

  • There are hanging bridges in Arenal Volcano National Park. Walk across one or more.
  • Take a guided hike in the park, and stop for a swim in the park’s crystal-clear waterfalls.
  • Take a low-adrenalin canopy tour, meaning a slow ride on a tree canopy aerial tram.
  • Get out on the lake, in a kayak.
  • Try a new and easy paddle sport, called stand up paddle (SUP). For this, you stand on a wide, buoyant surfboard and use a long paddle to get around. Take lessons on Lake Arenal.
  • Take a guided horseback ride up the Arenal volcano for a closer look at lava from past eruptions. Or travel on horseback to La Fortuna waterfall.

Things to do for Authentics

  • If a birder, stay at the Arenal Observatory Lodge, which is ideally situated for spotting a wide variety of birds — even if you merely watch for birds at feeders.
  • Fish for rainbow bass in Lake Arenal.
  • Relax over a good meal in one of the nice restaurants found in the better hotels.
  • Use the spa facilities in your resort/lodge.
  • Also, make time for a soak in the mineral pools at Tabacon Hot Springs, located between the town of La Fortuna and Lake Arenal.
  • Photograph the perfectly shaped cone atop the Arenal volcano.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Costa Rica Tourism Board at