By Shannon Farley, travel blog writer for Enchanting Costa Rica
You cannot get much closer to the famous Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica than at Arenal Observatory Lodge & Spa. The award-winning eco-lodge is perfectly positioned directly between the massive volcano and the glittering blue Lake Arenal. No other hotel in the tourist hotspot of La Fortuna and Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica comes as close to the live volcano and its beautiful lake.
Resting on a ridge across the deep gorge of the Agua Caliente River, Arenal Observatory Lodge & Spa is 1.7 miles from the south side of Arenal Volcano, although the 5,437 foot behemoth seems so close that you could reach out and touch it. The perfectly-shaped volcanic cone commands every view – from the floor-to-ceiling panoramic windows of the hotel restaurant to the main lodge buildings and many guest rooms. Look the opposite direction from the volcano, and beautiful Lake Arenal with its many little islands stretches west into the sunset. Tall, whispering pine trees swaying in the wind and luxuriant rainforest surround the eco-lodge in a blanket of green.
Unlike any other La Fortuna/Arenal area hotel, Arenal Observatory Lodge & Spa is uniquely located inside the Arenal Volcano National Park. The Aspinall family of Costa Rica purchased the 870-acre property, which was an abandoned cattle farm, in 1972 to grow macadamia trees, pine trees for electrical poles, and protect the remaining natural forest. At the time, the Costa Rican Electrical Institute (ICE) was building the hydroelectric dam to enlarge Lake Arenal; today, the hydroelectric plant is one of the country’s most important sources of electric energy. The 29,692 acre Arenal Volcano National Park was founded later in 1991.
In the 1970s, the Smithsonian Institution began keenly studying Arenal Volcano. The volcano once thought to simply be a mountain, suddenly erupted in 1968 after centuries of inactivity. It continued to be Costa Rica’s most active volcano until it entered into a resting phase in 2010 as part of its natural evolution.
The Aspinall family built four cabins in 1987 for Smithsonian scientists to use as a research station. The scientists felt that this property was an excellent place to study the volcano because it is safely situated to the south, away from the active vent on the volcano’s western side, and also is protected from any danger of lava eruptions by the gorge of the Agua Caliente River. Over the years, family friends and, later, tourists rented the cabins because it was such a beautiful natural spot. As tourism developed at Arenal Volcano, the lodge also grew and today is one of the finest eco-lodges in the area while still maintaining its close connection with nature.
The lodge is a 20-minute drive from the town of La Fortuna, and it is a blessing to be in peace and quiet away from the frantic hustle and bustle of tourism. Besides, there is so much to do here! Seven miles of well-marked and well-tended walking, mountain biking and horseback riding trails wind throughout the property through rainforest and verdant pastures. You also can hike to the top of the neighboring extinct volcano, Cerro Chato, and to several waterfalls. Bird-watching is fabulous with nearly 400 species identified around the lodge. Daily complimentary walks for guests are led by resident naturalist guides.
Close by are opportunities for more hiking, mountain biking, whitewater rafting, butterfly gardens, hanging bridges, canopy tours, and kayaking, stand-up paddling, boating and fishing on Lake Arenal.
Treat yourself to the area's most stunning views of Arenal Volcano and Lake Arenal at Arenal Observatory Lodge & Spa.