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Guide to Lake Arenal and The Rainforest, Costa Rica

Guide to Lake Arenal: Two days staying here and exploring the rainforest.

Lake Arenal was our first stop on a 2 week trip to Costa Rica and Panama. Here is a Guide to Lake Arenal, the volcano, the rainforest and hot springs.

arenal costa rica

General Information on Lake Arenal, Costa Rica

Where is Lake Arenal?

Situated in the Northern Highlands of Costa Rica, Lake Arenal is a serene freshwater lake surrounded by green, picturesque landscapes and is home to an active volcano. It's about a 3 hour drive from San Jose airport and it's the perfect stop after a long flight.

We had a lot of beaches planned for our trip over the 2 weeks so wanted to do something to start with that wasn't just that. Lake Arenal spans approximately 33 square miles, making it the country's largest inland body of water. The lake and volcano are surrounded by thousands of acres of Arenal National Park which is full of stunning green scenery, nature and wildlife.

How do you get to Lake Arenal from San Jose Airport?

As we weren't going back to the airport, we didn't want to pick a hire car up from the airport (and have to drop it back there), so instead we got a private transfer. The private transfer was great as we booked it in advance, the driver was waiting for us at the airport when we arrived and it was also nice to relax rather than worrying about driving when we were tired from our long flight.

We booked our transfer through Desafio Adventure Company and cost around $140 USD for 3 of us. The journey is about 123km, which took around 2.5 hours and had scenic views.

They send you detailed instructions on exactly where to meet the driver (who waited at the airport with a sign for us) and he drove us to our AirBnB in Lake Arenal. You also provide your flight details so if you are delayed, they are aware.

How do you get around Lake Arenal?

Everything in Arenal is quite far apart and with little to no public transport, the best way to get around is to hire a car. We hired a car and picked it up in La Fortuna which is the main town in Arenal. I was slightly apprehensive about driving around Costa Rica, but the roads weren't busy in Arenal/La Fortuna and it was great as we were able to do everything that the area had to offer.

Lake Arenal Costa Rica

Where to Stay in Arenal

The views of the volcano and the lake are stunning, so we got an AirBnB that overlooked the water. As everything in the area is very spread out, you could stay anywhere if you have a car. Otherwise the nearest town is Nuevo Arenal which has restaurants, shops and bars.

arenal costa rica

Things to do in Arenal

We were only in Arenal for 2 nights so wanted to make the most of all the area had to offer and would recommend these two things specifically:

1. Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges

One of the biggest draws of coming to Costa Rica was so experience see the amazing wildlife it has to offer. Mistico is made up of 3km of walkways and suspended bridges, giving you the ultimate experience of this Costa Rican rainforest from above. I really don't like heights so was feeling apprehensive about it, but I loved it. There are 16 bridges and about 6 of them are hanging.

The walk is self-guided (you can't get lost if you stick to the path) so you can spend as long or as little as you like doing the route. We did it in about an hour, but you can take as long as you like. The weather was quite rainy, as well as being humid so bring waterproof stuff and prepare to get wet!

Whilst doing the walk we saw so many variety of plants as well lots of species of bird, frogs and snakes. We also saw howling monkeys (you can hear them before you see them)! If you are lucky you can also see pumas, jaguars and tapirs.

mistico hanging bridges costa rica

2. Go Swimming at Tabacon Hot Springs

The perfect relaxation after trekking around the rainforest is to visit a hot springs spa. There are many spas you can visit, but we went for Tabacon Hot Springs.

Tabacon is a luxury hotel in Arenal that offers day guests an opportunity to use the hot pools that are naturally heated by Arenal Volcano. There are several different pools in Tabacon and all are different temperatures, so it's nice to move around them. There is a really nice large outdoor pool with a slide which is has sunloungers around for relaxation, as well as an area with different level pools and waterfalls.

We got a day pass to use all the facilities and these are different prices.

tabacon spings costa rica

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