Located in northwestern Costa Rica, Lake Arenal is a large man-made lake that was created in the 1970s to provide hydroelectric power to the country. Since then, it has become a popular destination for tourists looking to enjoy the area’s natural beauty and a plethora of outdoor activities. In this blog post, we will explore the various activities to do in and around the turquoise waters of Lake Arenal, the wildlife you can expect to encounter, and the nearby towns of Nuevo Arenal, Tilaran, La Fortuna, and El Castillo.

The history of the Arenal area

The original town of Arenal, Costa Rica was situated on the northern shore of Lake Arenal, nestled in the verdant hills of the country’s northern region. This small, peaceful community was known for its agricultural production, particularly in the cultivation of coffee and cattle ranching. However, in the early 1970s, the Costa Rican government decided to construct a hydroelectric dam on the Arenal River, which flooded the surrounding valley and submerged the original town of Arenal under the waters of Lake Arenal. Today, visitors to the area can catch glimpses of the town’s remains during periods of low water levels, and can still witness the incredible natural beauty of the lake and its surroundings.

The rolling hills surrounding Lake Arenal are stunningly beautiful all year-round

The Peninsula Sector of Arenal National Park (lakeside)

The Peninsula Sector of Arenal National Park is a stunning area located on the eastern shore of Lake Arenal, in Costa Rica’s northern region. This part of the park is characterized by its lush tropical rainforest, breathtaking vistas of the surrounding lake and volcanoes, and abundance of wildlife. Visitors to the Peninsula Sector can take part in a range of activities, including hiking, wildlife spotting, and birdwatching. One of the main attractions of the park is the Arenal Volcano, which towers over the surrounding landscape and provides a dramatic backdrop for visitors to the area.

How to get to Lake Arenal

There are several ways to arrive at the lake from the international airports in Alajuela or Liberia. The easiest way is to rent a car. Every destination can easily be navigated by a GPS phone application, and the ride from Liberia offers stunning lake and mountain views for nearly an hour and a half.

On a clear day, the ride from Alajuela or San Jose offers magnificent volcano views, so you really can’t go wrong no matter where you are arriving from.

Alternatively, you can take a shuttle bus or private transfer from the airport to your destination in Lake Arenal. Regardless of which airport you arrive at, there are several transportation options available to get you to Lake Arenal and start enjoying all the natural beauty and activities the region has to offer.

Activities to do in and around Lake Arenal

One of the most popular activities to do at Lake Arenal is to go kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding. The lake is surrounded by lush forests and rolling hills, providing a stunning backdrop for your water activities. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also try windsurfing or kitesurfing, both of which are popular sports on the lake due to the steady winds that blow through the area.

For those who prefer to keep their feet on solid ground, there are plenty of hiking trails to explore in the surrounding hills. The Arenal Volcano National Park is a must-visit for hikers, as it offers some of the most breathtaking views of the volcano and the surrounding landscape. If you’re looking for something a little more relaxing, you can also take a boat tour of the lake and enjoy the scenery from a different perspective.

Wildlife around Lake Arenal

Costa Rica is known for its incredible biodiversity, and Lake Arenal is no exception. The lake is home to a variety of fish species, including rainbow bass and tilapia, which can be caught and released by visitors. You can also expect to see a variety of bird species, including toucans, parrots, and kingfishers. If you’re lucky, you may even spot a sloth or a howler monkey in the trees.

Quite possibly the most frequent wildlife encounter you will experience is the coatimundi or Pizote in Spanish. These furry creatures look a bit like a racoon and walk along the roads in packs looking for tourists to feed them.

Nearby towns

There are several towns located near Lake Arenal that are worth visiting.

Nuevo Arenal is a small town located on the northeastern shore of the lake. It has a laid-back atmosphere and is a great place to relax and take in the scenery. There are several very international restaurants and we consider Lake Arenal the culinary capital of all lakeside destinations

Tilaran is a non-touristic Tico town that offer great lake views, a cool climate and is known for its coffee plantations and artisanal cheese production. The nearby town of Puerto Luis has a small marina and offers lake catamaran rides that provide a different perspective on the lake’s coastal landscape.

The majestic waterfall in La Fortuna is a breathtaking place

La Fortuna is a popular tourist destination in Costa Rica known for its stunning natural attractions. One of the most popular attractions is the La Fortuna Waterfall, a 70-meter waterfall located in the middle of the rainforest. Visitors can hike down to the waterfall and take a refreshing swim in the natural pool at the base of the falls. Another popular attraction in La Fortuna is the hot springs. These natural hot springs are heated by the nearby Arenal Volcano and offer visitors a relaxing way to soak in the warm water while enjoying stunning views of the volcano and the surrounding landscape.

There are several hot springs resorts located in La Fortuna, each offering their own unique experience. Whether you’re looking for a peaceful, secluded soak or a more lively atmosphere with music and drinks, there is a hot springs resort in La Fortuna to suit your preferences.

Finally, El Castillo is a small village located on the southeastern shore of the lake. It is home to the Arenal Observatory Lodge, which offers stunning views of the volcano and the surrounding area. The lodge also has hiking trails and a butterfly garden for visitors to explore.

El Castillo is also a great launching point for jet skiing, paddle boarding, fishing, and other water sports!

El Castillo is the most remote (still just 25 minutes from La Fortuna) of the destinations we have mentioned in this post. There just a few restaurants in town including our recommendation, La Ventanita which offers both delicious bites and a view of the volcano that is second to none.

Being surrounded by so much forest makes you feel one with nature, El Castillo is our pick for the most tranquil town in this list.

In conclusion, Lake Arenal is a must-visit destination for anyone traveling to Costa Rica. With its stunning scenery, abundant wildlife, and a plethora of outdoor activities, there is something for everyone to enjoy. Whether you’re looking to relax and take in the scenery or get your adrenaline pumping with some water sports, Lake Arenal has it all. So why not add it to your travel itinerary and experience all that this beautiful region has to offer?


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