In my opinion, Arenal deserves a massive asterix in the guidebook as a must visit location on any Costa Rican itinerary.
One of the major draw cards of Costa Rica is its spectacular volcanoes & Arenal Volcano was Costa Rica’s most active volcano until 1998…In those days, visitors could have an incredible view of red lava spilling over the sides of the crater.
Nowadays, the volcano has been declared dormant, however, with rainforests, waterfalls and the country’s largest lake, there are plenty of interesting and adventurous activities to do in the area.
Of course, an area this rich in natural beauty that offers exhilarating experiences attracts many-a-visitor. What excites us the most about a place with lots of tourists???? Hotels…glorious, luxurious, plush-robed hotels! In Arenal, the hotel calibre is definitely up there. In fact, in 2016, Trip Advisor named Arenal’s Nayara Springs the number one hotel in the WORLD!
During my time in Arenal, I was lucky enough to visit the top properties & sample some pretty incredible sights, so here is my pick on what to see & do on your visit…..
Where to Stay?
This one is at the top of my list on purpose. It is incredible. From the moment you arrive, expect to be completely taken care of. The person who meets you at your car is known as your host. Your host will also check you in, get to know your plans, escort you by buggy to your room, show you around your suite and give you his phone number along with a sincere urge to reach out for anything you need during your stay.
You can expect this expert-level hospitality to continue during the course of your stay….I’m serious, arm yourself to be ‘wowed’ at any given moment. For example, they somehow picked up that it was my mother’s birthday during our stay & to our delight, on our return from dinner one evening, our suite was decorated beautifully with balloons, rose petals and complimentary champagne chilling in the ice bucket. Sweeeeet!
On the next evening, we informed our host that we were watching a movie in our suite and he sent us popcorn and extra snuggly blankets – thoughtful much? Oh and FYI, if you want to drink every drop of champagne in the room and proceed to call all your friends around the world, it wont cost you a cent as phone calls are free of charge too, just saying!
I simply loved the amount of little freebies that were included at The Nayara. Normally when you stay somewhere this elegant you have to be careful about spending because things tend to be staggeringly overpriced. At the Nayara Springs they include complimentary minibar (including beer and sparkling wine), free laundry and ironing service on demand (LOVED this) and breakfast is included at either the sophisticated al la carte restaurant or the extensive buffet in their sister property the Nayara Gardens.
The exquisite dining doesn’t stop at breakfast. Actually, the dining and service at this hotel was the best I’ve experienced anywhere in Costa Rica. Honestly, you need not set foot outside the resort if you are looking for tasty, inventive food with 5 star service. There are 4 evening dining options at the hotel and you can have whatever tickles your fancy; from a simple (yet delicious) sushi roll to a sophisticated, five course tasting menu with matching wines. My personal favourite was the colourful Asia Luna restaurant. I urge you to try the Nayara roll & the sesame roasted beef tenderloins (writing this is torture)!
The villas themselves are sinuously luxurious yet somehow perfectly homely at the same time. I loved the four poster king bed, the private plunge pool fed by natural spring water and the oversized, hot outdoor shower. Heaven.
The Springs Resort and Spa
With so many hotel heavyweights in the region, I hadn’t heard too much about The Springs Resort & Spa until we checked in however, from the moment we arrived, the Springs delivered…big time!
The drive into the resort is unforgettable…a perfect, windy driveway lined by lush vegetation escorts you all the way to the elevated reception area where, weather permitting, you can sneak your first peak at the spectacular Arenal volcano! In fact, the hotel is structured in such a way that EVERY room has a view of the volcano….genius.
After check-in, welcome drink in one hand, baby in the other, we were escorted by golf buggy to our room. We booked a ‘vista guest room’ which didn’t sound too fancy so we were delighted to find an extremely spacious room with a plush king bed and a private terrace looking out over the dense rainforest and of course, the volcano. My favourite part about the room was the impressively deep, jacuzzi bathtub. It was just perfect to relax in after a long day exploring Arenal.
Okay, so we have; grounds TICK, room TICK, view TICK, but I haven’t even gotten to the best bit. The property is home to 28 natural hot springs all varying in temperature. You might be thinking shocker given the name, but these hot springs are actually rated the BEST in the area. This is due to the high level of bicarbonates making them the most therapeutic waters around. We spent one blissful morning (while the baby napped) ‘spring hopping,’ enjoying the tranquil noises of the rainforest and waiting for the clouds to part so we could glimpse the volcano.
The last thing I will mention about the Springs is that it offers sooooo much to do on site. Within the resort itself, you can experience horseback riding, kayaking, tubing, rock climbing and visit their wonderful animal sanctuary. It is here that I saw my first sloths and a beautiful toucan landed on my arm!!
All in all, the resort is perfect for a conference, romantic escape or the family vacation of a lifetime! Five stars all round.
TIP: Sadly, The Springs Resort & Spa don’t include breakfast in the rate so keep that in mind when booking as you don’t want to get stung on arrival.
What to do?
Mystic Hanging Bridges Trail
Enjoy walking over bridges amongst the tallest trees of the cloud forest at the stunning hanging bridges. The hike is 3.2 miles long and includes 10 regular bridges and 6 hanging suspension bridges.
Keep your eyes peeled as we spotted lots of wildlife including iguanas and coatis and once you get higher up look out for the colourful toucans and parrots.
TIP: You can choose to do the walk with a guide of fly solo which is what we did. It is very easy to do the walk on your own, it would be nearly impossible to get lost. The difference is, the guides here a phenomenal wildlife spotters so if thats what you’re after, take the guide.
COST: The cost for the self-guided walk is USD26.00 & to do the guided ‘Natural History’ tour costs USD40.00. You can but tickets online here or onsite.
Tabacon Thermal Springs
For the ultimate hot springs experience I would recommend a visit to the Tabacon Hot Springs. Tabacon Hot Springs are Costa Rica’s largest network of naturally flowing thermal mineral springs in set amongst the areas most beautiful private, rainforest reserve.
The thermal water flows throughout the resort, forming the Tabacon River. You will find dozens of stunning cascading waterfalls and warm pools along the riverbed. All of the pools vary in temperature, minerals and privacy. Check out the photo, it seriously looks (and feels) like heaven.
The day we went was raining and it was simply magic sitting in the steaming pools, listening to the rushing river with rain drops cooling you from above. Alright, where’s my teleporter?? I need to go back, NOW.
COST: The price is approximately USD100.00 per person & includes a 3 course meal at the hotels buffet restaurant (the food is quite average to be honest, but the price is still worth it to visit the stunning springs).
Rio Celeste river and waterfall are without a doubt my favourite natural wonders of Costa Rica. What makes these sights so unique is the breathtaking, fluorescent turquoise water flowing through the rapids and cascading powerfully from the immense waterfall.
The water gets it iconic, brilliant blue from a rare chemical reaction between volcanic minerals. Most interestingly, on the walk along the river bed, you will see the point where the water changes from clear to a vivid aquamarine. Fascinating!
The drive from Arenal to Rio Celeste takes around 1.5hrs and is a beautiful windy drive through the rainforest. Keep a look out for colourful birdlife and sleepy sloths in the tree tops along the way. The name of the national park is Tenorio Volcano National Park. Never fear, if it starts raining on the way (it happens all the time in the rainforest), people sell ponchos at the entrance to the park. There is a lot of parking available right at the entrance too.
The hike to the river and the waterfall is a moderate level walk with a lot of the trail unpaved and uneven. If you’re not feeling up to the whole walk (which takes about 3-4 hours) you can just visit the waterfall which is a much easier trail and takes around 1-2 hours.
COST: Tickets are purchased onsite and cost around USD12.00. Opening hours are 8am-4pm.