Expect to come back a little muddy as you explore the rainforest and meadows surrounding Arenal volcano. Half day tours take guests riding up muddy embankments and romping through giant mud puddles amidst rolling hills and tropical fields. The ATV trails at Finca La Uva farm cover more than ten miles through forest, fields and land destroyed by the 1968 eruption of Arenal volcano.
Bird and Wildlife Watching
Rivers like the Penas Blancas and the Rio Frio (found in Cano Negro) offer some of the richest bio-diverse regions to see countless birds from common species like anhingas, tiger herons, amazon king fishers, toucans, lineated woodpeckers and trogons to rare and endangered species like the roseate spoonbill and the jacana. Other creatures commonly seen around Arenal include armadillos, sloths, anole lizards, coatimundis, caimans, American crocodiles, green iguanas, oriole snakes, pit vipers, emerald basilisk lizards, howler monkeys, capuchin monkeys and spider monkeys. Other great wildlife watching attractions in Arenal include the hanging bridges and Arenal Volcano National Park.
Arenal's canopy tours are famous for the expansive scenic vistas where visitors fly through the air on zip lines attached to giant rainforest trees or rooted in the sides of mountains. Each company offers unique views from different places around Arenal including zip lines over La Fortuna waterfall, underneath Arenal volcano, through the rainforest and beside Lake Arenal. Along the way you can ride zip lines into Arenal river valley (Go Adventure), reach speeds of more than 50 mph (At SkyTrek), or fly 110 feet in the air like a human pendulum on a Tarzan swing (Ecoglide).
Venado Caves is the only underground park in the country. Amateur spelunkers explore the depths of the five million year old caverns with experienced guides. While hiking through the damp, muddy terrain, visitors will cross paths with four different species of bats: the insectivorous sword-nosed and mustached bats, the nectar-loving Pallas’ long-tongued bat and the little-studied greater naked-baked bat. Guided tours last approximately 2.5 hours, and the caves are located one hour from downtown La Fortuna. Caving tours, which include transportation, guide and gear, typically depart by 7:15 a.m. and return to La Fortuna in time for lunch.
Experience the rainforest through the eyes of the monkeys, more than 300 feet above the rainforest floor on one of 16 different hanging bridges. More than two miles of trails weave through dense layers of tropical and pre-montane rainforest in the 600-acre preserve. Enjoy the solitude of walking unguided through the reserve, or join a guided tour for a better chance of spotting some of the more elusive wildlife including spider and howler monkeys, eyelash palm pit vipers, keel-billed toucans and sloths. Located 11 miles west of La Fortuna. 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Arenal's trails lead hikers through the diverse landscapes spanning rainforests, mountains, volcanoes, lake shores and more:
- Hike through tropical rainforest up the side of a dormant volcano to an emerald green crater lake at Cerro Chato
- Trek among the volcanic badlands where visitors walk on top of the lava flow leftover from the 1968 eruption in the Arenal Volcano National Park.
- Stroll along the banks of Lake Arenal
- Try the ultimate Stairmaster exercise down 488 steps to the La Fortuna waterfall
Ride around the base of Arenal volcano, through the Arenal River, or up through the rainforest to La Fortuna waterfall on half-day and full-day excursions; or better yet as an excuse to visit Monteverde. Horseback riding tours are available for both beginner and more experienced riders. Tours can be arranged with local tour companies, but be wary of outfits offering dirt-cheap prices; they often use horses that are over-worked and underfed.
Soak travel-weary muscles in one of Arenal's famous hot springs resorts:
- Tabacon has natural thermal rivers and more than twenty pools to soak in.
- Baldi has the largest selection of thermal pools, plus three waterslides and two wetbars
- EcoTermales has the most intimate setting with 5 pools hidden among the rainforest
- The Springs has the highest mineral concentration and best views of any nearby hot springs
- Paradise hot springs has great views of the volcano and the most affordable prices
Kayak or canoe along the glassy waters of Lake Arenal and enjoy spectacular views of the volcano and the surrounding hills. Tours are also available along many of Arenal's rivers like Penas Blancas where you'll see a variety of different wildlife while paddling between fallen trees.
Bikers will enjoy riding the hard-packed dirt trails over volcanic pebbles leftover from Arenal's 1968 eruptions. Trails around the lake and the volcano take riders through the rainforest, along the shore and through the small towns like El Castillo. Lightweight mountain bikes and gear are available for rent in La Fortuna. Local outfits specialize in bike tours for both beginner and experienced riders.
Safari River Float
The Penas Blancas River is a natural wildlife corridor that provides a quiet, eco-friendly means of getting up close to sloths, coatimundis, caimans, American crocodiles, green iguanas, oriole snakes, emerald basilisk lizards, howler, white-faced and spider monkeys. Floating tours are available in canoes and rafts.
Lake Arenal's waters are full of rainbow bass (locally known as guapote), one of the best-fighting freshwater fish in Costa Rica. Visitors can arrange either half or full-day fishing trips on the lake with experienced captains. Anglers have caught rainbow bass weighing upwards of 11 pounds, as well as machaca, mojarra and tilapia. Some hotels and restaurants will happily prepare your fresh catch for dinner.
Volunteer & Study Spanish
Volunteer helping feed monkeys, while learning Spanish at Proyecto Asis Animal Rescue Shelter, a nonprofit organization dedicated to rehabilitating injured and orphaned wildlife and Spanish immersion program. The shelter's eight acres of primary and secondary rainforest are home to rescued parrots, monkeys, kinkajous, raccoons and other native species. Volunteers are welcome to help feed animals, build and clean cages and plant trees. The Spanish school and cultural immersion program raises money for the center. Short and long-term volunteers are welcome. Day visitors should make reservations in advance to see the project facilities. Located 10 minutes outside of La Fortuna. Telephone: 2475-9121 / 8379-3005.
Feel what it's like to go over the edge of a waterfall in this adrenaline-fueled sport. Waterfall-rappelling combines belaying with hiking and swimming to explore Arenal's canyons and gorges hidden amidst the rainforest. At Lost Canyon, one of Arenal's waterfall rappelling destinations, visitors rappel down a series of four waterfalls, more than 200 feet height.
Paddlers looking to experience whitewater rafting for the first time, or returning for a new experience will find a variety of rivers around Arenal to try their hand.
- Balsa River (Class II-III) takes guests through the forest and pastures. The first half of the tour is a relentless series of rapids while the second half of the trip allows guests a little more time to take in the scenery.
- Toro River (Class III-IV), often a favorite among rafting guides, features the most challenging rapids of any river in the area, but is only open in the wet season (May-Nov.)
- Sarapiqui River (Class III-IV), whose entrance is different than those in Sarapiqui, offers fast-paced action with intense and large rapids that require complex maneuvering. While they're not for the faint of heart, beginners will have no problem tackling these rapids.
Warm waters, mild temperatures and characteristic high winds make Lake Arenal a popular destination for windsurfers. The winds sometimes reach speeds of 40 mph Dec. through April on the west end of the lake. Lessons are available and windsurfing gear can be rented at several local hotels and shops around the lake. Most rental shops are located between the towns of Nuevo Arenal and Tilaran.
Lake Arenal's calm, glass inlets provide the perfect space for jumping wake to wake behind a boat wakeboarding, waterskiing, wake skating and wake surfing – and you can do it all in the same day. There's only two companies on the lake offering tours, one on the east and one on the west end of the lake. The company on the west end, Fly Zone, offers pick-up for singles and small groups.