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Arenal vs. Monteverde

Arenal vs. Monteverde

How can you compare the mists of the Monteverde cloud forest to the cooled magma of the Arenal Volcano?  Arenal and Monteverde are two of Costa Rica's most popular destinations, each showcasing a piece of what makes the country so unique and so beautiful. It's only a four-hour trip between Arenal and Monteverde making them popular destinations to visit one after another. But with only a week or two off for vacation, decisions must be made.

Best of Arenal

Arenal Volcano's nightly show of spewing magma has seen its last act (at least for the moment), but the heat still percolates aquifers at the volcano's base,  shooting up through the earth forming Arenal's famous natural hot springs. Look on at the majesty of Arenal Volcano's near-perfect cone while sweltering in the heat of its fury among several of the area's hot spring resorts including Baldi, Tabacon, Ecotermales and The Springs.

Both Arenal and Monteverde have a variety of tours and activities to fill your days. It's only Arenal though, that has the access to three different rivers for whitewater rafting plus Lake Arenal, where you can spend your day fishing, kayaking, wakeboarding or learning to Stand Up Paddle. Arenal also has the country's best waterfall rappelling as well as one of the best waterfall hikes – the 230-foot La Fortuna Waterfall.

Which destination has the best zip-lining is a hotly debated question. It's safe to say that between the two, they offer the best zip lining tours in the country. After riding on nearly every cable across nearly every canopy in both destinations, we feel that Arenal is slightly more family-oriented and offers better views while Monteverde features more adrenalin-pumping thrills. However, both destinations have extreme canopy tours with spectacular views.

Best of Monteverde

If there was a soundtrack for Monteverde, it would surely include Led Zepplin's Misty Mountain Hop. It's hard to imagine the peaks of those mountains without tufts of white clouds. The dew-laden leaves and the vibrant green mosses of the Monteverde Cloud Forest and Santa Elena Reserve are something out of a story complete with fairies, Ents and maybe Ewoks, (depending on your canon). Arenal has its share of rainforest including hikes to a lagoon atop on extinct volcano and a hanging bridge tour, but it neither compares to Monteverde.

Whereas Arenal has whitewater rafting, Monteverde has the country's largest bungee jump and a slew of incredible, fast-paced, adrenaline-inducing canopy tours that take you soaring over valleys, through forests and swinging between trees like Tarzan. Horseback riding and ATV tours take you through the backcountry, through the pastures and the forest while coffee, chocolate and sugarcane tours take you to Monteverde farms to see how some of Costa Rica's major exports are produced. Night hike tours lead visitors through the forest looking for some of the country's bizarre and beautiful nocturnal wildlife like kinkajous, sloths, agoutis, armadillos, blue-crowned motmots, orange-kneed tarantulas and more.

Transportation, lodging and restaurants

Arenal has more paved roads and is easier to get around if you're renting a car or planning to stay at your hotel. Monteverde has better public transportation and is easier to get around for travelers without rental vehicles. If you do rent a car to visit Monteverde, it helps to have four-wheel drive because there are a lot of dirt roads and they get muddy when it rains. Tours at both destinations offer pick-up from your hotel.

Both Monteverde and Arenal offer comparably priced hotels that include budget and luxury accommodations. Hostels and affordably priced hotels are available in the town center of each location: La Fortuna in Arenal and Santa Elena in Monteverde. Restaurants are also equally comparable. Both destinations offer a variety of small-family owned, casual and fine-dining restaurants.