If you’re traveling to Costa Rica, you need to visit Arenal Volcano. It’s the most active volcano in Costa Rica and it’s very accessible with a variety of exciting activities located nearby: hot springs, waterfalls, butterfly gardens, animal sanctuaries, hiking, bird-watching, horseback riding, canopy tours, fun on the lake, and more!

arenal volcano costa rica

A view of Arenal Volcano from the Arenal Observatory Lodge

I’ve been to Arenal Volcano many times now, in a myriad of styles — I’ve stayed in hostels, fancy resorts, and everything in between.

The nicest place I’ve stayed so far is definitely The Springs Resort (before it gained fame on ABC’s The Bachelor), but I became deathly ill on the drive up there, so it turned into the nicest place to be sick in. Hopefully I will make it back one day to enjoy their fantastic springs and lush accommodations!

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My favorite place to stay to see Arenal Volcano is one of the in betweens: Arenal Observatory Lodge. The fairly priced hotel is the closest you can get to the volcano and offers the best views for the nightly lava shows. It was originally built in 1987 as a Smithsonian Institute scientific research station and is the only observatory situated within Arenal National Park. You can rent a room called The Smithsonian that has a glass wall, so you can lay in bed at night and watch the lava flowing down the volcano. Awesome!

A panoramic view of Arenal Volcano and Arenal Lake

A panoramic view of Arenal Volcano and Arenal Lake taken from the Arenal Observatory Lodge.

The grounds surrounding the Observatory Lodge are amazingly manicured and landscaped to make you feel as if you are walking in a tropical fairy wonderland. The plants have been specifically chosen to attract wildlife, so if you walk outside early in the morning you will be surrounded by thousands of colorful butterflies and hummingbirds dipping and diving into the gorgeous flowers that encircle you on the tropical garden’s pathways.

arenal volcano coati

One of the curious and friendly white-nosed coatis (pizotes) that frequents the observation deck at the Arenal Observatory Lodge.

A stay at Arenal Observatory Lodge includes access to the spring-fed pool and jacuzzi (both with a view of the volcano), and access to the walking trails, one of which goes by a lava field that still emits steam. It also includes a guided tour through the rainforest with monkeys, frogs, and more wildlife on the way to a waterfall then back to the hotel, as well as a huge breakfast buffet.

When walking around the pathways at the Observatory Lodge, I could hear the thunder-like rumbles as well as feel the vibrations of Arenal Volcano while tropical birds flew overhead and howler monkeys hollered from the treetops.

Read reviews and see prices for Arenal Observatory Lodge on TripAdvisor.

rainbow eucalyptus bark

Close up of some rainbow eucalyptus bark from one of the many eucalyptus trees growing around the paths in Arenal National Park.


Arenal can be quite cloudy at night. To increase your chances of seeing the lava flow at night, plan to stay in the area for at least two nights. There certainly are enough activities to keep you busy for more time than that!


The Smithsonian room rents for $100 – $160 a night and sleep 4 (2 beds).  There are other options available — 48 rooms in total that are less as well as more expensive, ranging from $53 – $452 per room/villa. The restaurant is great and breakfast is free, but lunch and dinner are pricey at $22 and $31.


Arenal Observatory Lodge is not in La Fortuna — it is an almost 30 minute drive ($25 taxi trip) up the mountain from La Fortuna. This is not the place to go if you do not have your own transportation and want to party at the local bars, unless you don’t mind forking over the money for the round trip taxi fee.

Getting there

Arenal and La Fortuna are accessible by car, public bus, semi-private shuttle, and private shuttle. Coming from SJO International Airport, the least expensive way to get there is by Costa Rica’s public bus system.

Remember that if you are going to the Observatory Lodge, you will need to pay the extra fee to get up the mountain with all modes of transportation unless you are driving your car or a rental. I’m always on a tight budget and the first time I went I thought that the extra fee was well worth it just to get that close to the volcano. All subsequent times I have had my own car 🙂

Do you have a favorite place in Arenal?

* Please note: I was not paid anything to write this post. I actually like these places and the businesses mentioned herein were also unaware of this review. Check out more reviews and availability below or through the TripAdvisor affiliate links and if you purchase your stay through them I will receive compensation yay.