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Arenal National Park

Here nature speaks for itself: the majestic Arenal Volcano is the shining star of Costa Rica’s northern zone. Both the incredible night view of incandescent lava descending from its cone and its awesome rumbles testify to nature’s supreme power. Just under 1,700 meters (5,100 feet) high, with an almost perfect cone and a crater about 140 meters deep, Arenal - active since 1968 – seems to know it’s the center of attention.

The volcano is a bit of a show-off, especially at night, when its ejection of lava and glowing hot rocks can resemble an impressive fireworks display. Scientists say that Arenal is about two or three million years old. It last strong eruptions took place in 1968. However, the smoky giant is not the only star lurking on this stage: the surrounding flora and fauna are so rich that the area was declared the Arenal National Park in 1991. The 2,920-hectare park encompasses tropical wet forest, pre-mountain forest and dry cloud forest. It is home to more than 100 mammal species, including the Baird’s tapir, sloths, white-nosed coatie, deer and jaguar. It is also home to parrots, parakeets and resplendent quetzals.

Among the local flora species are mountain guayabo, frijo, rosewood, chicle tree, balsa, palm shrubs, ferns, algae and others. Another jewel is beautiful Lake Arenal, artificially created in 1978 when the water of the Arenal River was diverted to fill and maintain what is today a 40,000-acre lake. Lake Arenal is the largest fresh water lake in Costa Rica, and a popular fishing place for guapote (Rainbow Bass) and machaca (Brycon Guatemalensis). It is also a favorite spot for windsurfing fans. Arenal National Park borders on the Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve and the San Ramón Forestry Reserve. Together, the three form what is called the Arenal Conservation Area.

Overlooking Lake Arenal, with a wonderful view of the volcano, is Arenal Lodge. It offers visitors a bar, restaurant, fireplace, jacuzzi, ample, supervised parking and standard rooms, junior suites, a master suite and 10 chalets. Observing the volcano’s tantrums is not the only thing to do in the area – there is horseback riding, mountain biking and visits to nearby hot springs and pools offering soothing relaxation.

All-day tropical river tours are also available, and there is butterfly and bird watching . Nearby is Hotel Arenal Paraíso, with 12 standard and 18 deluxe bungalows, all with balconies looking out to the volcano, and surrounded by exotic gardens. About two kilometers south of the volcano is the Arenal Observatory Lodge which provides a safe ringside seat for investigators and visitors alike.The lodge was built in 1987 as a research station for scientists from the Smithsonian Institute and Universidad Nacional de Costa Rica The 860-acre (347-hectare) farm surrounding the Observatory Lodge provides access to 295 acres of primary and secondary forest, 250 acres planted with Macadamia, and a 185-acre reforestation project planted with Honduran Pine and Eucalyptus. Hikes to nearby Cerro Chato, an extinct volcano whose crater is now a small lake, may be arranged, and saddle horses are available for exploring. A short distance from Lake Arenal is the smaller Lake Coter.

On the shore of the latter, on a hill overlooking Lake Arenal, is the Eco-Lodge, featuring ecotourism, with a bar, restaurant, fireplace, rooms and individual. Eco-Lodge also features a modern, fully equipped marina and the necessary gear for hiking (bilingual naturalist guides are available), horseback riding, mountain biking, water sports and fishing . The Eco-Lodge is located on the private biological reserve of Lake Coter where a canopy tour, canoeing and kayaking are also offered.

Another hotel in the Arenal area is Chachagua Rain Forest Hotel, nestled in a large private protected area that provides a habitat for many of the threatened rain forest inhabitants such as tapir, jaguar, ocelot, and peccary. Chachagua features comfortable suites with private shower, ceiling fan, and a porch area for relaxed nature viewing.

Other activities one can enjoy in the area are horseback riding, white-water rafting on nearby rivers, boat excursions on Lake Arenal, and tours to the Venado caverns and the Caño Negro Wildlife National Refuge Reserve, north of the Arenal Conservation Area.


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