48 HOURS IN ARENAL, COSTA RICA
Hike an active volcano, rappel down waterfalls, and soak in hot springs.
While the country’s name translates to “rich coast,” Costa Rica’s natural beauty isn’t limited to its iconic beaches. The mountain town of Arenal is an oasis of active adventures and culture. Located 80 miles northwest of San José, it’s home to lush jungles, hot springs, and a 5,400-foot-high active volcano. Late fall through early spring is the best time to visit, when the weather’s ideal for hiking, horseback riding, and waterfall swims. Here’s what to see, eat, and do in Arenal.
WHERE TO STAY
For the ultimate eco-luxury experience, check into Nayara Resort. Their free-standing casitas overlook the Arenal volcano and feature outdoor showers, hammocks, and private decks. The resort includes an open-air yoga pavilion and guided bird-watching tours.
Book at Arenal Kioro and you’ll have panoramic views of the volcano from your balcony and an in-room hot tub. This boutique hotel boasts on-site hot springs, a full spa, and rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows.
Fuel up for your adventures at Organico Fortuna, located in the center of town. This colorful family-run restaurant serves local coffee, fruit smoothies, and good vibes. Try the gallo pinto—their healthy spin on a traditional Costa Rican breakfast—with organic brown rice and beans, scrambled eggs, and sweet plantains.
Choose Your Afternoon Adventure
OPTION 1: CULTURE
Like most of Latin America, Costa Rica is a soccer-loving country. To immerse yourself in the scene, book a fútbol excursion through Greenspot. You can watch teams face-off at the Arenal fields, or join in on a pick-up game. Afterwards, take a cooking lesson with a local home chef, Doña Mara. Learn her secret for making corn tortillas, then sit down to a hearty and healthy lunch in her kitchen.
OPTION 2: FITNESS
Book an adrenaline-filled jaunt courtesy of Desafio, where you’ll learn how to rappel, then test your skills on a 140-foot waterfall. After, you’ll swim into a canyon, and leap 10 to 30 feet off cliffs into crystal-clear water. Post-adventure, wind down in the thermal Titoku hot springs near the Kioro hotel property, then enjoy lunch at their poolside restaurant, Orquideas.
For dinner, try Don Rufino. This inviting spot specializes in grass-fed steaks and sustainable seafood, such as grilled Pacific jumbo shrimp and trout fillets. They’re served with inspired sides, like purple corn polenta with pickled fennel and tomato-basil sauce.
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Take a scenic drive along Lake Arenal to reach Café & Macadamia. Sip the house special, café con macadamia, on their airy patio with views of the water, and order an egg, cheese, and tomato breakfast sandwich along with some tropical fruit.
Choose your Afternoon Adventure
OPTION 1: CULTURE
Learn about the history and ecology of the area on a guided tour or book horseback riding and bird-watching experiences through Desafio or Greenspot. Depending on your interests, check out indigenous rock carvings at La Piedra del Indio waterfall, or explore the history and impact of the 1968 volcanic eruption on the 1968 Trail.
OPTION 2: FITNESS
Start your day with al fresco hatha yoga at Living Forest. Then, hit the lake for a windsurfing or paddleboarding lesson with Tico Wind. If you want to stay on dry land, hike the Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges, a series of 16 suspension bridges beneath the forest canopy. Keep an eye out for colorful jungle creatures—frogs, toucans, vipers, monkeys, and more may be spotted here.
For lunch with a magnificent view, head to Emperador, at the Royal Corin Thermal Water Spa & Resort. Select dishes like salmon tartare and cilantro-and-spinach quinoa with red peppers and caramelized onions from their healthy mid-day menu.
Make your final evening special with dinner at Amor Loco, where you can enjoy live music. Begin with sea bass ceviche and beet carpaccio before moving onto vegetable green curry or mahi-mahi with romesco sauce. For a more intimate option, book the “fantasy” dinner, where you’ll sample the creations of a private chef—all served at a secluded table overlooking the rainforest.