COSTA RICA  |  Arenal Area, Costa Rica Travel Guide
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Lake Arenal

Lake Arenal

If you weren’t impressed by – or couldn’t see – the volcano, take a ride around Lake Arenal, Costa Rica’s largest lake at 33 km/20 miles long. If nothing else, the size of the potholes in many parts of the road should impress (or depress, depending on your driving skills). The view of the countryside is wonderful.

Tectonic upheavals created Lake Arenal about three million years ago and it provided fresh fish for ancient Guatusu inhabitants of its shore. In 1973 an electrical energy dam raised the lake level and drowned the old villages of Arenal and Tronado. Arenal rebuilt on higher ground as Nuevo Arenal, but lost to the water was archeological evidence of pre-historic habitation, including a native burial ground. The eastern edge of the lake has an incredible view of the volcano, although that side no longer features the lava flow.

As you drive west you pass dairy farms, secondary forests and the occasional habitation. The lake’s water is warm and fine for swimming, but the most popular sports around are sailing, windsurfing and fishing for guapote (bass), who put up a fierce fight. Due to the lake’s alignment and climate, it’s famous for warm winds that whip across its western end – at 60 or more knots, especially from December to February. Outside of Tilarán you’ll come to huge white windmills rotating with a steady hum on the hills above the lake. Be Don Quixote and chase windmills by turning up one of the dirt roads that rise to the huge metal dragons.

The first stop along the lake circuit should be Los Heroes (506/284-6315,, $$), a restaurant, gift-shop, hotel and dairy farm right out of The Sound of Music. The owners, a Swiss husband and Tica wife, offer small rooms and a mixed menu at their huge Swiss chalet. Imported embryos from Alpine bovines makes even the family’s dairy herd Swiss. They’re working on a fascinating narrow gauge diesel train (imported from Switzerland, of course) that will take visitors up the mountainside to the cloud forest above their farm, or carry a wedding party from their small chapel.

Arenal Botanical Gardens (, 506-6944305) was founded in 1991 by Michael LeMay as a “plant reserve and nature library.” This lush, lovely hillside garden also contains a butterfly farm. Open 9-5 daily, admissions about US $8. Worth a peaceful and quiet visit.

Last updated October 28, 2010
Posted in   Costa Rica  |  Arenal Area
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