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Arenal Hotel Recommendation: Arenal Observatory Lodge; Part 2: Nature Trails And Things To Do

Arenal Hotel Recommendation: Arenal Observatory Lodge; Part 2: Nature Trails And Things To Do

Last updated on February 27th, 2020 at 09:21 am EST

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The below post is the second part of our two-part series about the Arenal Observatory Lodge. For the purpose of our series, the Arenal Observatory Lodge information has been divided into two sections:

#1. The hotel (i.e., who should stay at the hotel, who might prefer to stay elsewhere, the hotel’s property, hotel room accommodations, and dining at the Arenal Observatory Lodge)
#2. Nature trails and things to do (i.e., observation deck lookouts, onsite museum, nature walks, challenging hikes, waterfall visits, and other things to do at the Arenal Observatory Lodge)

Arenal Observatory Lodge
Nikki; Arenal Observatory Lodge’s Danta Waterfall


If you have already read our related blog post Arenal Hotel Recommendation: Arenal Observatory Lodge; Part 1: The Hotel, you may have already decided to spend a night (or more) at the Arenal Observatory Lodge. If so, you may be asking yourself what there is to do onsite, beyond staple activities (such as swimming or relaxing) that most hotels in the region offer. Fortunately, the lodge’s eight hundred and seventy acres of property offers plenty of things to do, including horseback riding, mountain biking, birdwatching, museum exploration, observation deck visits, and countless nature trails varying in walk/hike difficulty, distance, and duration.

Arenal Observatory Lodge trail maps


One of the first things we did upon arrival at the Arenal Observatory Lodge was check out the observatory decks. Although the Arenal Volcano (as well as Lake Arenal and neighbouring Cerro Chato) can be viewed from many places throughout the property (including many hotel rooms and balconies/terraces), we found the volcano view obtained from the main building’s third floor observatory deck to be the best; not only is the deck positioned directly in front of the Arenal Volcano, but the roofed/shaded room (comfortable to access on both rainy days and sunny days) provides wall-to-wall sliding windows for clear spotting and gentle air flow, chairs for relaxing in, and helpful guides to “birds around the decks” that illustrate bird species spotted from the lodge. Additional observatory decks exist in front of the Arenal Observatory Lodge’s onsite restaurant (this deck is uncovered), as well as in the tower that comprises the property’s onsite museum.


Perhaps the most unique component of the Arenal Observatory Lodge is it’s history rooted in forest regrowth and volcanic research. Following the Arenal Volcano’s significant eruption in 1968, the Arenal Observatory Lodge was a pioneer in reestablishing the area’s surrounding forest by planting new trees and trying to preserve primary forest that survived the trauma. When the American Smithsonian Institute’s research took aim at the Arenal Volcano in the 1970’s, the lodge became both a resource and a haven for student scientists given its close yet safe proximity to the volcano. Fast-forward to today, and not only does the Arenal Observatory Lodge continue to cater to students, but it has developed into a La Fortuna hotel that offers a hospitality experience that is as rich in science and education as it is grounded in the Arenal region’s history. Fortunately, as we describe in our related blog post Arenal Hotel Recommendation: Arenal Observatory Lodge; Part 1: The Hotel, despite the hotel’s strides toward tourism development, it remains a low-key and humble lodge that lets the breathtaking Arenal Volcano sell itself.

As a treat to guests of the Arenal Observatory Lodge, the hotel’s onsite museum features newspaper clippings of the Arenal Volcano’s past eruptions, samples of lava rocks, geographic maps, bird guides, wildlife guides, and an abundance of photography. Also on display is a live seismometer that tracks the volcano’s current activity. While visiting, don’t miss the small, third-floor observatory deck above the museum for an additional volcano-viewing opportunity.

Arenal Observatory Lodge
Arenal Observatory Lodge volcanic monitoring


A visit to the Arenal Observatory Lodge simply would not be complete without a nature hike. With a network of over eleven kilometres of trails to choose from (the entirety of which may be hiked without a guide, if self-guided exploration would be preferred), it is often difficult for travellers to know which path to take. To summarize the most popular trail options to choose from, the following are the approximate hike durations of each, arranged in order from the least difficult hike to the most difficult hike:

  1. The Saino Trail takes approximately 45 minutes to complete (round-trip)
  2. The La Hormiga Trail takes approximately 20 minutes to complete (round-trip)
  3. The (Danta) Waterfall Trail takes approximately 1 hour to complete (round-trip)
  4. The Los Cangrejos Trail takes approximately 30 minutes to complete (round-trip)
  5. The River Trail takes approximately 40 minutes to complete (round-trip)

Although we are familiar with each of the trail options available at the Arenal Observatory Lodge, our trail recommendation(s) depend on the type of hiking experience a traveller is looking to have. Beginner hikers and/or travellers in search of a basic nature walk on primarily flat land will be satisfied with either the Saino Trail, or a combination of the Saino Trail and the La Hormiga Trail. Hikers in search of a more challenging hike (comprised of some uphill/downhill sections) will prefer either the (Danta) Waterfall Trail and/or the Los Cangrejos Trail. As the property’s most challenging trail (with the exception of Cerro Chato), the River Trail offers the most rugged terrain, alongside significant inclines and declines. As a result, we recommend the River Trail only to experienced hikers interested in an “off the beaten path” trekking experience.


  • The La Hormiga Trail is an offshoot of the Saino Trail and cannot be accessed without first hiking at least a small portion of the Saino Trail.


  • The Los Cangrejos Trail begins approximately two kilometres from the Arenal Observatory Lodge’s main building, on the way to Cerro Chato. Although the Los Cangrejos Trail takes only thirty minutes to hike, this duration does not include the time needed to get to and from the hotel’s main building and the trail. Given the significant walk required to get to and from the trail, we typically only recommend that visitors opt to hike the Los Cangrejos Trail if they plan to hike Cerro Chato as well.

If your time at the Arenal Observatory Lodge is limited, at the very least, hike the Saino Trail and the (Danta) Waterfall Trail. Experiencing both is easy, as neither trail is overly far from the hotel’s lower building, and when combined, both trails can be hiked within a period of two hours. Alternatively, you may opt to participate in the Arenal Observatory Lodge’s complimentary onsite walking tour (called “the morning tour”) that departs from the hotel’s reception each morning at 8:30am sharp; the lodge’s free walking tour passes by the Saino Trail, heads to the Danta Waterfall, and typically completes the circuit by 11:00am.

Arenal Observatory Lodge
Arenal Observatory Lodge guided tour (included with all hotel stays)

Saino Trail / La Hormiga Trail

As the Arenal Observatory Lodge’s easiest hike, the Saino Trail is ideal for all visitors, including senior travellers, young children, and mobility impaired visitors. It is also beautifully landscaped and well-manicured, which makes the the flower-filled route as easy on the eyes as its paved pathway is on the feet. From catepillars to coatis, and cicadas to curassows, we saw so much when we made the loop around the Saino Trail, including the La Hormiga Trail add-on too!


  • Don’t miss the Arenal Observatory Lodge’s small frog pond at the northernmost spot where the Saino Trail and the La Hormiga Trail meet. Better yet, opt to visit the frog pond at night for a frog serenade!

Wildlife, birds, and insects that we spotted along the Saino Trail and La Hormiga Trail hike

Flora that we spotted along the Saino Trail and La Hormiga Trail hike

Danta Waterfall Trail

As noted above, the (Danta) Waterfall Trail and the Los Cangrejos Trail are the Arenal Observatory Lodge’s intermediate hiking trails. Since we do not recommend hiking the Los Cangrejos Trail unless you also plan to hike Cerro Chato, our obvious favourite choice for a moderate hike is the hotel’s (Danta) Waterfal trail. Not only does the hike provide a nice mix of uphill, downhill, and flat sections, but travellers are spoiled with the site of a beautiful waterfall along the way. If you are a waterfall-lover (and if you have already checked out La Fortuna’s most popular waterfall, as described in our related blog post Visiting The All-New La Fortuna Waterfall And Orchid Garden), the Danta Waterfall should not be missed.

Arenal Observatory Lodge
Arenal Observatory Lodge’s Danta Waterfall

River Trail

If you have hiked the Saino and La Hormiga Trails, as well as the (Danta) Waterfall Trail, you may be in search of an additional challenge. If so, try the River Trail accessed just below the hotel’s onsite restaurant and outdoor (uncovered) observatory deck. Unlike the Arenal Observatory Lodge’s other onsite trails, the River Trail is rugged, dense, and steep. Although there is not too much to see along the way that differs from the property’s other trails, the River Trail’s reward comes from accomplishing the brief, yet daunting, hike itself. Alternatively, for a full-day adventure and an extremely physical challenge, guests may opt to hike Cerro Chato. Although Cerro Chato is not owned by the Arenal Observatory Lodge, one of its two access points is located on the Arenal Observatory Lodge’s property. As a result, guests of the lodge (as well as day visitors) may choose to hike Cerro Chato to and from the hotel, if they dare. For more information about Cerro Chato, including why the dormant volcano holds such a dear place in our hearts, don’t miss our related blog post Our Cerro Chato Hike Engagement.


QUESTION TO COMMENT ON: Have you been to the Arenal Observatory Lodge? What did you do while there?

Pura vida!

If you’re more of a visual learner, take a moment to view our gallery photos below from our most recent visit to the Arenal Observatory Lodge.

Arenal Hotel Recommendation: Arenal Observatory Lodge; Part 2: Nature Trails And Things To Do

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