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Costa Rica’s Arenal Observatory Lodge Series – Part 1: The Hotel

Costa Rica’s Arenal Observatory Lodge Series – Part 1: The Hotel

NOTE: The content on this page was last updated on August 14th, 2017.

Looking for Arenal Observatory Lodge discounts? As a thank you for visiting us, WE OFFER TRAVELLERS FREE ACCESS TO A 20% DISCOUNT OFF THE ARENAL OBSERVATORY LODGE’S RATES when booking with the hotel directly using our “Pura Vida! eh? Exclusive Promotion” code. Click here for more information and/or to obtain the hotel promo code. Con mucho gusto (you’re welcome) and pura vida! 🙂

The below post is the first 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)

[CONTINUE READING BELOW FOR] COSTA RICA’S ARENAL OBSERVATORY LODGE SERIES – PART 1: THE HOTEL
[OR SKIP TO] COSTA RICA’S ARENAL OBSERVATORY LODGE – PART 2: NATURE TRAILS AND THINGS TO DO
Arenal Observatory Lodge
Nikki; view of the Arenal Volcano from our room

THE ARENAL OBSERVATORY LODGE IS LA FORTUNA’S MOST UNIQUE ACCOMMODATION. HERE’S WHY.

Having lived in La Fortuna for a number of years, we are familiar with the majority of accommodation options located in the region. We have been to most and have spent days and nights at many (the Arenal Observatory Lodge included), yet the handful of hotels that we choose to recommend to travellers make up a very short list (don’t miss our related blog post Costa Rica Hotel Recommendation Series: Where To Stay In La Fortuna/Arenal for access to this list). As per our preference for being picky, our Arenal hotel recommendations are carefully and cautiously curated according to a number of factors. While we provide general details below about the Arenal Observatory Lodge (specifically, the hotel’s rooms, property, and restaurant), what is most telling is our admittance of why it took us so long to recommend the hotel to others, and more importantly, why we are more confident doing so now than ever before. For travellers who are interested in learning about the onsite activities and things to do at the Arenal Observatory Lodge, don’t miss part two of our blog series: Costa Rica’s Arenal Observatory Lodge Series – Part 2: Nature Trails And Things To Do.

Why we hesitated to recommend the Arenal Observatory Lodge for so long

Let’s get the obvious point out of the way first (a point that, arguably, many travellers consider to be a disadvantage). If the following reality was enough for us to hesitate recommending the Arenal Observatory Lodge to travellers at one point in time, there is a good chance that the same reality is impacting your decision-making too.

The Arenal Observatory Lodge is located an approximate twenty-five minute drive west of downtown La Fortuna. Given it’s distance from town, most tour operators and transportation service providers do not consider it to be a “La Fortuna hotel”, and as such, most will not include complimentary pick-up and drop-off services at the hotel without charging extra pick-up or drop-off fees (these fees tend to range from $20-$50 per group, per way). In addition, given the Arenal Observatory Lodge’s remote location, there are few dining options situated close to the hotel, with the exception of the hotel’s onsite restaurant (it is also worth noting that there are no dining options within walking distance of the hotel, with the exception of the hotel’s onsite restaurant). As a result of these two inconveniences (i.e., applicable pick-up/drop-off fees and the lack of dining options nearby), it is advantageous–although not required–that guests of the Arenal Observatory Lodge have access to a rental vehicle during their stay in the La Fortuna region (free vehicle parking is available at the hotel). Furthermore, since half of the drive between downtown La Fortuna and the Arenal Observatory Lodge (the latter half, if departing from downtown La Fortuna) is run on a bumpy road, having a 4X4 vehicle is recommended.

Any “Costa Rica expert” will tell you the same as what we state above. And, they too would be right. Yes, the Arenal Observatory Lodge is one of the furthest hotels from downtown La Fortuna (technically, it is considered an “El Castillo hotel”). Yes, it would be best to visit with a rental car. And yes, the bumpy drive to and from the hotel isn’t the most pleasant. We bought into these “disadvantages” for a long time too, until we opted to spend a few days at the hotel, and we fell in love. We learned for ourselves how the hotel’s few “disadvantages” pale in comparison to the brilliance of “advantages” they create, and we became insta-fans of the property that we argue is the most unique in all of La Fortuna.

Why we can recommend the Arenal Observatory Lodge with confidence, to travellers with or without a rental car

After a brief rainshower, Ricky and I were sitting on a covered balcony outside of our room at the Arenal Observatory Lodge. We had completed a challenging hike to the property’s waterfall a few hours earlier, and we were enjoying some downtime as we watched Oropendulas beat the humidity by feasting on slices of juicy watermelon. Beams of sunlight broke through the clouds and illuminated the Arenal Volcano National Park below; Lake Arenal shone in the distance. As the fog lifted, a mere kilometer and a half in front of us stood the mammoth Arenal Volcano. Although we had long-lived at the base of the beast on its east side, where we sat to the west, we could almost reach out and touch it. As we regularly do after we cross another Costa Rica travel experience off our bucket list, Ricky and I reflected on the day’s escapades–what we liked, what we didn’t like, what was surprising, what was uneventful, and what we would consider recommending to others. Not surprisingly, we both came to the same conclusion about our time at the hotel: that while the Arenal Observatory Lodge’s remoteness may be a hindrance to some, because of it, we were able to experience a perfectly quiet scene, an unobstructed volcano view, and a nature-filled few days in Costa Rica’s epicenter of adventure (a.k.a., La Fortuna) without any disturbance from the pushy kind of tourism that engulfs the town’s center. Fortunately for us, at the hotel we existed on what felt like our own time in what truly was our own space. Perhaps most tellingly, we realized that we would have loved our visit just as much had our vehicle not been parked in the hotel’s lot, and from this point on, we knew that not having access to a rental car was no longer a sufficient excuse for missing out on everything that the Arenal Observatory Lodge has to offer.

So, why exactly is the Arenal Observatory Lodge so unique? Because it is–quite literally–La Fortuna’s “Arenal” “Observatory” “Lodge”. Many accommodations in the region offer volcano views, but none allow visitors to see the Arenal Volcano as close and with as much detail as the Arenal Observatory Lodge. Many accommodations in the region offer informative placards and bird/wildlife spotting guides, but none offer as complete a collection as the museum at the Arenal Observatory Lodge. And, although many accommodations in the region feature rustic design and forest-infused decor that invites the outdoors in, none provide the same “remote wilderness” experience that the Arenal Observatory Lodge is known for.

WHO SHOULD STAY AT THE ARENAL OBSERVATORY LODGE

Although we fell in love with the hotel, the Arenal Observatory Lodge isn’t for everyone. We would recommend you plan to add a stay at the Arenal Observatory Lodge to your time in La Fortuna/Arenal if…

  1. You love nature! Simply put, the Arenal Observatory Lodge is one of the best accommodations in the La Fortuna/Arenal region for accessing barely-touched land; not only is the majority of the hotel’s property lush and green, but it boasts both primary and secondary forest, and is adjacent to the Arenal Volcano National Park
  2. You are interested in walking/hiking self-guided trails that vary in duration and difficulty
  3. You are interested in educating yourself about the volcano, volcanic activity, and/or the history of the hotel’s property (i.e., you would make use of the hotel’s onsite musuem and enjoy the information provided)
  4. You are interested in birdwatching
  5. You are interested in insects
  6. You are interested in flora
  7. You do not require a high degree of stimulation, action, adventure, or movement to stay interested (i.e., you could spend a few hours reading a book on the hotel’s balcony, admiring the surrounding views from a variety of lookout points, or strolling through a walking trail; you do not bore easily and/or feel nature is exciting enough!)
  8. You wouldn’t mind the required transportation (approximately twenty-five minutes, each way) to get to and from downtown La Fortuna where the majority of dining and shopping options are located); you believe the hotel’s remote location is well worth the trip
  9. You are looking to stay at a hotel that is quiet, slow-paced, and offers a hospitality experience that includes lots of “down time”
  10. If you have a rental car, you do not mind driving yourselves between the hotel and downtown La Fortuna in order to participate in tours/activities that interest you
  11. If you do not have a rental car, you do not mind paying extra fees to tour operators and/or transportation service providers to obtain pick-up/drop-off services directly at the hotel in order to participate in tours/activities that interest you

WHO SHOULD SKIP THE ARENAL OBSERVATORY LODGE IN FAVOUR OF OTHER LA FORTUNA HOTELS

In contrast to the list provided above, if you do not plan to spend much time at your La Fortuna accommodation (i.e., if the majority of your days in the region will be spent exploring the town, participating in offsite tours and activities, and/or taking day tours to nearby towns or attractions), then perhaps the Arenal Observatory Lodge’s remote property and onsite offerings would pose few advantages to you. If all you need is room and board, if you are looking for economy or resort-quality accommodations, if you do not want to be situated far from the town’s center, if you do not want to rent a car or pay tour operators/transportation service providers additional pick-up/drop-off fees, and/or if you are not overly interested in nature’s subtle beauty (as evident in plants, flowers, birds, insects, etc.), perhaps one of the other La Fortuna hotels that we recommend in our related blog post Costa Rica Hotel Recommendation Series: Where To Stay In La Fortuna/Arenal would be preferred by you.

THE ARENAL OBSERVATORY LODGE: ROOMS AND VIEWS

Classified as a superior hotel, the Arenal Observatory Lodge offers basic, clean, quiet, and safe accommodations at reasonable prices. Shared accommodations in the La Casona building help keep the hotel affordable to backpackers and travellers with a strict budget, yet private standard rooms, superior rooms (called “Smithsonian” rooms), and junior suites are available for couples, families, and friend groups in search of independence and greater privacy, and at prices that are comparable to (if not less expensive than) those offered by other superior hotels in the region. During our visit, we loved that our room was spacious, our balcony/terrace had a great volcano view, and our bathroom was divided into two parts so I could use the sink and mirror to get ready in the morning while Ricky hopped in the shower. We also thought that the hotel’s conscious decision not to provide televisions in their rooms was clever, as was the witty sign in the bathroom that reminds guests to throw all toilet paper in the trash bin as opposed to the toilet (a standard Costa Rican practice at the majority of hotels throughout the country):

Kleenex, matches, pins, and strings,
filter tips and other things–
country plumbing will reject
so, urbanite, be circumspect.
It’s all a bother and a care,
but oh my dear! So necessaire.
~ Anon(ymous)

Outside of our second-floor room, we were spoiled with two sitting areas complete with Adirondack chairs that we flip flopped between; one on the north side of the building that faced the onsite restaurant and offered a view of both Lake Arenal and the Arenal Volcano, and another on the south side of the building that backed onto the lodge’s heavily forested grounds–an ideal spot for birdwatching, and one creatively decorated with beautiful lava rocks. While many travellers would expect to receive such luxuries with the purchase of an upgraded stay, we opted for the hotel’s standard room, and we were pleasantly surprised by the dual experience it provided.

THE ARENAL OBSERVATORY LODGE’S UPPER BUILDING: RECEPTION, COMMON ROOM, AND RESTAURANT

The Arenal Observatory Lodge’s property can be divided into two sections: the upper building and the lower building. As guests of the upper building, we were treated to easy access to the hotel’s reception, common room, and restaurant. In contrast, guests that stay in the lower building are situated closer to the hotel’s pool, Jacuzzi, spa, museum, game room, and nature trails. Vehicle parking is available nearby both the upper and lower buildings, and internal transportation (for travel around the hotel’s property) is provided free-of-charge between the hours of 7:00am and 10:00pm so long as it is coordinated in advance through the hotel’s reception. For travellers who would prefer to walk to and from the lodge’s separate areas, directional signs scattered throughout the property will guide your way.

Given the Arenal Observatory Lodge’s remote location, the hotel’s reception (open from 7:00am to 10:00pm daily) is the go-to spot for information and necessities. In addition to offering many items for purchase (including souvenirs, books, and toiletry items), the reception also provides guests with towels for use at the pool and a free bird guide (don’t forget to ask for the bird list upon check-in). The reception is also responsible for verifying guest access to the lodge via the property’s front gate. For safety reasons, the front gate closes at 11:00pm (no exceptions) and reopens at 5:00am, so travellers should plan their check-in, check-out, and/or day trips accordingly. In addition, the property’s footpath and road lighting is turned off at 11:00pm, so to minimize risk and best avoid injury, guests should plan to be in their rooms by this time.

Tip:

  • With previous reservation, the Arenal Observatory Lodge can provide transportation to and from the hotel and downtown La Fortuna (at a set location: in front of the grocery store “Super Cristian #1”, next to Hotel Las Palmas) at three times daily: departing from the Arenal Observatory Lodge at 6:15am, 10:15am, and 4:20pm, and departing from downtown La Fortuna at 7:00am, 12:30pm, and 5:15pm. The cost for the one-way service is $8.00 per person ($16.00 per person round-trip). If you are a lone traveller and you do not plan to drive yourself to and from La Fortuna in order to participate in day tours/activities, and if one of Arenal Observatory Lodge’s shuttle service times will work for you according to your day’s itinerary, consider taking the hotel’s shuttle to and from downtown La Fortuna and catching the tour operator’s pick-up from there. The cost you will pay to the Arenal Observatory Lodge for the shuttle service will be less than the cost a tour operator will charge to pick you up and/or drop you off at the Arenal Observatory Lodge directly. Alternatively, if you are travelling in a group, it may be financially advantageous for you to pay the tour operator’s pick-up/drop-off fees; these are typically charged per group (not per person), and you may pay less to the tour operator overall than if you pay the Arenal Observatory Lodge their per person shuttle service rate.

Connected to the reception is the hotel’s common room, where seating, a television, a computer, a tabletop chess game, and a vintage telephone booth are available for guest use. The common room—together with the hotel’s game room and museum located elsewhere on the property—offer opportunities for passing time during rainy periods. However, even when it rained briefly during our visit, we chose to make use of our room’s balcony/terrace amid the shower; as the rain began to let up, we were right there to see and hear toucans play in the mist.

Arenal Observatory Lodge
Arenal Observatory Lodge deck overlooking Lake Arenal

THE ARENAL OBSERVATORY LODGE’S LOWER BUILDING: POOL, JACUZZI, AND SPA

Just behind the hotel’s reception is a set of stairs that lead down to the property’s Spider Bridge hanging bridge. Cross the bridge, and you’ll find the lower property’s building, museum, pool, Jacuzzi, spa, and nature trails. Available for guest use only, the spring-fed pool is located next to the forest and is open between the hours of 9:00am and 10:00pm. The Jacuzzi—situated around the corner from the pool—is available during the same hours. Further down the lower building’s path is the Observatory Spa, where a number of skin treatments including massages, wraps, and scrubs are performed (for an additional fee).

DINING AT THE ARENAL OBSERVATORY LODGE

Dining ambiance, quality, and affordability at the Arenal Observatory Lodge is important, given that the next closest restaurant to the hotel is a minimum ten-minute drive away. Fortunately, in terms of overall experience, the restaurant does not disappoint. Perched above the forest, not only do the floor-to-ceiling windows provide a stunning view of the of the Arenal Volcano, but from the restaurant, one can also admire a blanket of treetops below and swarms of birds (mainly Oropendulas) out front.

Arenal Observatory Lodge restaurant hours
Breakfast: 7:00am to 8:30am
Lunch: 11:30am to 4:30pm
Dinner: 6:00pm to 8:30pm
Happy hour offering two-for-one drinks: 5:00pm to 6:00pm (bar closes at 10:00pm)

Dinner

At dinner, we found the menu to be typical compared to what most hotels in the region serve, offering staple Costa Rican dishes such as casados and a variety of meat cuts (for more information about food in Costa Rica, don’t miss our related blog post What To Eat And Drink In Costa Rica: Our Costa Rica Food/Beverage List And Order Tips). As vegetarians, we could choose from one of four meal options: a mixed vegetable plate, vegetables with rice, vegetable casado (rice, beans, vegetables, plantain, tortilla, and egg), or a concoction of mixed vegetables in a curry and coconut sauce. From a pricing standpoint, although the food cost more at the Arenal Observatory Lodge than what we would typically pay for it elsewhere (given that we prefer to dine economically at local sodas), the prices were consistent with those of a higher-class restaurant and/or those present at most superior hotels. The restaurant’s atmosphere, however, was wonderful and well worth the added food cost; the open-air dining experience was comfortable, and the hotel’s choice to soften the environment with candlelight was a nice touch.

Breakfast

In the morning, we were spoiled by a breakfast buffet of fresh fruit (watermelon, papaya, and pineapple), toast, cheese, meat, eggs, gallo pinto (rice and beans), pancakes, and more (note that a boxed breakfast is available to travellers who plan to leave the hotel prior to 7:00am, so long as the reception is informed of the early morning departure the night before). Providing a much needed boost to start off a rather adventurous hiking day, we appreciated the protein-packed peanut butter cups and the homemade banana bread. Yum!

All in all, we loved our time at the Arenal Observatory Lodge. However, much of our enjoyment stemmed from the onsite activities that we chose to participate in. For more information about what we experienced at the hotel—specifically, the trails we hiked, what we saw, and what we would recommend to other travellers—don’t miss part two of our series Costa Rica’s Arenal Observatory Lodge Series – Part 2: Nature Trails And Things To Do.

QUESTION TO COMMENT ON: Have you stayed at the Arenal Observatory Lodge? What did you think?

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.

Nikki and Ricky

DIY Costa Rica

Costa Rica tour discounts



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