If you are driving from the Pacific beaches, keep in mind that the road from Tilaran (the last major town before Arenal) to the volcano are horrible. Maps will mark them as gravel roads that may be impassable -- heed this information, especially during the rainy season. The 51km drive took us nearly three hours with a good part of that time following one or more bulldozers clearing the mudslides, trees and downed power lines. Not that the destination isn't worth it, but I wish that we had been better prepared (e.g., rent the biggest and most powerful 4WD car that you can).
Approaching Arenal from the west, you don't get a sense for how big it is until you are nearly upon it. Even through the clouds, it dominates the sky. On our first night we went to sleep at 10pm, but were awakened by the unmistakable rumble of the volcano. Walking outside our cabin we saw a huge puff of black smoke and the distinct red trickle of lava rolling down the face. Too dark for a picture, it was an awesome site. This was, however, the only activity during our two days there.
The other attraction worth spending time with are the hot springs located at several places near the volcano and in nearby Fortuna. The biggest (and best?) are at the Tabacon Resort. More than 20 pools and waterfalls with water ranging from 75-120 degrees are available to soothe sore muscles and relax a weary traveller. The biggest pool has a swim-up bar that is busy most of the day and night. Be forewarned that the Tabacon Hot Springs are a mecca for tour buses, but these generally come around noon and leave by 6pm. There are excellent locker and changing facilities with towels available to rent. The restaurant is OK, but very pricey (the dinner buffet is $18 per person and it was the least inspired meal we ate during our vacation).
August 19, 2003
From journal Pura Vida! 10 Days in Costa Rica