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Arenal Observatory Lodge and Hot Springs Tour

I had the wonderful opportunity of doing the Arenal Observatory and Hot Springs Tour. As an avid reader of tour reviews (and someone plagued with extreme indecisiveness), I wanted to pay it forward to future travelers who may be deciding on a tour.

The tour began the same way that any Costa Rican excursion does - with a beautiful drive through stunning landscapes filled with grazing cows, lush greenery, and unreal mountain views. In my opinion, driving around Costa Rica is almost as much fun as the excursion itself. The only downfall is the roads themselves -- paved roads can be a rarity, and often times are actually not preferred, due to the boulder-sized potholes that exist virtually everywhere. Chris, one of the guides, playfully referred to the drive as a “Costa Rican road massage.” (Tip: Try to board the bus early, closer to the center of town, so you don’t end up on the fold-out middle “seats,” that resemble a taped-on rickety cushion more than an actual place to sit.)

We arrived at the Arenal Observatory deck first, where we enjoyed stunning views of the Arenal Volcano and Lake Arenal. Despite the ever-present thick clouds hanging around the volcano, we were able to catch glimpses of the full feature. Apparently, only 20% of people who visit La Fortuna actually see the volcano, so even with the cloud cover, I considered myself incredibly lucky.

After enjoying the view for a bit, we headed on a hike through the trails of the surrounding park. Chris, a lifetime biologist, was incredibly knowledgeable and fun. We first hiked to a small waterfall with a swimming hole at the base. As a native San Diegon (aka someone not accustomed to cold weather), I declined to swim in the pool below. However, those more brave than myself did pop in.

We traversed across hanging bridges, held giant spiders (again, only those braver than myself participated here), saw several species of frogs, and concluded at a small museum. After that, we caught a stunning sunset back at the observatory deck.

Lastly, we made our way by bus to the free natural hot spring river situated next to Tabacon. It was dark by the time we arrived, making the adventure into the river almost feel like a cult meet-up. The river itself is moving, so if you catch yourself in the wrong place, you get a nice workout trying not to get pushed downstream. Here, the guides surprised us with little cups of their special “moonshine” mixed drink, which tasted like a combo of Sprite and Whisky. After enjoying our drinks, the guides rubbed a homemade volcanic mud face mask on each of our faces, claiming that we’d feel reborn afterwards. I admit, my skin did feel rejuvenated following the natural treatment.

Overall, the excursion lasted about 6.5 hours, and consisted of all of my favorite Costa Rican things - volcano and lake views, hiking, wildlife, hot springs, and fun locals showing you their hometown. I would definitely recommend this tour to anyone looking for something to do in La Fortuna. One piece of advice - don’t forget to bring a jacket or towel like I did. Even though Costa Rica is often hot, the rainforest is not, and you don’t want to spend the tour shivering like I did.

- Marina from California


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