Exploring the property of the Arenal Observatory Lodge is one of the top highlights to take part of during a visit to La Fortuna.
While the lodge is a private property featuring one of the top hotels in the region, you do not need to stay at the property to enjoy the 865 acre nature reserve at Arenal Observatory.
The reserve is full of hiking trails, observation towers, hanging bridges, waterfalls and more! And just for a small fee, you can spend a day taking it all in.
This guide will talk through what to expect as you explore the Arenal Observatory Lodge trails and how to best enjoy your time there.
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1) Driving to Arenal Observatory Lodge
There are really only two main ways to get yourself to the lodge property. You can either hire a taxi from La Fortuna to get you there or you can drive yourself. There is no public transport that will get you to the lodge itself.
During my time in Costa Rica, I felt that having my own rental car was the best way to go about the trip. You are able to go at your own pace, create your own schedule, and not worry about public transportation.
If you are looking to visit the Arenal Observatory Lodge from La Fortuna, the drive from town is about 35 minutes as you circle the Arenal Volcano.
Most of the drive is on paved roads, however the last few kilometers will turn to a gravel/dirt road until you reach the property entrance.
Note that you do not need 4WD, however be sure to take it slowly and watch out for incoming cars out in front of you.
→ Feel free to take a look at Rentalcars.com for a variety of car options to choose from for your time in Costa Rica. You will be able to filter by price, car type, rental company, & more to find the best car rental for your trip.
Below is a map that shows the 15 mile / 24 km drive from La Fortuna to the Arenal Observatory Lodge. If you are staying a bit further out of town center itself, you will probably shave a bit of time off the drive.
2) Arenal Observatory Lodge Day Pass
As I mentioned, you do not actually need to stay at the lodge itself in order to enjoy all of its offerings. If you ask me that is a win-win situation.
Arenal Observatory Lodge offers a day pass option for those just trying to spend some time walking the trails, heading to the observatory and relaxing on the property.
The Arenal Observatory Lodge entrance fee for the day pass is just $12 USD per person. With this option you get to have access to all parts of the property besides the pool area.
If you want access to the pool and also have a meal covered, you can opt for the $32 USD option. Reception will let you borrow a towel for the day and the meal includes a main course, dessert, and drinks.
Note: you can still eat at the restaurant if you opt for the $12 option; it just will cost extra.
Hours for the day pass are from 7:00AM to 9:00PM every day of the week. When you arrive at the main gate of the lodge, you simply can just pay the person at the gate and be on your way.
Of course, if staying at the lodge itself, then there is no additional charge to use its facilities.
3) Staying at the Lodge / La Fortuna
In and around the town of La Fortuna there are plenty of hotel options to choose from. Most of the resorts are not located within the town itself, but rather on the outskirts of town surrounding the volcano.
Below are three highly recommended options to choose from that surely will not disappoint. The first is of course the Arenal Observatory Lodge and the other two are great options as well.
Since these are some of the more highly rated spots, you will want to book your room as soon as possible!
Arenal Observatory Lodge & Spa -> Book Today
The Arenal Observatory Lodge is located as close as it gets to Arenal Volcano. The property itself has over 860 private acres of land full of walking trails, wildlife, and volcano viewpoints.
If you are lucky enough to grab a room here, you will get to enjoy all of that and more during a visit.
Tabacon Thermal Resort & Spa – Book Today
One of the most popular thermal pools to visit in the area is located at the Tabacon Thermal Resort. It is by far one of the nicest and most relaxing thermal areas in the area.
Instead of just taking a quick visit there, why not stay on the property itself!
Hotel Los Lagos Spa & Resort – Book Today
A great overall option in the area is Hotel Los Lagos. Here you will find a whole variety of thermal pools, ziplining, wildlife, and some volcano views.
The property itself is just so beautiful to walk around and enjoy during a stay.
4) Arenal Observatory Lodge Trail Map
At Arenal Observatory there are over 7 miles of trails to walk around as you get to experience a little bit of everything. You can decide to opt from trails anywhere from just 20 minutes to over 2 hours.
There are also plenty of opportunities to mix and match trails along the way if you decide you want to lengthen or shorten your walk around the reserve. There is really no “correct” way to go about it.
I will dive into some of the trails in the next section but if you have additional questions about trail options, you can also speak with the team at the lodge who can give some additional insight.
Below is the Arenal Observatory Lodge trail map to give you a better idea of what to expect on the property.
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6) Arenal Observatory Lodge Trails
Now that you have a bit more background of the lodge and the layout of the reserve, I will now go into some of the trails that I decided to head during my time there.
Within the reserve there are 7 official trails as well as several farm roads to explore. The 7 trails include:
1) Danta Waterfall – 1 hour
2) La Culebra – 20 minutes
3) Saino – 30 minutes
4) La Hormiga – 45 minutes
5) River Trail – 30 minutes
6) Los Monos – 30 minutes
7) Los Cangrejos – 2 hours
Many of these are just within the vicinity of the main lodge area, while others are a bit further away.
Before heading on any of the longer trails in the reserve, I would recommend on checking out some of the trails that are closer to the main reception and restaurant area though.
» Visit the lodge as part of a Costa Rica Itinerary that takes you around the country
Saino / La Hormiga / Los Monos
From the restaurant area you can head towards the Saino Trail (green colored on left hand side of map).
You will walk from the main reception/restaurant area and cross over the Spider Bridge. On the other side you will get some nice views of the pool & spa area from above.
Here you will find the onsite museum where you can learn more about the Arenal Volcano National Park and its history.
Continue following signs to The Nest and Frog Pond, some highlights of the property.
Depending on weather conditions and time of day, the pond can be active with frogs or pretty quiet. You will also need to have a keen eye as those frogs can blend it quite well.
From there you can decide to take some detours onto the nearby Los Monos, La Hormiga, and River Trail.
As you enjoy walking the trails for a bit, you will see the massive observatory tower hovering above.
Arenal Lodge Observatory Tower – The Nest
The observatory tower or “The Nest” as they call it, is the place to be on the property. This 92 foot tower gives you 360 degree views of the surrounding nature from up top.
It is nearly 150 steps to reach the peak of the tower and it can get a bit scary for those that have that fear of heights.
But from up top you will get the best views of the Arenal Volcano on a clear day. I visited several other viewpoints all around the volcano during my time in La Fortuna, and I have to say this was the top view you could ask for.
The one piece of advice I can give you while visiting the Arenal Observatory Lodge and the area in general, is to be patient!
The clouds can come and go quickly on the volcano. One minute the entire volcano can be covered and the next you will get perfect views. You really never know!
I remember sitting at the restaurant with the whole volcano covered in clouds while raining, but as I began my walk towards the tower things slowly began to clear up.
By the time I reached the top, the views were second to none.
Danta Waterfall Trail
After taking in the views from up top, why not check out some of the other trails throughout the reserve. Remember there are over 7 miles worth to check out!
My recommendation is to head onwards to the Danta Waterfall Trail. The trail has a little bit of everything – rainforest, wildlife, hanging bridges, and of course the waterfall itself.
To get to the Danta Waterfall Trail (as well as some of the others trails in the reserve), you will want to “Green Gate”, which can be found on the map above.
From there, you should see signs pointing you towards the waterfall. You will walk along the tree lined hiking trail, where you may come across some local wildlife (see below!).
You will then see a staircase heading down to the waterfall viewing area, where you can see the powerful Danta Waterfall out in front of you. It is then back up the staircase and onto the trail.
From there it is up to you on how much more of the reserve you would like to see. I did somewhat of loop passing over the Danta Hanging Bridge and then heading back towards the main entrance.
If you would like to head on more of the outer trails, that is up to you!
7) El Jilguero Restaurant
After a day of exploring the Arenal Observatory Lodge trails, why not head to the restaurant for a nice meal or drink.
Remember, you can also buy the more expensive entrance ticket that comes with a meal included.
There is a vast dining area inside, and you can even head to the outdoor patio to take in the surrounding views of the Arenal Volcano.
Below are a few pages of the menu so you can get an idea of the various food options that they offer:
Once your day at the Arenal Observatory Lodge is complete, it is back to your car to drive to your hotel for the night.
There is so much more to explore in the area around La Fortuna such as Arenal 1968 and the Arenal Volcano National Park. Be sure to check out those guides to learn more!
If you have any questions or comments, feel free to add them in below. Also don’t forget to check out the rest of the Costa Rica itineraries and guides up on the site like the guide all about Cerro Chirripo.
Have fun out there and safe travels!