Arenal Lake and Volcano
A man made lake in 1978, Lake Arenal was formed when the waters of Rio Arenal were diverted to fill and stock what is today a 40,000 sq. impoundment. Water depth near the dam runs up to 190 feet; the water depth in the channels will run up to 120 feet. Water temperature varies less than 4 degrees Fahrenheit year round.
La Fortuna Area
This small community is approximately 400 meters above sea level, and 16km (9.5 miles) from the entrance to Arenal Volcano National Park. La Fortuna serves as an ideal base from which to enjoy the volcano, Lake Arenal, Caño Negro Reserve, and the many other outdoor activities, i.e. windsurfing, fishing, mountain biking, and white water rafting. The town of La Fortuna contains several small hotels/cabinas, restaurants and souvenir shops, all of which are within walking distance. There are several travel/adventure agencies which can arrange local tours in the surrounding area. As you depart La Fortuna, heading towards Lake Arenal, numerous larger hotels are situated along the roadside, inlcuding several which are presently under construction. Terrific views of the volcano can be seen from these hotels, as well as from the roadside. From La Fortuna, buses depart to San José and Tilarán, which is located on the west side of Lake Arenal.
Lake Arenal contains primarily two different types of fish, the Machaca and Rainbow Bass. The Machaca are flashy acrobatic fish which can reach 9 lbs. within the lake, and perhaps 15 lbs. in norther and coastal rivers. More prone to strike smaller and faster lures, ultra and light spinning gear spooled with 4 - 8 lb. monofilament line is the rule. Fly fisherman should be using 8 - 10 wt. rods and 9 ft. leaders and smaller (size 4 - 8) poppers and streamers. The Rainbow Bass, which ranges in size up to 16 pounds, spawns year round and is found throughout the fresh waters in Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and the Honduras. Generally speaking the same tackle used to catch large mouth bass will be adequate here, i.e. surface plugs, spinner baits and rattle traps. Monofilament of 12 - 20 lb. is recommended with a "shock tippet" of 25 - 40 lb. Fly fishermen are advised to use rods of 8 - 10 wt. with 9 ft. leaders and large poppers, medium sized streamers in bright or lighter colors.
Just 3.2km (1.9 miles) east of La Fortuna lies one of Costa Rica's most spectacular waterfalls. The road leading to the waterfall is partially paved, the initial 1.1 km(1/2 mile), while the remaining section is a dirt/gravel road. Best suited for a four-wheel drive vehicle the trip can be made in a sedan if driven slowly; the steep inclines have been somewhat paved to provide better traction. Taxi's are available in La Fortuna and charge in the neighborhood of 2,400 colones for the trip regardless of the number of passengers. A large percentage of people walk to the falls, as the road passes through lush, green countryside, and is quite an enjoyable stroll. Along the way, there are a few small eateries where you can purchase water and other beverages. However, we recommend that you bring bottled water, particularly if you have plans to hike to the waterfall's base.
The entrance fee to view and descend to the waterfall is 300 colones, and there is no limit to the amount of time you can spend at the falls. The steep downhill climb to the base of the waterfall, while challenging, is well worth the time and effort. A well defined path helps you traverse the deep, rocky canyon wall as you hear the thundering water below. Swimming is permissible, however, stay clear away from the waterfall itself.
Approximately 12km (7.2 miles) from La Fortuna lies the Tabacon Hot Springs Resort. Located at the base of the volcano this facility contains pools, in addition to streams of hot spring water. You can pay by the hour or by the day, the difference being minimal. A bit further towards the volcano are public springs on the left side of the road; several cars are usually parked along the roadside. After parking, descend down towards the springs which are commonly enjoyed by the local community.
Caves of Venado
Located just south of La Fortuna are the Caves of Venado. Dating back over 7 million years, the Venado Caves are the direct result of water currents penetrating and passing through the surrounding limestone rocks. Over time, the continual flow of water opened crevasses and forced sediments to flow throughout the caves, leaving in it's wake an endless network of deep tunnels. About an hour drive from La Fortuna, these caves are a must for anyone visiting the area.
Directions on how to get to Arenal
There are three different routes you can take en route to Lake Arenal (Arenal Volcano), however, it depends on which end of the lake you are most interested. The eastern end of the lake (La Fortuna) provides access to the Arenal Volcano National Park and Caño Negro Reserve, while the western side of the lake brings you to the town of Tilarán, which is where most of the windsurfing related hotels and businesses are based.
Via La Fortuna
The most direct route is via San Ramon, for which there is a clearly marked exit sign off the auto pista (Interamerica Highway); which departs west of San José, past the airport and continues northwest past the coastal port of Puntarenas. The exit for San Ramon is approximately 31.5 miles or 50.5 kms from San José. Generally speaking, the road conditions are in very good condition, particularly once you get off at the San Ramon exit; your trip to La Fortuna will take between 2 1/2-3 hours. As a second alternative, you can exit the auto-pista just prior to the exit for San Ramon (approximately 23.5 miles or 37.5kms from San José), at an exit for San Carlos (Ciudad Quesada). This route to La Fortuna will take you through the small community of Zarcero, which has one of the most picturesque main squares in the country. The colorful gardens, which reside just in front of the church, are filled with hand trimmed hedges depicting arches, animals and other odd shapes. Zacero provides for terrific photographic opportunities. Once again, the road conditions are in very good condition, and your trip to La Fortuna will require a 3 hour drive from San José.
Regardless of which route you take, your drive through the northern zone of Costa Rica will be most enjoyable. Steep inclines, twisting turning roads, lined with small farms and green rolling hills is what you can expect to see en route to La Fortuna. Your trip north is perhaps one of the most scenic and enjoyable in Costa Rica. Both routes are clearly marked with roads signs directing you to the small community of La Fortuna or Lake Arenal.
For those whose prefer to visit the west end of the lake, you can take the Panamerican Highway towards Liberia, getting of at Cañas. There is a large sign on the right side of the road for Cañas, Lake Arenal and Tilarán; it is just after the red bull ring. Take this road straight to the end and turn left following it until it reaches Tilarán, approximately 21km (12.5 miles). You enter Tilarán at a fork, for those who want to continue to Lake Arenal, turn left at the fork and continue on straight. From this side of the lake, one can easily access the famous windsurfing spots which are concentrated on this end of the lake.