Hotels are predominantly along Lake Arenal ’s north shore. There are more to choose from than those listed here.
Cabinas Catalina (tel. 506/8819-6793, $15 s, $20 d) has somewhat Spartan rooms in a two-story block in the village center; it makes a pretense of hot water. Californian Trent Deushane gave up the good life as a driver (call him the original “roadie”) for the Rolling Stones and other rock stars for an even better one at Arenal.
In 2009 he opened the Agua Inn (tel. 506/2694-4218, www.aguainn.com , $70–80 s/d room, $125 s/d apartment) on a forest-shaded riverbank two kilometers west of Nuevo Arenal. This intimate and eclectically designed two-story bed-and-breakfast has four colorful guest rooms with comfy furnishings, plus a fully furnished apartment (three-night minimum), all with WiFi, and a riverside swimming pool.
The Swiss-owned Hotel & Restaurant Los Héroes (tel. 506/2692-8012, www.hotellosheroes.com , $55–65 s/d, $115 s/d apartment, including breakfast) is a chalet-style hotel with hints of the Alps at every turn. Twelve nicely appointed rooms feature brass beds and balconies. International cuisine is served in the Tyrolean restaurant. Highlights include a pool and whirlpool tub, stables for horseback rides, and a boat for dinner and sunset cruises. Irrevocably Swiss, the hotel even has its own miniature diesel train that runs on a rail circuit through tunnels and over bridges. Credit cards are not accepted.
Named for the huge ceiba tree beneath whose shade it was built, La Ceiba Tree Lodge (tel./fax 506/2692-8050, www.ceibatree-lodge.com , $35 s, $55 d low season; $40 s, $69 d high season), about six kilometers east of town, is a small German-run bed-and-breakfast amid a 16-hectare farm that swathes the hillside. Five large and airy rooms have orthopedic mattresses, plus private baths with hot water. There’s also a suite, plus a small apartment with kitchen. Breakfast is served on the patio of the owner’s fabulous A-frame contemporary house with fine lake views. Trails lead into a forest reserve. Rates include breakfast.
Owners Jeff and Bill make you feel right at home in their charming Villa Decary (tel./fax 506/2694-4330, www.villadecary.com , $99 s/d rooms, $129–149 casitas), a small country inn on a former fruit and coffee finca on three hilly hectares between Nuevo Arenal and the botanical gardens. The contemporary two-story structure glows with light. Hardwood furniture gleams. Five large bedrooms each have bright Guatemalan covers, plus a balcony with a handy rail that serves as bench and table. Three new cabinas are perched farther up the hill. The gardens and surrounding forest are great for bird-watching. The American-run hotel is gay-friendly and has WiFi. No credit cards are accepted. Rates include full breakfast.
The Israeli-owned Gingerbread Boutique Hotel & Restaurant (tel. 506/2694-0039, www.gingerbreadarenal.com , $85 s/d low season, $100 s/d high season) has four exquisitely decorated air-conditioned rooms with cable TV, telephone, WiFi, and ceiling fans, plus colorful art and murals with themes of butterflies, jungle, and cupid (for honeymooners). A newer, larger room costs $120 s/d. The stone-clad gourmet restaurant with wrought-iron furniture is hands-down the main reason to stay here.
The Arenal Lodge (tel. 506/2290-4232, www.arenallodge.com , $64–139 s/d low season, $71–164 s/d high season), at the extreme northeast of the lake, is a Spanish colonial–style lodge with an inviting atmosphere and an inspiring aesthetic. The 50 spacious and attractive rooms—some with volcano view—come in seven types, from standards to chalets and suites. Most have wood paneling, louvered windows, and colorful fabrics. Most have balconies with rockers for enjoying the grandstand volcano views; the modestly furnished hilltop junior suites have the best views. There’s a library, kids’ room, lounge bar, cable TV, and a lovely heated pool with sundeck. It has a butterfly garden plus trails into its own primary forest reserve.
The Lost Iguana Hotel (tel. 506/2479-1551, www.lostiguanaresort.com , $185 s/d standard, $255–460 s/d deluxe suites, $395 s/d villa), near Hanging Bridges, just east of the dam, has beautifully laid-out and classily furnished accommodations, including luxury villas with two-person tubs. A delightful thatched open-air restaurant and bar overlooks the pool and landscaped grounds, with the volcano as a backdrop. It has its own spa and trails lead into a private reserve.
By far the most sumptuous hotel hereabouts, the Hotel La Mansion Inn (tel. 506/2692-8018, www.lamansionarenal.com , $150–595 s/d low season, $225–795 s/d high season), eight kilometers east of Nuevo Arenal, is also the most beautiful place for miles. Its hillside setting is complemented by bougainvillea clambering over 16 cabinas with lake views. Each beautifully decorated unit has a timbered ceiling, elegant antiques and wrought-iron furniture, and a mezzanine bedroom with king-size bed, with a small lounge below. French doors open onto a veranda with Sarchí rockers. Five luxury rooms take the decor to new heights. Each unit has its own sheltered carport. And the ultra-luxe Royal Honeymoon Suite and Royal Cottage sleep up to six people. The open-air bar (shaped like a ship’s prow) and restaurant is decorated with nautical motifs. There’s a spring-fed horizon-edge swimming pool. Guests get use of horses, canoes, and rowboats, and tours are offered. Rates include breakfast and horseback riding.
At Tronadora, on the south shore, the Puerto San Luis Lodge & Yacht Club (tel. 506/2695-5750, www.hotelpuertosanluiscr.com , $40 s, $50 d) occupies a sheltered cove. Its 20 rooms have been refurbished in modest yet comfy style, and have cable TV and ceiling fans. The setting is lovely, there’s a pool with water slide, and a restaurant takes advantage of the views.
I love the hillside Mystica Resort (tel. 506/2692-1001, www.mysticacostarica.com , $85 s, $100 d), run by an Italian couple on the west shore. Set in lush grounds, it offers six large, simply furnished rooms in lovely pastel earth tones with king beds, thick comforters, and luxurious linens. Sit on your veranda and admire the landscaped grounds cascading to the lake below and Arenal Volcano in the distance. Gourmet dinners are served in a cozy high-ceiling restaurant that specializes in pizzas. It has a yoga deck overlooking the river, plus a landscaped swimming pool and a massage room. For even more luxury, opt for the romantic private villa with kitchen and fireplace. Rates include breakfast.
Groups gravitate toward Lake Coter Ecolodge (tel. 560/2289-6060, U.S. tel. 866/211-0956, www.ecolodgecostarica.com , $65 s or $75 d standard, $80 s or $90 d cabins), an elegant hardwood-and-brick structure in landscaped grounds backed by 300 hectares of forest reserve west of Lake Coter. A cozy lounge with deep-cushion sofas is centered on a large open-hearth fireplace. The 23 garden-view rooms are fairly small and clinical, but pleasant enough. Preferable are the 14 four-person duplex cabins with smashing views. The lodge has a game room, lounge bar, a pleasing restaurant, and all manner of activities.
Friendly Great Danes welcome guests to the delightful American-run
Chalet Nicholas (tel./fax 506/2694-4041, www.chaletnicholas.com , $58 s/d low season, $68 s/d high season), a splendid three-bedroom Colorado-style guesthouse two kilometers west of Nuevo Arenal (at road marker Km 48). Run by live-in owners Catherine and John Nichola, it exudes charm and all the comforts of home. Two bedrooms are downstairs. A spiral staircase winds up to a larger semi-private loft bedroom with a cozy sitting area boasting a deck good for bird-watching. All rooms have volcano views, orthopedic mattresses, and intriguing wall hangings. The inn proffers a TV lounge, a fruit orchard and orchid house, plus hiking and horseback riding along trails into an adjacent forest reserve. The organic meals get rave reviews. A splendid bargain, rates include breakfast—perhaps Cathy’s macadamia-nut pancakes served with fresh fruit. No smoking or credit cards.
Lucky Bug B&B (tel. 506/2694-4515, www.luckybugcr.net , $69 s/d low season, $89 s/d high season), two kilometers west of Nuevo Arenal, has five delightful individually themed rooms (such as the Frog Room and the Lizard Room) with lively art, balconies, and quaint bathrooms. Located upstairs in a two-story building, the rooms can get hot. Downstairs comprises a large family suite. The owners, German-expat Monika Krauskopf and hubby Willy, are delightful hosts. You can paddle around on a small lake; the fabulous Caballo Negro restaurant is a bonus.
On the south shore, the Hotel Tilawa (tel. 506/2695-5050, www.hotel-tilawa.com , from $48–58 s/d low season, from $58–68 s/d high season) is inspired by the Palace of Knossos on Crete: Thick bulbous columns, walls painted with flowers and dolphins, and ocher pastels play on the Cretan theme. It has 24 spacious albeit simply furnished rooms and four junior suites with magnificent views over the lake, plus six more-appealing apartments with thick columns and gorgeous bathrooms. Alas, in inclement weather the place is blasted by wind and rains and is drafty and damp; it felt a bit run-down at last visit. A bar and restaurant (which uses organic produce from the hotel’s own farm) are somewhat shielded from the winds by floor-to-ceiling windows, and the lounge has WiFi. The hotel specializes in windsurfing and has a swimming pool and tennis court. The highlight is its brewpub, a great reward after hiking any of four trails replete with howler monkeys and other wildlife.