How to Experience Lake Arenal Near La Fortuna, Costa Rica

Lake Arenal in the northern portion of Costa Rica is the largest fresh water lake in the country. This is a beautiful place to visit from La Fortuna or one of the other surrounding towns. The Arenal Volcano sits off of the shores of the lake, providing a stunning backdrop.

We created this post to tell you the best hotels and restaurants with great Lake Arenal views, the best things to do on the lake, help you find the best viewpoints, and give you some background info on how this place was formed (hint…it’s man-made!)

So, let’s get to planning your perfect visit to Lake Arenal in Costa Rica!

What is Lake Arenal?

lake arenal view

Lake Arenal is the country’s largest lake. It covers an area of approximately 33 square miles (85 square kilometers). 

Arenal Volcano, an active stratovolcano, stands on the lake’s eastern shore, which adds to the dramatic landscape of the area.

The lake used to be much smaller, but in 1979 the area underwent a significant transformation with the construction of the Arenal Hydroelectric Dam. 

This dam was strategically placed across the Arenal River and resulted in the intentional flooding of the surrounding lowlands including several villages. People resettled in other nearby villages. 

The Arenal Hydroelectric Dam is a key component of Costa Rica’s energy infrastructure. It produces a significant portion of the country’s electricity by harnessing the power of the Arenal River to generate renewable energy. 

How to Get to the Lake

lake arenal road

Lake Arenal is located in the Northern Mountain region of Costa Rica. It is most often visited from the town of La Fortuna. La Fortuna is the most popular jungle town in the country and great for adventure or relaxing in hot springs.

Access from La Fortuna

If you’re coming from La Fortuna, getting to Lake Arenal is quite straightforward. 

Head west from the downtown area on the main road. You will drive past all of the hot spring parks.

You’ll find yourself at the shores of Lake Arenal in approximately 30-40 minutes, depending on the specific location.

Travel Between La Fortuna and Monteverde

If you are planning to travel between La Fortuna and Monteverde, it’s important to note that the two towns appear close on a map, but because of the lake it actually takes about 3 hours to drive between them. 

You basically have to drive all the way around the lake.

Also, this road is paved, but it is very curvy. This drive is the one route in Costa Rica that makes me car sick every time. So, load up on some motion sickness pills if you notoriously get car sick.

Further in this post I have a section about all the best viewpoints. Make sure that you stop often on your drive to get nice pictures (and take a break from the car sickness). 

Note: If you do not have a rental car you can opt for a fun transportation option and take a combination of shuttle and boat across Lake Arenal. This unique experience involves a comfortable van, a boat ride across Lake Arenal, and then another van ride. 

Book Your Transfer with Boat Ride

Nearby Towns

Several charming towns surround Lake Arenal, each offering a unique experience for visitors. A few of the more popular ones are:

  • La Fortuna: A bustling town known for its hot springs and proximity to the Arenal Volcano.
  • Nuevo Arenal: Situated on the northern shore, this village offers a quieter lakeside experience but with easy access to the main road. There are a few hotels and restaurants options here. 
  • Castillo: A charming town, is situated near the northeastern shore of Lake Arena. This is a great alternative place to stay if you want the volcano and lake views without the action of La Fortuna. 

Best Time of Year to Visit

Really, you can visit year-round and enjoy this spot. However, you will usually have the best chance of clear views of Arenal Volcano during the dry season (from December until late April).

During the rainy season, the volcano can be fogged in. 

The downside is, the dry season is also the time of year with the strongest winds. The lake’s waters can sometimes be a bit rough for kayaking or SUP at that time. 

Scenic Spots and Photo Opportunities

lake arenal view

We created a map so you can easily find the best hotels, restaurants and viewpoints.

All of the viewpoints are labeled purple on the Lake Arenal Map. 

I’ll explain each one.

  • Mirador Lake Arenal:  The entrance to this viewpoint is through the Arenal Volcano National Park. You will need to pay park admission (which also includes access to the other trails). The walk here is about .7 miles long on flat paved paths. The path ends with a really nice platform over the lake with benches and views of both the lake and volcano. 
  • Parque de las Luciérnagas: This is not a viewpoint, but rather a spot where coatis often hang out. Sometimes you can see huge groups of them. Pull your car off to the side of the road (but be careful people sometimes go fast here) and look if you can spot these cuties. 
  • Arenal Volcano Lookout: A good place to safely pull off your car. There is a gravel lot. A lot of boat tours leave from this spot. 
  • Panoramic Viewpoint: A good spot to safely pull off the road. There are often locals fishing from the shore here, but you can stop to enjoy the views. 
  • Ceiba Tree: This is not only a viewpoint, but also an impressive tree that is over 400 years old. You most likely have never seen such a massive tree. It costs about $4 per person to visit, but I think it is a nice little stop. 
  • Nuevo Arenal Lake Park: This is a small grassy park directly on the lake. This is a popular place for locals to hang out for the day to go swimming. I don’t really suggest swimming here though. People also sometimes camp here. The last time I was here it was free to park. 
  • Mirador Tilarán: This is the first lake viewpoint you will come to if driving from Monteverde to La Fortuna. There is a pull-off area for cars and often local vendors sell different crafts here. 

Fun Things to Do on Lake Arenal

lake arenal view

There are several fun things to do on the lake. It is a great place to enjoy activities with the impressive Arenal Volcano backdrop. Some of the best things to do include…

Go WindSurfing or Kitesurfing

This lake is the best place to windsurf or kitesurf in the country. As I mentioned above, the best time of year for strong wind is during the dry season (December through April). The wind can get up to about 35 miles per hour. 

This activity is currently starting to gain popularity here, so I don’t have a ton of info on the best day rental options yet.

I know that TicoWind offers rentals and lessons windsurfing, kitesurfing, foiling, and wing foiling.

They have good reviews, so I suggest contacting them if you are interested in this activity. 

Contact TicoWind

Go on a Moonshine Sunset Cruise

I mean, moonshine and epic views? Can you really beat that? 

This moonshine tour takes place on a comfortable boat at sunset with an experienced guide. The sunset views with Arenal Volcano in the background are amazing.

This tour includes:

  • Transportation from La Fortuna area hotels
  • Snacks
  • Moonshine

Check Availability and Book the Moonshine Sunset Cruise

Go Paddle Boarding

If you are a stand-up paddle boarding lover or even if it is your first time, this is a great place to experience this activity.

The lake and volcano have such peaceful vibes. You should enjoy their beauty with a relaxing experience.

This tour includes:

  • A basic technical lesson about the SUP activity and safety from your guide Jose
  • A peaceful paddle with the chance to spot wildlife such as turtles, fish, and many species of birds
  • Photos and videos of your experience sent to you

This tour is led by Jose, who is awesome! It is a private tour for only you and your travel companions. Transportation is not included, so you will need to drive yourself to the start point. 

Check Availability and Book Your Paddle Boarding Adventure

Mountain Bike Around Lake Arenal

This adventure is for all of you in decent physical shape. 

This mountain biking experience will take you through farmlands, alongside the jungle, over rivers, and along the base of the majestic Arenal Volcano.

It’s an exciting way to soak in the natural beauty of this area.

This fun adventure includes:

  • Hotel pickup and drop-off in the La Fortuna area
  • Mountain bike usage
  • Helmet usage
  • An experienced bilingual bicycle guide
  • Snacks

Check Availability and Book a Mountain Bike Ride Around the Lake

Take a Guided Kayaking Tour

This fun tour is perfect for all kayak skill levels. It is a leisurely paddle with a guide on the lake, and in our opinion this is a great way to really embrace the scenery here.

Your informed guide will tell you all about the history of the lake and hopefully you will spot some wildlife as well!

Check Availability and Book Your Kayaking Tour

Go Ziplining

One of the best ways to enjoy views of the lake and volcano is with an adrenaline-pumping zip-lining adventure

We suggest Sky Adventures for this because they are located very close to the volcano. I think the best way to enjoy this is with their Sky Trek and Sky Tram combo tour.

  • Sky Trek is their zip lining park that totals 1.7 miles in length on 7 different cables.
  • Sky Tram is their gondola-like tram system that will take you to the top of the Arenal Reserve. This is a good opportunity to get aerial pictures of the lake and volcano. 

Check Availability and Book Your Combo Tour at Sky Adventures

Go Fishing

On Lake Arenal, it is possible to go kayak fishing or go out in a small boat.

Along the way, you might catch rainbow bass, tilapia, and more!

We suggest booking your trip with Captain Marc on his 19’ Sea Pro boat. He’s the best and I guarantee you’ll have a great time.

Or if you prefer kayaking, you can book your kayak fishing trip here.

Take a Boat Tour

This carefully crafted tour combines a scenic boat ride with easy hiking trails. 

The highlights include: 

  • Cruise through the bays and peninsulas of Lake Arenal aboard a small-group boat.
  • Learn about Lake Arenal, and hear the fascinating story of the relocation of the town of Arenal in 1979 when the lake underwent expansion.
  • Embark on a roughly 2-mile hike along easily accessible trails.
  • Visit a sightseeing tower that offers breathtaking 360° views of the lake and the imposing Arenal Volcano.
  • Enjoy bird watching opportunities, spotting toucans, motmots, trogons, oropendolas, and possibly hearing or seeing monkeys.

Hassle-free pickup and drop-off from La Fortuna area hotels is included

Check Availability and Book Your Boat Tour

Visit the Butterfly Sanctuary

The Butterfly Sanctuary located in El Castillo is on the shores of the lake. We really like this place for its peaceful educational feel. Plus, on a clear day you can get an amazing view of the volcano.

Here you can learn all about the life cycle of butterflies, see tons of different butterflies, visit the frog sanctuary, and more! It’s a hidden gem that I strongly suggest. 

Check out the Butterfly Sanctuary Website

Restaurants with Lake Views

Here are all of our favorite restaurants in the area. We included all of them in our Lake Arenal map. Look for them labeled in blue.

La Tortuga Arenal Restaurant

La Tortuga Arenal Restaurant serves delicious Costa Rican food.

We love it because they have tables set up on the large front lawn with a view of the lake. If it is raining, you can always sit in the covered area as well. 

Check out La Tortuga Arenal Restaurant

Fusion Arenal Mirador Restaurante

A great place to go for a nice dinner with amazing views of the Arenal Volcano. We like to come here at sunset for dinner with the view of the sun going down behind the volcano. 

They serve fish, steaks, rice dishes, burgers, and sandwiches. 

Fusion Arenal Mirador is open all day so you can come here for breakfast or lunch as well. 

Check out Fusion Arenal Mirador

Gingerbread Restaurant 

The Gingerbread Restaurant doesn’t have a direct lake view, but I included it anyway because the food and ambiance is amazing and it is very close to the lake.

The chef here (Chef Eyal) takes his job seriously! I suggest getting the chefs choice tasting menu of several courses.

This is a fun place to go for dinner with a lively atmosphere. 

Check out Gingerbread Restaurant

Restaurant by the Lake Tinajas Arenal

I would call this a hidden gem. The food here is always cooked perfectly, the staff are very nice, and the views are epic.

I suggest coming here for dinner. 

Check out Lake Tinjas Arenal

Selva Paraiso Coffee Shop

A good place to stop on your drive to or from Arenal for a coffee. There are often hummingbirds hanging out here as well on the hummingbird feeders. 

Check out Selva Paraiso Coffee Shop

For more nearby restaurants check out our guide to the 19 best La Fortuna Places to Eat

Hotels with Lake Views

Here are all the best hotels with lake views in the area. Additionally, I suggest checking out VRBO. There are tons of amazing vacation rentals with views.

We also included all of these hotels on our Lake Arenal map. The hotels are labeled in orange.

Agua Inn

How to Experience Lake Arenal Near La Fortuna, Costa Rica

⭐️ RATING: 9.5/10 Stars on | 💵 PRICE POINT: mid-range | ✅ Book it!

Nestled in a natural rainforest setting, Agua Inn is just 200 meters from Arenal Lake. This charming spa hotel boasts a refreshing jungle swimming pool.

You can unwind in rooms with vibrant traditional décor, enjoy your private terrace overlooking the forest, and indulge in a typical Costa Rican breakfast.

There are no direct lake views, but there is a small stream running next to the hotel which you can enjoy the sound of.  

Check Availability and Book Agua Inn

Hotel Laguna Arenal

How to Experience Lake Arenal Near La Fortuna, Costa Rica

⭐️ RATING: 9.5/10 Stars on | 💵 PRICE POINT: high end | ✅ Book it!

A minimalistic and modern hotel that consists of private bungalows for two guests.

As far as views, you can’t get a much better panoramic lake view than from your private terrace here.

Just note that there isn’t a pool at this property.  

Check Availability and Book Hotel Laguna Arenal

La Ceiba Tree Lodge

How to Experience Lake Arenal Near La Fortuna, Costa Rica

⭐️ RATING: 9.4/10 Stars on | 💵 PRICE POINT: mid-range | ✅ Book it!

This hotel has a rustic Costa Rican charm. All rooms have a view of the lake and some have a balcony as well.

A delicious traditional Costa Rican breakfast is served every morning. 

Check Availability and Book La Ceiba Tree Lodge

Casa Donna Rosa B&B

How to Experience Lake Arenal Near La Fortuna, Costa Rica

⭐️ RATING: 9.8/10 Stars on | 💵 PRICE POINT: mid-range | ✅ Book it!

This B&B is great for families because they have rooms that can sleep up to 5 guests.

There is a small outdoor pool, daily yoga classes, and daily breakfast. 

Check Availability and Book Casa Donna Rosa

Pie in the Sky 3 Luxury home

How to Experience Lake Arenal Near La Fortuna, Costa Rica

⭐️ RATING: 9.8/10 Stars on | 💵 PRICE POINT: high end | ✅ Book it!

This is not a hotel, but rather a vacation rental home. This property can sleep up to 15 guests in 5 bedrooms.

The house is a bit rustic, but well maintained.

The property features an outdoor grill, large outdoor pool, jacuzzi, and picnic area. This property has not only views of the lake but also of Arenal Volcano. 

Check Availability and Book Pie in the Sky 3

For more nearby hotels check out our guide to the 27 Best Places to Stay in La Fortuna

Conclusion: Lake Arenal

In conclusion, Lake Arenal is a great spot to visit while in the Northern Mountain region of Costa Rica. It is beautiful, easily accessible, and filled with several great activities, hotels, and restaurants.

If you have any questions about visiting Lake Arenal don’t hesitate to leave them in the comment section below. We are always happy to help you out!

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We find that Viator tends to have the most comprehensive selection of activities with secure booking and good cancellation policies.

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Of course! I suggest joining our Facebook group for specific questions and head to our Start Here Page to get started planning.

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