Natural mineral hot springs, restorative resorts and a never-ending list of outdoor activities are what make Arenal, Costa Rica a perfect wellness weekend destination. While the country of “pura vida” is known for its long stretches of sandy beaches and lush rainforests, Arenal is an inland destination that many have yet to discover.
Arenal’s namesake is the Arenal Volcano, holding third place for most active volcano in Costa Rica. The Arenal Volcano’s last eruption was in 2010, and visitors can now enjoy its lush national forest and serene lake, as well as the area’s deluge of relaxing activities and healthy cuisine.
Great for a long weekend, I recommend a visit to Arenal the next time you’re planning a nourishing and rejuvenating vacation.
Because it’s a landlocked area, Arenal attracts other types of adventurers and wellness seekers besides the surfers and snorkelers that flock to Costa Rica’s shorelines. It has a few very special qualities of its own that make it a must-visit destination.
Arenal’s base has waterfalls to swim underneath, a lake perfect for paddle boarding and kayaking, and geothermal hot springs scattered throughout the neighboring towns where visitors can soak in a blissfully relaxing vacation.
Here’s a play by play of the perfect wellness weekend in Arenal:
Arenal and its neighboring towns, most popular being La Fortuna, are a two and a half to three-hour Northwest drive from San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica. I flew into Juan Santamaría International Airport, the closest airport to San Jose. After renting a car at the airport, you’ll make your way through small towns and farmlands. All of the roads will be well paved yet very winding in sections. I recommend taking this drive in the daylight to feel comfortable with the roads and to be able to see signage clearly.
Where to Stay
Most lodging around the Arenal Volcano is set quite far back from civilization, so you’ll have clear views of the volcano. You’ll have a restful and quiet stay, free from the noise of traffic and crowds you may hear in a busy city. Hotels in the area come with different combinations of amenities such as outdoor pools, free access to hot springs, individual bungalows and a breakfast of fresh fruits, juices and warm options like eggs and breakfast meats.
Every accommodation is a little different, so choose your home base by which activity is most important to you! Some favorites of ours are Ranch Villa Airbnb for a large group getaway to paradise, Hotel Lomas del Volcan for its clear view of the volcano and rustic cabins, and Volcano Lodge for its private hot springs and lush landscaping.
What to Do
Start your morning with a centering yoga practice to ground your spirit and mind. La Fortuna Yoga was the first yoga studio to open in the Arenal area. With a wide range of class options: vinyasa, hatha, meditation,etc., it’s a very welcoming studio to locals and visitors alike. If you’ll be visiting for more than a few days, grab the $30 two-week intro deal, so you can return as much as you’d like during your stay in Arenal.
Or take a three to four hour guided kayak or paddle boarding tour of Lake Arenal. With an 8AM departure time, you’ll be out on the lake early to enjoy uninterrupted views of the volcano before the harsh sun beats down in the afternoon.
Spend your afternoons (or really all day, I won’t judge) at Arenal’s signature experience: the hot springs! Baldi is the largest and most well known. With twenty-five thermal mineral springs, you’ll hop from one pool to the next, as they vary in temperature and aesthetic, with the temperature of pools becoming incrementally warmer as you meander through the park from beginning to end.
Grab a full day pass for Baldi and spend as much time as you want in each pool. I even recommend hanging out until the evening, as the hottest pools are best once the air temperature drops and the crowds disappear.
Tabacón, a luxury hotel which has five thermal pools, a restaurant, sauna, and even a waterfall to soak under, is my recommendation for experiencing Arenal when you’re looking to splurge - day passes are about $100 per person, but well worth it. Book a day pass to Tabacón in advance, as they give out a limited amount of tickets each day.
If you’re more interested in a free (but just as relaxing) natural hot spring, ask your hotel staff to direct you to Rio Chollin. It’s a little bit of a walk up an unmarked path from the road, but the final destination of floating in the rushing currents of warm water is well worth it. Go in the late afternoon or early evening to avoid crowds!
After a day of soaking in hot springs or getting a workout from kayaking on the lake, a light walk through the Arenal National Park is a relaxing wind down activity before dinner. Check out an evening frog watching tour through Arenal Oasis’s Wildlife Refuge, to take in the quiet life of the tropical forest.
Where to Eat
As you meander the downtown of La Fortuna, Arenal Volcano’s closest town, you’ll see many signs for “sodas” which serve “comida tipica.” Most options will be a variation of the traditional plates of Costa Rica, which include meat, rice and beans and vegetables. While you’ll have the option for fried dishes, the food in Costa Rica is mostly unadorned and unprocessed. I recommend focusing on the large variety of fruits and vegetables Arenal has to offer. If you want to plan your meals out in advance, your hotel should be able to provide a list of restaurants that can accommodate any specific dietary restrictions. Examples of wellness-focused restaurants in the area that I love are Hunters and Gatherers and Organica Fortuna.
Spend your last night loosening the reins of your wellness regimen and enjoy dinner at Lava Lounge, a brightly decorated restaurant with a long list of cocktails. They serve a slice of watermelon with every meal, so I’d still consider it a health-conscious restaurant!
While Costa Rica is a country already welcoming to the health-conscious and wellness-obsessed, Arenal is a special destination to retreat to when you’re looking to escape from the chaos of everyday life.
There’s no denying that the Arenal Volcano and its surrounding area have their own personality and rhythm of existence. As a once dangerous and powerful active volcano, the beauty of Arenal can now be experienced safely by all of us who make the visit.