Costa Rica with Kids – A Family Vacation at Arenal Lodge, La Fortuna de San Carlos: While the La Fortuna area of Costa Rica bustles with tourist traffic to numerous hotels, resorts, and spas, family-friendly Arenal Lodge is located peacefully past the hubub, just on the other side of the dam of Lago Arenal.
Once turning in the driveway and passing through the entrance gate, you’ll make way up a 3 km winding road to the hotel, which is situated on its own 2,000 acres of meadows and rain forest.
Just walking around the property and staring out our windows we had many opportunities to view central Costa Rica’s wildlife and enjoy its natural beauty. And at an elevation well above most other hotels in the La Fortuna area, I have to say it was a bit more relaxing to look out at the volcano rather than right up it.
Rooms and Chalets
Arenal Lodge has a wide range of family-friendly accommodations to choose from, ranging from basic standard rooms without volcano views that sleep up to three people in a queen bed and single bed, to junior suites and matrimonial suites with great volcano views, and the most fun option of all: the view chalets situated high on a ridge behind the main hotel.
As you can see, we had quite the lofty view from our upper-story chalet, which can sleep 5 comfortably between the queen bed, king bed, and fold-out twin sleeper. There was also plenty of room for our toddler travel bed.
Each chalet has a three-sided glass viewing area with the same combination of furniture you see here for seating: Love seat (converts to twin bed), wooden rocker, and cushy recliner. Glass louvers in the side panels can be adjusted to create a nice cross breeze when desired.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I have to share that a rustling sound at the ceiling woke the adults in our party in the middle of the night. Happily, we learned the following day that it was not rats, but a certain type of bats that often roost up by the chalets, thanks to their ridgeline location. (If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow, don’t be alarmed now.)
The “kitchenette” is equipped with a sink, small microwave, and mini refrigerator, so don’t plan on doing much cooking here other than microwave popcorn or reheating leftovers from the restaurant. A counter-height table and two chairs is also provided, with the electric coffee maker and fixings to its side.
The bathroom with shower stall (no tub, as is the norm in water-conserving Costa Rica) was separated from the bathroom sink, which proved convenient for our group. However, an opening above the bathroom/shower wall left little to the imagination.
That said, we felt incredibly lucky to have this unfettered view of the volcano, with a blue macaw sweeping by our window one morning at dawn, a tapir trotting across the sloped hillside beneath the chalets before we left for breakfast, and one of the two most spectacular sunrises I’ve seen in my life–this one coming from behind the volcano as I glanced up from my bed.
Dining at Arenal Lodge
Complete buffet breakfast was included with our stay, and while the kids enjoyed yet more fresh fruit, pancakes and the like, we really looked forward to the custom omelets made to order (with a smile).
Dinners in the restaurant, where you can watch the moon rise on the volcano, included Costa Rican specialties and simpler fare for the younger palate, though when my mother ordered a petite filet mignon one night, she said it was one of the best she’d ever had–and our mouths watered with envy. They also offer a comprehensive wine selection for enthusiasts.
Guests of Arenal Lodge are welcome to visit the Butterfly House (mariposarium) for free and as often as they like during their stay. It is just a short walk from the main building, but I will give you a friendly warning that its exterior startled us and you may also think you’ve stumbled upon an abandoned structure in the wild.
Upon entering though, we were dazzled by lovely plants and clouds of magnificent butterflies including blue morphos (shown here feeding on mangoes with wings up for camouflage). Being the only guests in their at the time was a treat.
Arenal Lodge also offers daily horseback rides right on its expansive property with meadow and volcano views, and to the surprise of my 5-year-old daughter, they were able to fit my saddle with a foam wedge so I could take her along for the leisurely ride–during which we spotted toucans in the wild and a howler monkey mother and baby. (Here we are setting off from the resort.)
The horseback rides fill up very quickly, so make your reservation as soon as you can to avoid disappointment. (Also bring a tip for your guide who will help you spot wildlife where you might least expect it, and a small camera for when you do.)
Swimming Pool and Jacuzzis – The swimming pool is perched on the slope behind the hotel restaurant and lounge, overlooking the meadow where the horses graze each afternoon, with only an infinity line between you and the volcano view. There is a Jacuzzi located off to each side from the pool and a third located behind the main hotel building. It’s hard to imagine a pool view to top this for anyone visiting the interior of Costa Rica with kids!
Free WiFi and Computers – Wireless internet access is available to guests throughout the lobby area of the hotel, including on the sofas by the fireplace and wooden bench swings at the back. The wireless Internet does not reach the hotel rooms, however. A room with two computers is also available across from the restaurant, where guests may catch up on email.
Playground – There is a large wooden play structure with swings and two slides located behind the hotel lobby.
Laundry – Laundry service is available to guests and is billed per item.
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Words to the Wise
While there are many hotels in the La Fortuna / Arenal area, and most with some sort of view of the volcano, this may be your most relaxing option with young children.
Set a comfortable distance from the busy track through La Fortuna, with literally thousands of acres around you, toddlers and young kids will have plenty of space to walk around and romp while you enjoy the green space around you and watch for the wildlife living here.
Its proximity to Hanging Bridges (the next long driveway over) and other area attractions also makes a convenient home base. And to top it off: This hotel is in one of the safest locations of all area lodgings in case of a volcanic event (sleep on that)!
The Bottom Line
Did we enjoy our family vacation at Arenal Lodge? Absolutely. Would we recommend it to a friend visiting Costa Rica with kids? Yes. Would we stay there again? Yes. Want to find out more? Visit www.arenallodge.com.
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