The Observatory Lodge is part of Arenal Volcano National Park of Costa Rica. The Lodge overlooks the famous Arenal volcano that had been active until a few years ago and is a mountain of majestic beauty. The Lodge offers nice amenities and lots of activities on and off its grounds.
The lodge itself does not look over impressive, but it’s the views and the surroundings that matter.
The main building hosts the restaurant and a sort of living room with a small library, TV and board games, and has a large observation deck featuring the Arenal volcano views:
The restaurant has a huge glass wall so that you could enjoy the views with your meal:
There is a walkway around the building for more views
View of Arenal Lake from the observation deck:
In case it rains or storms, one can wait out the weather in the living room that provides the same views (when not obstructed by clouds):
The Lodge has several buildings with different kinds of rooms. The suites in the main building are not luxurious but quite spacious, with patios that overlook the volcano and the surrounding rainforest.
The view from the patio: the Arenal peak is hiding behind the rain cloud:
The hotel grounds are about several acres large and offer an outdoor swimming pool and lots of paved and unpaved trails.
The Lodge also offers guided wildlife tours, some of which are walk-only and some require a short drive. One of the tours follows the Lava Trail that leads to the lava field that buried a whole village during the major eruption in 1968. This is an easy hike and provides some opportunities for wildlife watching – given you have a guide that knows what and where to look for.
The highlight of the tour was the red eyed tree frog. It had huge popping out red eyes, denim blue belly and legs, and orange feet. It looked like a cute painted toy. This one didn’t mind posing for pictures. His name is Charlie – at least this is how our guide called him.
We also saw a wild pineapple, more fruits and flowers the names of which I immediately forgot, and a few birds. Bird watching is an option as well – but unlike the frogs you can only see the birds from afar and usually need a spyglass. Most guides carry the spyglasses on the tours and are very good at using them for taking photos with a smartphone.
Another option is to hike to the top of Cerro Chato volcano. Cerro Chato is a smaller brother of Arenal and is located a few kilometers from the latter. On a good day Cerro Chato trail provides incredible views of Arenal, and Cerro Chato crater itself is worth descending into – there is a small lake there where one can swim.
On a rainy day – and there are lots of rainy days in the rainforest – the trail can get muddy, the view can be obstructed by the fog and the clouds, but it is still beautiful because nothing distracts you from observing the forest itself.
The trail can be a muddy mess. Prepare for a mud fight feeling.
Nevertheless, a hike on a rainy day is worth it. The park shows a special kind of beauty and serenity when it’s cloudy and raining.
Those who show up for daily guided tours of the Lodge premises are usually rewarded by sightings of coatis (cute hog-snouted raccoon-like creatures), toads, frogs, multiple birds and unique local plants. As a special treat the tour includes a ride in a tractor-driven coach:
If you’re staying at the Observatory Lodge, eating at their restaurant is the best option. The restaurant has large windows and great views, and features very decent and inexpensive Costa Rican food. Try their gallo pinto for breakfast(a mix of rice, beans and other stuff), vegetable or beef casado as a main course, and don’t forget the local cheese. The wine list is short but passable for a mountain lodge, mostly with Central and South American wines. They also have an espresso machine.
Map and Directions
For directions and transportations check out the Lodge’s web site at https://www.arenalobservatorylodge.com/getting-arenal-observatory-lodge-spa
The Cerro Chato trail is shown below – click on the image for the details and to download the GPX track (not that you would need it since the trail is well marked)