Dr Duncan James > Nature Travel Guide > Planet Earth > Americas > Costa Rica > Arenal

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Nature Travel Guide

Location 8: Arenal (Costa Rica)

Most information in the images is repeated in the text, except some features of the maps.

Volcano and forest with colourful birds.

Play Costa Rica Birdwatching Bingo as you explore.

My favourite place to go birdwatching is the forest at the Circular Walk near Arenal. If you prefer birdwatching in a bit more comfort, the Arenal Observatory is an ecolodge with almost exactly the same birds.

Arenal Volcano rises to 1,600m and is surrounded by lowlands at 300m including the local town of La Fortuna. The birds are Caribbean-side species and the wide range of elevations increases the total number of species that can be seen.

Many commercial birdwatching tours will stop here for a couple of days, often staying at Arenal Observatory. This is also a popular general tourist destination with the volcano, hot springs and beautiful forest.

Most information in the images is repeated in the text, except some features of the maps.
The Blue-gray Tanager is one of my favourite birds in Costa Rica. In my opinion any bird that is blue is a good one.


This information is a summary only and times/routes may have changed.

There are buses from San Jose and also from Sarapiqui. It is a popular destination and you should not have too many problems finding information about buses.

If you are coming from Monteverde without a hire car then by far the quickest (and only slightly more expensive) route is to take the "bus-ferry-bus" that goes across the lake. Additionally, many operators will upgrade this to include a visit to Cano Negro. In 2017 it cost approximately $30 direct or $80 via Cano Negro.

There is a bus station in the centre of La Fortuna which is a great place to catch an early bus for wildlife watching that avoids the risk of the bus missing you as it drives past. In 2014 Arenal was $20 by taxi meaning you could use this to extend one of your days by not having to catch the (early in the afternoon) bus back. You could also consider having a full day that finishes with a good chunk of time at Arenal Observatory and then catch a taxi back late in the afternoon (the Observatory should be able to organise you a taxi).

Arenal is a very popular birdwatching destination. I managed to get two lifts with other birdwatchers (both generously offered) helping me explore a bit more. Clearly this is not a recommendation to do the same but you might decide to do it.


La Fortuna has a wide range of accommodation. For the budget traveller it has lots of hostels and hotels. If your budget can stretch to it then Arenal Observatory http://www.arenalobservatorylodge.com has accommodation in the heart of the good wildlife-watching area.

I also discovered (but did not try) a locally-run hotel on the edge of Lake Arenal. It is just 7km from the entrance to Parque Nacional Arenal and a similar distance from Arenal Observatory. I have a feeling that there is probably very good walking from the door. The hotel is called "Essence Arenal" and the phone number (on the advert I saw on the road near Parque Nacional Arenal) is (506) 2479 1131.

Most information in the images is repeated in the text, except some features of the maps.
This is a Red-lored Parrot. I think it is a good example of how difficult parrots can be to identify. The blue on the head is not obvious. The red in the wing is not visible. Therefore I was only able to be sure about the identification after eliminating all the other possibilities. In flight I find the colours on the head are often not visible meaning most flying parrots go unidentified.

Birds of Arenal

The forests are not as high as at Monteverde. This is one of the reasons that the two locations (Monteverde and Arenal) work well together. Additionally, Monteverde is on the Pacific-side and Arenal is on the Caribbean-side.

Although it is technically high enough (in places) for Black-faced Solitaire I did not hear very many. I generally saw mixed flocks of birds characteristic of lower elevations in the forests. I recommend keeping a look-out for tanagers, warblers and other birds feeding in the tops of the trees.

Arenal offers some excellent open habitats, particularly fields with scattered trees and patches of woodland. The entrance road to Parque Nacional Arenal, the start of the walk up Cerro Chato Volcano and the "Walk North of La Fortuna" all offer very good open-habitat birdwatching. Characteristic birds of the open habitats include flycatchers, grackles, parrots/parakeets and mixed flocks of woodland birds (generally seen working along hedgerows near to woodland/forest).

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