I’ve spoken about how beautiful Arenal is (and I promise that I will write about how accessible it is without getting swept up with how gorgeous the it is!) but in order to go exploring, you first need a base.
Hotels, apartments, villas, hostels… everybody has a preference. Everybody wants a different experience and we all have different budgets but I have to say, splashing out for the four star Arenal Springs Resort and Spa (http://hotelarenalspring.com/) was definitely worth it. When I travel, I like the reassurance of comfort and quality, so most places I choose to stay are at least four or five stars (I know, sometimes you can find great places to stay which aren’t four or five stars but I can’t help it!) and so, we chose to stay in this resort.
It’s also flat. That was a bonus, because when we were hunting around Trip Advisor for the best hotel, a lot of them are built into the hills of the volcano and this would prove to be difficult for us. Anyway, we found Arenal Springs, trolled through hundreds of traveller photo’s and booked.
We didn’t regret it.
The resort is located at the very end of a narrow, rather bereft lane. As the barrier lifts and you turn left into the resort, you feel as if you’ve entered a little tranquil village. The rooms are single-story, little semi-detached red-roofed dwellings which are scattered across lush lawns and nestled amongst all kinds of weird and wonderful florals. Everything is level, paths evenly paved – it was a wheelchair users dream. It’s quiet, secluded and spacious… I really cannot rave about this resort enough.
The resort offers two types of rooms – junior suites and master suites. We stayed in a junior suite, at the very front of the resort, across the lawn from the swimming pool and one of the restaurants.
Due to an unfortunate delay (Costa Rican roads can be treacherous, as we learned when we found ourselves stuck in the narrowest of roads for three hours because of a horrific, fatal car accident), we arrived quite late in the day, just as the sun was going down. We were jet-lagged, a little shaken from our road-travel experience and hungry. To be honest, we were dreading the check-in process (sometimes this can take such a long time) and just wanted to get to our room. Luckily, check in was smooth and efficient and as we began to ready ourselves to navigate the resort and find our room, to our delight, we found our cases being loaded onto a golf-cart and a ramp being attached to the side, ready for my wheelchair. I know, a wheelchair users dream! The little golf-cart sped along the smooth pathways and got us to our room as quickly as it could.
Our room was at the very front of the resort, about halfway down the first turning on the right. It was close to the pool, the bar and the breakfast restaurant so we, of course were happy (I love the bar, my husband lives for breakfast!). The door to the room didn’t face the communal ‘road’, rather, it was at the back, lead to by a little stone path. Each room has a covered veranda, with two chairs and a little table – you know, the normal set up.
Before I go into the room itself, I have to say – this hotel is ALL about the view.
Every room has a view of the volcano. Every veranda in angled so that you can stretch out on your little chair, lift your head and spend hours staring at Arenal volcano. This was a part of the hotel’s appeal – while we were looking for somewhere to stay in Arenal, we noticed that in a lot of hotels, the rooms didn’t have a view, which put us off so Arenal Springs won because it promised us a view, from any room we might have been put it.
And it didn’t disappoint. As I’ve said, everything about this hotel is geared towards the volcano. Not only do all the rooms face it, not only does every room have a veranda to enjoy it on, the wall which faces the volcano is made up of mainly glass. The door to the room is huge and yes, glass; the windows are high, creating the perfect frame. And of course, all of this glass makes for a light and airy space. Sunlight floods in, breezes blow through and it almost feels as if there are no walls around you at all and you’re a part of the great outdoors.
View from our room
But this hotel isn’t all about glass and views. The rooms themselves are more than deserving of the four stars awarded this resort. They are big, fresh, clean (oh, so clean which I loved!) and beautifully decorated. I have to admit that I was anxious before I arrived – I had read a lot about Costa Rica embracing the eco-friendly drive and becoming environmentally focused (completely understandable, the country is beautiful!) and was worried that the hotels on our trip may be a little… basic. Again, this is the snobbery in me rearing it’s ugly head but I’m only being honest – it was a concern.
I needn’t have been concerned. The decor of the room was an odd mix of modern colours and dark, old fashioned furniture but it just seemed to work. Surrounded by striking dark wood you feel as if you are sleeping in a secluded lodge, buried amongst the trees but the bright walls and funky furnishings bring you back to the present, giving you that comfort of modernity.
The coolest (and slightly weirdest) thing? The shower!
The bathroom was pretty standard – white porcelain, terracotta tiles – but the shower was amazing. A glass roof over the shower makes it feel as if you are outside, add to that the dozens of plants planted in the shelf of the stone wall next to you, and you feel as if you are Mitzi Gaynor singing in the South Pacific!
The beds were comfortable, for me at least. I struggle to sleep on a soft mattress as I sink into them, causing me great difficulties when trying to get up in the morning, so I was glad of a firm mattress. The bed itself was quite high though which may be an issue for some people to get in and out of.
The room featured the usual amenities – mini-fridge, TV, wardrobe, safe – but one of the best things about it was the size. It was big enough to be able to wheel the wheelchair around freely (what this basically means is that we didn’t knock great chunks out of the furniture!) and the gap between the beds was wide enough to be able to transfer easily from chair to bed.
It’s in the name – Arenal Springs.
There are a number of springs dotted around Arenal, thanks to the volcanic rock, and this hotel had several. All of the pools are accessed via a ramp so stairs aren’t an issue here.
It has your usual pool with a swim up bar but the highlight is most definitely the hot springs which are dotted about the pool area, each offering a different depth and temperature of the water. Waterfalls flow into this springs, drowning out any ‘modern life’ noises such as cars, ringing phones and televisions. The main spring is huge, boasting two swim up bars, several waterfalls and bridges. There’s a warm, shallow spring pool for children and tucked up at the back, surrounded by shrubs and flowers, is the hottest spring, which was perfect to soothe the aching bones and joints after an eleven hour flight. The springs are open until late, meaning that after a day of exciting (but tiring) adventures, you can dip in and literally hear your screaming joints quiet down!
One thing to note – lizards love the hot springs! You might spot a little friend chilling in the shallow end of the pool, well, not so little really, they are bright green and have the longest tails! We didn’t find them a problem, they didn’t bother us in anyway and quickly scurry away if you get too close (making it very hard to capture them sunbathing!)
One of the aforementioned lizards – they love the warm water!
Restaurants and Bars
The thing to know about me (and my husband, come to think of it) is that we love nice food. Some of our favourite resorts and hotels are just that because of the copious amounts of food we eat whilst on holiday and we were relieved to discover that the food at Arenal Springs is wonderful!
We stayed here for two nights and both nights ate in the Italian, mainly because there was so much on the menu that we wanted to try that it took us both nights to plough our way through!
We were worried that because the resort was quite secluded (which meant that dining out in Arenal itself was a bit of a trek) the food might not be very good. It’s the classic case of captured audience – after a long day exploring the area, a lot of guests just want to head back to the hotel and have dinner – so, really, they could serve anything at any price.
This wasn’t the case here. The first night I opted for a salmon dish served with spaghetti with an olive-oil dressing/sauce. The salmon was fresh, cooked how I like it with a crispy skin underneath and the sauce! Wow, I still think about the sauce. It had a hint of sweetness and a little fire which sat at the back of my throat. My husband opted for a classic pizza and was not disappointed. The base was just the right thickness, crispy and the tomato sauce base was freshly made, well seasoned with a hint of oregano flowing through. We washed both dishes down with a Costa Rican beer (the bottle’s had pictures of howling monkeys on them so we couldn’t resist!) which was light, tangy and refreshing.
The breakfast buffet (my husband’s favourite thing about a holiday) was brilliant. First off, it was civilised, meaning that there weren’t hundreds of people running around with plates and drinks, dodging between tables. Just like Costa Rica itself, the atmosphere was relaxed and easy going which is perfect for a six am start. The restaurant isn’t huge and at first, we were a bit worried that there wouldn’t be a lot on offer (I am a fussy breakfast eater) but we were wrong on that score. The hot food dishes (which really were hot, I promise!) seemed never ending; bacon, eggs, potatoes, sausages, beans and you could also wait by the hot plates and watch as a chef created an omelette of your choice (filling options were numerous – onions, tomatoes, bacon, cheese, ham, spring onions). Freshly made pancakes and waffles were also on offer which we duly drowned in syrup and chocolate sauce.
Although it was a buffet, servers deftly hurried about the room, swiftly moving from table to table, serving tea and coffee. Used plates were taken away quickly, drinks refilled on instinct, making our whole breakfast experience smooth and relaxed, the perfect way to start a day of adventure!
Whilst the restaurants serve beers, wine and a handful of cocktails, it’s the bar by the pool which offered the best selection. We mainly guzzled cocktails at the bar, making our way through the extensive list. There wasn’t one cocktail we didn’t like but our favourites were the whiskey sour and the passionfruit martini. The liquor quality was good (they offered branded and non-branded), the fruit juices fresh and crisp – everything needed for the perfect cocktail!
Our favourite – a whiskey sour!
None of the restaurants or bars had stairs so they were easily accessible. Nor were they too cramped or crowded to make navigating a wheelchair difficult.
From check in to check out, the staff as Arenal Springs were amazing.
They were knowledgeable, always happy to help and very friendly and approachable. The staff at reception made the check-in process so easy, they gave us maps, highlighted key areas and explained the reservation process for dinner. The hosts, servers and barmen were all charming, friendly and eager to put a smile on your face. You could not pass a member of staff without them smiling or waving at you or asking about your day, they really put us at ease. They were all always willing to go the extra mile to make sure that our stay was as comfortable and memorable as Arenal Volcano itself!