Embracing Solitude on Lake Arenal, Costa Rica

Costa Rica’s Arenal Volcano attracts many visitors from around the world. This 5,400-foot geological giant stands watch over a vast lake spanning almost 33 square miles, making it the largest lake in Costa Rica. This magnificently lush region is not an off-the-beaten-path destination. So, given this, I don’t know whether it was the off-season timing or sheer luck that allowed me to experience powerful solitude on Lake Arenal. 

My hostel in Arenal (Toad Hall) had all the immersive rustic features one would hope for when attempting to “get in touch” with the nature of Costa Rica. The beds were tucked away in little safari-like tents within an open-air living space. The floor plan was very exposed, with hammocks, an outdoor kitchen, and a large patio area all overlooking the jungle-like forests and lake. This unhindered layout was enhanced by a sense of seclusion and remoteness which allows you to quickly attune to the environment. The hostel offers free canoe rentals to take out on Lake Arenal, and as a budget backpacker I was quick to seize this “priceless” opportunity. 

Toad Hall, Arenal

The lake was large and serene; there were no signs of humanity anywhere aside from a few small buildings that dotted the opposite shore. I wore a lifejacket at first, and as I realized how alone I was out on the water some mild concerns began swirling around in my mind. I thought about the potential consequences of the boat tipping over or springing a leak far from shore--I even speculated on the best way to strike a crocodile with my paddle if one were to attack the boat. The canoe was stable and there probably weren’t any crocodiles in the lake, but certain anxieties can sometimes creep in when you realize there isn’t anyone around to help you. After about 15 minutes my concerns began to ebb away. I became very relaxed and felt comfortable in my boat and surroundings. After exploring a few of the verdant nooks and crannies of the lake’s shore I paddled out toward the center of the lake, took my lifejacket and shirt off, and went into a light meditation as the rain drizzled on my skin and the current assumed control of my boat. The lifejacket represented fear to me, and I could not fully open myself to this experience until I had shed all fears. At this point my level of tranquility was soaring, and I felt an embrace of confidence that comes when the layers of stress that accumulate during daily life are peeled away. During the hours I spent exploring the lake I didn’t come across any other boats or people, and in that solitude and natural beauty I felt as though I was, for the first time so far, experiencing Costa Rica the way I had hoped I would. 

Lake Arenal

Back at the hostel I began talking with a Canadian girl who had ridden in on a motorcycle. She explained to me her treacherous journey to Toad Hall. The dirt roads were steep, winding, and muddy—a terrible combination for a motorcycle. Some of the locals even wiped out on their bikes right in front of her and it didn’t require much imagination to comprehend all the things that could’ve gone wrong. Not to mention the fact that we were in a remote area, so any aid would’ve been sparse. At this point in the conversation we had become fairly bonded, and I asked her about the fear she experienced that day. She began to tear up slightly and looked me directly in the eyes as she admitted it had been the scariest day of her life. I nodded in understanding and again reflected on the concept of fear. From that night forward I made a conscious effort to identify and eliminate any personal fears or insecurities that were unwarranted or could potentially hold me back (within reason). Most forms of stress really boil down to some type of fear, insecurity, or a combination of the two—and, pardon the cliché, but life is too short to be burdened by these things if you can let go of them.

The rainy "Green Season" in Costa Rica

Travel Tips for Arenal, Costa Rica

When to Visit

The best time to visit Costa Rica depends on your preference; each season has its pros and cons. The weather also varies in different regions, so that is another factor to take into consideration. I would recommend going during the “green season.” This is the rainy season that spans from May through November. It rains frequently during this time, but the rain usually isn’t too bad and it causes an explosion of lush greenery and animal life in many areas of Costa Rica. It is also the off-season for tourism, so attractions and accommodations won’t be as crowded. You can find a great monthly breakdown of the weather in Costa Rica here.

Accommodation in Arenal

Toad Hall is fantastic. It’s an ideal rustic retreat for anyone who wants to feel very close to the natural beauty of Costa Rica. The open-air layout, custom furnishings, and colorful décor make it a one-of-a-kind lodging. They offer both private rooms and a hostel dorm, and the free canoe rental is a perfect amenity for this venue.

Many people who visit Arenal stay in the nearby town of Fortuna, which is more accessible and provides more lodging/restaurants etc. But if you’re interested in getting away from it all, consider staying within Arenal itself.