Most people visiting La Fortuna are interested in viewing the famous Arenal Volcano. Hiking the old lava flows near the base is one great way to see the volcano. But if you’re looking for a more leisurely experience, try a sunset boat cruise. In this post, we’ll tell you about our experience taking a Lake Arenal sunset cruise.
Boat cruises along Lake Arenal leave from the eastern side of the lake, near the dam. La Fortuna downtown is about 20 minutes from here, while Nuevo Arenal is about 40 minutes away. Here is a link to Google Maps with the location of the dam and boat launch. Keep in mind that you need prior reservations for the tour.
Lake Arenal Sunset Cruise
Meeting Our Guides
We met our guides at the boat launch around 4:30 in the afternoon. Sunset is around 5:45 p.m. in Costa Rica year-round so the idea of the tour is to cruise around the lake a bit then catch sunset at the end.
Coming from Nuevo Arenal, we drove through some light rain showers, but it mostly cleared up by the time we arrived. The weather changes very quickly on the lake so this was typical.
We boarded the sturdy boat with our two young kids in tow. We were soon greeted by Jose, also known as Pico. Jose was a local who grew up in the Arenal area. He introduced us to our captain, nicknamed Kalua. She gave us kind wave, welcoming us aboard, as we took our seats.
A History Lesson
We gently pulled off the shore and motored south. Lake Arenal is Costa Rica’s largest lake, spanning about 33 square miles (85 sq. km), so there was a lot to explore.
Jose began to tell us about the area and how the lake came about.
Lake Arenal is actually a manmade lake. In the late 1970s, the Costa Rican government built a hydroelectric dam, flooding a much smaller natural lake in the same location. Today, this dam produces much of Costa Rica’s electricity.
We also learned some of the history of the mighty Arenal Volcano. With the volcano peeking through the clouds in the distance, Jose recounted stories that his parents and grandparents had told him about the big eruption in 1968.
Previously, Arenal Volcano had been dormant. Then on July 29, 1968, after years of silence, it suddenly came alive. Nearby farms and homes became flooded with lava. The volcano spewed giant rocks and engulfed the surrounding land with thick layers of smoke and ash. Almost 100 people living in nearby towns died from the three-day event.
Up until 2010, the volcano was still active, with minor lava flows and smoke, but it hasn’t had any large explosions since 1968. Today, its activity is significantly diminished, though you can sometimes see a puff of smoke from the top.
Cruising the Lake
With some background on our surroundings, Jose left us alone to take in the views.
Even with more rain falling, the scenery was beautiful. Thick rainforest lined the banks of the lake. A Neotropic cormorant sat perched on a dead tree branch partially submerged in the water.
The rain started to pick up some more, but we barely noticed. Kalua started going faster, whisking us to a drier spot. Kalua was from the lake area, born and raised, so knew exactly where to take people based on the weather. On Lake Arenal, the weather can change from one moment to the next. It’s even common for it to be raining on one side but not on the other.
As we were gazing at the green shoreline, all of a sudden the boat came to a stop. Right in front of us was Arenal Volcano. Although there were still some clouds, we had a nice view of its giant base.
Wine and Cheese
Jose and Kalua quickly set up a table at the front of the boat facing the volcano. They put out an amazing spread for us. We enjoyed a delicious white wine from Argentina alongside some charcuterie boards. The kids and adults alike devoured the gorgeous plates of cheese, meats, nuts, hummus, and dips.
Just as we were finishing our glasses of wine and snacks, the rain started harder and we headed back. It was right around sunset, but because of the weather, we wouldn’t be getting much of a sunset view that day. Still, it was a wonderful tour and we would definitely do it again.
Planning A Lake Arenal Sunset Cruise
Shared Tour (12 people max): $94 per person adults, $62 per person children ages 4-11. Rates plus 13% tax. Free for children under 4.
Private Tour (only your family/group): $135 per person adults, $54 per person children ages 4-11. Rates plus 13% tax. Free for children under 4.
4:00 p.m. daily
2.5 hours (includes transportation to the lake)
Round-trip transportation from your hotel or vacation rental in La Fortuna, bilingual naturalist guide, wine and cheese, and non-alcoholic drinks.
Usually, the tour company serves only the cheese/meat board. They can also offer hummus/guacamole/bean dip for vegetarians.
Best Times to Go
The best time of year to catch sunset is February to May when the weather is typically drier. June to September is usually decent as well. Keep in mind that the weather in Arenal can be wet and unpredictable any time of year. The tour is still nice, though, even in less than optimum conditions like we had. The tour company has plastic windows that they can pull down to cover the sides of the boat in case of heavy rain.
Booking a Tour
There are different boats at the dam that offer tours. If you’d like to go through the company that we used, we’d be happy to help with the arrangements. Just send us an email to bookings(at)twoweeksincostarica(dot)com with: (1) the number of people in your party (adults and children), (2) your preferred date, (3) your hotel or vacation rental location if you’d like transportation. Booking through us costs the same and helps support our website!
We have done a lot of activities in Costa Rica and the sunset cruise on Lake Arenal was a memorable experience. Sipping delicious wine from the bow of a boat overlooking a volcano is something special. We highly recommend this tour if you’re visiting the Arenal area.
Have you taken a boat cruise on Lake Arenal or do you have a question about the tour? Leave a comment below.
Looking for more information to plan your trip to Costa Rica? Check out these posts:
Cano Negro: A Wildlife Boat Tour on the Rio Frio – This is one of the best boat tours to see wildlife in Costa Rica. You can see several types of monkeys, crocodiles, sloths, and many birds in this remote ecosystem near the Nicaragua border.
North Fields Café: A Delicious Coffee and Chocolate Tour in La Fortuna – This short tour at a small coffee farm is a great introduction into where coffee and chocolate come from.
Why to Get Travel Insurance When Visiting Costa Rica: Unless your health insurance covers you abroad, it’s a good idea to get travel insurance for your trip.