Introducing Arenal Route
If you’ve got your own wheels and a little time, take the road from Ciudad Quesada to the Arenal area – you are in for one beautiful ride. With the backdrop of Volcán Platanar, the road winding through this green, river-rich agrarian region passes through prosperous, quaint towns bright with bougainvillea. In front of you, if the weather cooperates, the resolute peak of Arenal will loom.
Past La Fortuna, the paved road (beware of potholes) hugs the north bank of Laguna de Arenal. On either side of the road, up the green slope and down on the lakeside, turnouts and driveways for lovely inns, kooky ersatz Austrian mini-villages, hip coffeehouses and eccentric galleries appear like pictures in a pop-up book. Scattered in between, you can’t help but notice the real-estate signs offering lots for sale, but the area is bucolic and not overdeveloped, and each stop feels far enough away from the next to offer a sense of isolation.
Heading back around the western edge of the lake, you’ll pass through the lakeside Nuevo Arenal and down to the pleasant mountain town of Tilarán before descending toward the Interamericana. Note that this route is also well served by public transportation.
The tiny mountain village of El Castillo is a wonderful alternative to staying in La Fortuna – it’s bucolic, reasonably untouristed (although there is a tight expat community), and has easy access to Parque Nacional Volcan Arenal. There are also some delightful accommodations options. It's best to have your own wheels out here, as buses don't serve this little enclave.