Just an hour around the bend from La Fortuna, the tiny mountain village of El Castillo is a beautiful, bucolic, and bumpy alternative, if you don’t mind the somewhat treacherous roads. This picturesque locale, created as a relocation zone after the great eruption of 1968, has easy access to Parque Nacional Volcán Arenal and amazing, up-close views of the looming mountain – with little of the tourist madness of its bigger neighbor.
There is a tight-knit expat community here, some of whom have opened appealing lodges and top-notch restaurants. There are hiking trails and swimming holes. There are even a few worthy attractions – a butterfly house and an eco-zoo. The only thing El Castillo doesn’t have is a sidewalk. And maybe that’s a good thing.