Nowadays the Arenal Lake is one of the top attractions in La Fortuna. Many people come to this lake to practice kayaking, fishing, windsurfing, sailing to the sunset, or have some fun with jet skis or boats.
Arenal Lake is also a wetland or part of it. In this case, the lake hosts multiple species of animals and flora that belong or live in this kind of habitat. As it adjoins the National Park this lake also turned into a valuable life zone combining mountains, rivers, and the lake and serving as a home for local tropical birds, reptiles, mammals, and fish of course.
The lake was originally much smaller than it is today. The size was approximately 20-30% of its actual size. It was naturally created approximately 2-3 million years ago in the valley next to the mountain range. The small lake was irrigated by a couple of rivers. In the 70's the Government of Costa Rica was looking for a place to possibly build a Dam and produce electricity using water as the country had to buy petroleum to produce electricity and the cost was high for a small country.
The lake was built in the '70s basically to function as a Dam and produce hydroelectricity as an option of not depending on fossil fuels, an initiative from the Costa Rica government during those dates. The lake got to produce nearly 60% of the Country's electricity back in those days, which was a very important situation that helped during the 80s oil crisis around the globe. With the past of time, this lake became very important in other ways, not only to produce electricity. We can mention that the wetland formed by the lake and the ecosystem joint with the forest around has become a very important habitat for several species of birds and animals that nowadays holds an immense quantity of wildlife.
In the '70s the government started to build a hydroelectric project in which the lake will be the main part of it. So the Costa Rican Institute of Electricity started the project in 1974.
To start the project some towns close to the lake must be relocated, this was the case of Tronadora and Arenal. The government offered the inhabitants to buy their lands or be relocated to higher ground and those who have no properties in town could have one and pay it later.
Finally, in 1978 the hydroelectric project Lake Arenal was finished, the last element was the completion of the Sangregado dam, with 1,012 meters long, with a maximum thickness at the base of 553 meters and 8 meters of the crest, the height is 65 meters and today the route number 142 crosses this dam, this way connects La Fortuna Town with Nuevo Arenal Town, and also we could say that connects Alajuela Province with Guanacaste Province. With the passage of time, locals call it Arenal Dam. Around 4.6 million cubic meters of construction material were used to build it and the approximate cost of the project was about 1.500.000 colones of those days. The hydroelectric project is producing today approximately 10 to 12% of the total electricity of the country, and around 35 to 40% of the hydroelectric energy.
Arenal Lake is just 15 minutes away from La Fortuna Town. The first look belongs to the Dam. People use to park aside and enjoy the views of the lake with the Arenal Volcano in the background. There is public access 3 kilometers more from the Dam, driving towards Nuevo Arenal Town. This place has a parking lot and bathrooms for the visitors, anyone can enter and park in this area to have a look at the lake, have a picnic or enjoy one of the local attractions.You can visit it in many ways, let's give you some tips.
It is easy to get to Lake Arenal, it is very similar to getting to Arenal Volcano National Park.
Driving: If you are driving, you can easily get to The National Park using Waze or Google Maps. Also, directions to get there is taking road 142 from any place in La Fortuna, continue straight towards Arenal Dam, once there you can keep driving for about 3 kilometers more and then you will see the public access to the left. Any car can enter the place.
By Taxi: From La Fortuna, a Taxi can charge around $25-$35, or a UBER car (please have in mind that UBER or DIDI are not legal yet in Costa Rica).
By Bus: Buses are living 4 times a day from La Fortuna to Tilarán Town. This bus can take you close to the National Park, but not exactly there. The bus drops you off at the main road, and must tell the driver that you are going to Public Access at the Arenal Lake, where the boats are.
-> Bus Schedule from La Fortuna to Main Road detour: 07:45 am / 09:15 am / 05:10 pm / 06:45 pm
-> Bus Schedule from the Main Road Detour to La Fortuna: 08:00 am / 10:15 am / 01:15 pm / 03:15 pm
Lake Arenal also gives the visitors the chance to enjoy it more than look at it.You can enjoy the lake by doing different attractions. There are boatmen who offer different kinds of trips in their boats around the Lake, you can always negotiate a good deal with them. In this part of the lake there are no guides, only boatmen, but some of them speak English and they know everything about the lake, history and about the wildlife that you find during the trip.
-> Boat Tours
Every day visitors come to the lake to enjoy boat scenic tours which take the tourist along the lake to spot some wildlife -especially aquatic birds-, have some interesting history about it, and also have the best and closest view from Arenal Volcano. From Arenal Lake, we can see the side of the Arenal Volcano which has been affected by all the volcano's activity, such as the explosions and lava flows during years.
The lake is embedded into a beautiful valley with different natural phenomena such as rain and wind. These windy conditions give us great chances to experience world-class windsurfing.
One of the best activities to enjoy the lake is definitely the kayaking tours. These guided tours give the clients the chance of doing some exercise while admiring the magnificent views of the area and having the opportunity to spot some wildlife. The local tour operators offer you sit-on-top kayaks which allow you to float and easily advance with every paddle stroke.
Stand Up Paddle Boarding is very popular in Lake Arenal. Due to the calm water fo the lake this sport is very attractive, as you combine some balance, exercise with beautiful surroundings. A very natural way of enjoying the area.
This is a great invention! local entrepreneurs come with the idea of modifying some bicycles to adapt them to the water. It is highly recommended as the visitors can easily go over the lake enjoying a very fun tour.
Lake Arenal is quite famous for its fishing. Expert and non-expert fisherman comes to the lake and tries to get a catch. Most common species of fish found in the lake are rainbow bass and Machaca fish which are very difficult to catch and usually give a strong fight.