Click photo for La Mansion Arenal

From airplane to bus to taxi to horse, I arrived at La Mansion Inn Arenal with tons of questions: exactly what does a nice Costa Rican hotel look like? What types of food do they eat there? Will my Spanish be good enough to get me farther than el baño? All these questions and more were quickly answered as I quietly stepped forward into a tropical grotto neatly planted between the cities of Arenal and Fortuna of the north-western region of Costa Rica.

Lake Arenal from La Mansion Inn.

Decked out with a perfectly manicured lawn, exotic flowers and an infinity pool, this is far from a typical hotel. This resort comes with privacy and a backdrop that jumps right off the screen of the Discovery Channel. Palm trees dot the hillsides, and clouds massage the deep blue skies over the blazing volcano.

I was immediately greeted by Joey, a middle-aged American from Tennessee who has been managing the hotel here in Arenal for about three years and lives in a private villa attached to the main hotel. When you work in paradise, you might as well live there too. And in a place where the temperature is 75 degrees year ‘round, why wouldn’t you?

La Mansion Inn. offers comfortable
accommodations at Lake Arenal.

Joey smiled constantly. I guess you could say he had a perma-grin and with good reason. In the next couple of days at La Mansion Inn, Joey explained to me that he doesn’t need fancy cars or money to be happy; being here was enough. He also told me how there are approximately 14 private cottages on the property, each with their own view of the mystical Arenal Lake and surrounding mountains. Since the lake faced east, the sunrises are as magical as the sunsets. Each cottage is equipped with private covered parking, patio furniture for those astonishing views, and maid service to keep the rooms immaculate.

When I first walked in to my cottage, I was a little taken aback by the small size, but then remembered to not expect the norm. Each cottage is perfectly decorated by Italian artists, giving each its own individual look and feel. The honeymoon suite — still under construction — will house an indoor pool, spa, two bedrooms, and complete kitchen (if you can afford it).

Tropical Gear From Around The Equator Costa Rica is a land of beautiful simplicity. The pace of life is much slower than anywhere in the United States. People are more in tune with nature, and less inclined toward technology. La Mansion Inn does have internet access, phones, and even cable television for the occasional glimpse back to reality. Imagine, if you will, that instead of watching Costa Rica on the Discovery Channel, you have ventured inside your television set into Costa Rica and brought your television with you. That’s sort of how it feels. Familiar shows remind you that home is not that far away. Still, it’s much more exciting to turn that tube off and go get lost amidst some of the most exotic creatures in the world.

On night 1 at La Mansion Inn, I decided to take a night walk around the neighborhood in an attempts to get lost. A lightning storm was brewing, as they usually did during the wet season. Costa Rica, unlike the U.S., only has two seasons. The wet season lasts half the year and has up to 20 days of rain in one month. The rest of the time it’s the dry season.

So as this lightening storm brews and billows above, huge bolts of yellowish flashes are striking the lake and almost simultaneously, explosions of thunder crack through the sky like a million metal trash cans slamming down on a driveway. My body quivers from the power, as this is quite a change from southern California ’s weather, or lack thereof. Fireflies and strange bugs are sprinkled about the night with fluorescent green and yellow flashes indicating that one certainly is not alone out here.

The rooms at La Mansion
Inn are welcoming.

After a good pelting of rain, it was back to the room, and off to bed. My cottage was complete with a hot shower (something of a rarity in Costa Rica — remember this is a Third World country). There was a bed, a couch, and a table. That’s it. But like I said before, this is a simple lifestyle. At first I thought — where’s the TV? The gym? The party? But then I realized that each day had naturally adventurous opportunities awaiting, and I was ready to take advantage of them.

Day 2. I wake up and go to have breakfast. La Mansion Inn supplies fresh quality food for all its guests free of charge! That’s magic to my ears, especially when budgeting to not spend money like it’s water. Speaking of water, La Mansion Inn’s water is safe to drink, unlike many small towns throughout the countryside. So I’m served with a customized meal that puts Mom’s home cooking to shame. I had an avocado and gouda omelet, toast, fried cubed paprika potatoes, banana pancakes, coffee, orange juice and a pepto. Just kidding about the pepto, but I did eat enough to feed a small family.

Facing the day, the hotel offers a choice of many adventures that leave right from the hotel perfect for a vagabond like myself. They even let you add the price of each of the tours to your tab at the hotel so you don’t have to deal with paying for anything until you leave. Some of the packaged trips included:

Hanging Bridges — a walk through two miles of waterfalls, rivers, jungle, and spectacular views of the Arenal Volcano.

Canyoneering — a repelling adventure that descends you into a series of four tropical waterfalls and on through magically tropical trails.

Selva Leona Virgin Rain Forest This was the one I decided on. It started with a 4x4 jeep tour that picked me up from the hotel at 10 a.m. right out in front. I traveled down a narrow dirt road in a yellow jeep towing a boat down to Lake Arenal . Once there, we launched the boat, hopped in, and began our cruise across the glassy waters. The boat guide informed me (in Spanish) that some 15 years ago, there was a large eruption from the volcano, which disrupted the flow of the river and flooded the area where their town was. In other words, there is a ghost town at the bottom of the lake where people used to live. If I knew how to scuba dive, I probably could check it out.

Once across the lake, we picked up our horses and began our two hour horse ride to the beginning of the Selva Leona Rain Forest. If you’ve ever ridden a horse before, you know that it can hurt the first time, especially when your horse seems to have a mind of its own like mine did. For some reason, my horse would occasionally decide to take off running, bouncing me on its back while I would unsuccessfully yell “Alto!” “Alto!”

Nevertheless, the guides and I did make it to our destination after crossing a river seven times, sliding up and down muddy embankments, and barking obscenities at innocent cows. The rest stop was needed as we had gone six kilometers up a mountain. From here, the hike continued for another two kilometers into the greenest, lushest jungle I had seen anywhere during my trip through Costa Rica .

The Selva.

Pura Vida.

Presented with sporadic rain storms, sloths, monkeys, and toucans, the hike was impressive and challenging. In areas of more difficulty, ropes were tied to trees for more stability, and to prevent sliding down some loose muddy hillsides. The end of the hike revealed a breathtaking waterfall. The water was cool, crisp, and drinkable. I jumped right in and swam around a while before heading back down.

Once the guides and I returned, there was nothing more pleasing than to sit down with the locals, enjoying their land over a cup of freshly brewed coffee, attempting to converse in broken Spanish. It was a bit of a relief when the boat arrived to take me back to the hotel. I had been looking forward to his invitation to exchange stories of our travels throughout beautiful Costa Rica over a tall frothy Bavaria (Costa Rican beer).

The nearest town to La Mansion Inn, La Fortuna de San Carlos, would be my next destination. With a population of about 7,500, this popular town resides right at the base of the famous Volcan Arenal— the second most active volcano in the world (after Kilauea). Erupting once almost every two hours, the entire town has been built around it. Sodas (small restaurants in town) and internet cafés speckle the cityscape visited often by backpackers.

Everything in town is named after the volcano in one way or another — “Casa Del Fuego,” “Hotel de Arenal,” and “Baldy Hot Springs.” The hot springs were interesting because they were completely natural. Pools here at the base of the volcano came from natural pools of water heated by volcanic chemicals underground. Temperatures ranged from about 85 degrees Fahrenheit to 180 degrees Fahrenheit, and you could technically go in any one of the pools you wanted. The lower pool was blessed with a swim-up bar and was quite the local hot spot on weekend nights.

La Mansion Inn Arenal
Tel: (506) 692-8018
Fax: 692-8019

There were always taxis available to and from any of the nearby towns, and although I truly was out in the middle of the jungle, I always felt like I could rely on the people around me to help me find my way. It’s something that’s totally different than American culture. People tend to treat others more like family than strangers. In this life, we owe it to ourselves to explore, to expand our cultural boundaries, and to protect the things that make life sacred. In Costa Rica , they have a saying — Pura Vida. It means pure life, and I can’t think of any other lifestyle more pure than this.

— Photos and feature by Josh Edelson, Long Beach, California Correspondent.

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