Summary. Arenal Volcano is an active volcano located in north-western Costa Rica. Roughly 3-hours by car from San Jose, the Arenal area is surrounded by rainforest so chances are you may not ever see a clear view of the Volcano. The result though is that the area is lusciously green and filled with exotic flowers, waterfalls, and wildlife. The Volcano also offers natural hot springs that are featured in many of the area hotels and resorts. Skip the high entrance fees at the hotels and instead hang out with locals at the free public access areas nearby. We recommend also skipping the expensive resorts and staying at a homestay called Parrot Hill Ranch. You will need a 4X4 or high-clearance rental vehicle to access this 50-acre location that is 30 minutes from town. Here, this rustic setting is a memorable experience in and of itself. Children have the option of helping feed this working ranch's animals in the mornings; horseback riding, hiking, and archery are just some of the activities available to guests. Meals are available as well, though the residence also has a full kitchen. What you trade with luxury, you gain in an amazing life experience. We highly recommend staying at Parrot Hill Ranch.
Volcano Arenal is actually quite difficult to see because the rainforest/ecosystem in the area keeps a constant layer of clouds and/or fog over the mountain. Occasionally though, you capture a partial photo and if you're real lucky (we were not), you will experience a clear day and see the entire mountain.
We picked this area of Costa Rica kind of on a lark but mostly because we had located Parrot Hill Ranch on Air BnB and were immediately enamored. The place did not disappoint.
The first thing to know about Parrot Hill Ranch is that it is rustic. Do not expect luxury and be prepared for what comes with being deep into a Costa Rican countryside. There are insects; there is mud; and since farm animals live here too, there are faint farm smells. All of this, though, is part of the experience and the places that should be clean (like the living spaces), are clean and well-kept.
Upon arrival, you are treated to an amazing view that never gets old. As if to live up to it's name, Parrots literally greet you as well.
Parrot Hill Ranch, for a modest fee, offers a horseback riding experience. The ride goes from the house area to waterfalls. At the waterfalls, everyone dismounts to hike down to the falls and back.
Being a horse person, I was partial to this experience. The horses here are kind and were gentle enough for my non-horseback riding family to enjoy as well. It would be hard to imagine a more perfect day in this part of Costa Rica. The gorgeous views and sweet horses made for an amazing day.
Back near the house, the Ranch also offers a fun archery activity for the kids. Also (not pictured), the kids were invited to "volunteer" to help take care of the farm animals in the mornings.
For dinner, you can cook in your own kitchen or order a "homestay" meal from Parrot Hill Ranch. We did this one night and had a tasty Tico meal.
The magic of this place is a combination of a break from the City, the beautiful views, the safety in seclusion, the hands-on experiences, and the lovely host. It's for people that want to dodge the ordinary tourist sites and try something extraordinary. We loved Parrot Hill Ranch.