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. Two places we visited near Volcano Arenal are the Butterfly Conservatory and La Fortuna Falls.
Butterfly Conservatory: This awesome guided tour takes you through several butterfly habitats created by this conservatory. Our guide was a high school teacher with a wealth of knowledge about the different species, habitats, and growth cycles of the butterfly. This is a great, hands-on experience for kids. We definitely recommend this Conservatory. Current prices are not posted but when we visited it was $15/adult, $10/child.
At the Conservatory, you pass through butterfly compounds where butterflies land on your hats, shirts, and hands.
The tour includes a complete guide to the life cycle of a butterfly and anything else you could possibly want to know about butterflies. Our guide funny, informative, and great with the kids. Outside the compounds but still on the Conservatory grounds, there are beautiful flowers to enjoy.
Following the Butterfly Conservatory, we stopped on the way back for lunch. Throughout Costa Rica, there are little road-side restaurants where the family that owns the place lives in the back, with their front porch serving as the dining area. We found that these super inexpensive meals were much more delicious than the meals in the tourist-friendly restaurants. Typical dishes like Casado and Gallo Pinto involve rice, beans, and chicken.
Another spot we visited was La Fortuna Waterfalls. This area is area managed by a non-profit organization. In order to pay for upkeep of the grounds, tickets must be purchase to take the short hike to the falls and go swimming. Kids 9 and older and adults are $18/person; Kids 8 and younger are free. There's nothing quite like the power of the waterfalls by swimming (safely) nearby. One thing to note is that the walk down is, of course, much easier than the walk back up. There are places to rest along the way, but bear this in mind if you have difficulty climbing steps. Finally, while we did enjoy our time here, if you're on the fence about making this stop, we would say you're safe to skip it.