Sitting at the base of the Arenal Volcano is the sprawling 85-square-kilometer (33-square-miles) Lake Arenal, the largest lake in Costa Rica and one of the highlights of the Arenal region. With the massive volcano looming above it to the east, providing an ever-present spectacular backdrop, the lake is also surrounded by tranquil pastures, rolling hills, lush forest and the occasional village.
The lake was originally about a third of its current size, until it was expanded in 1979 as part of a major hydroelectricity initiative. Towns like Arenal and Tronadora were relocated to higher ground; these days they are situated northeast of the lake, while the original sites lie at the bottom of the lake. The project continues to be one of the most important in the country and originally generated about 70% of Costa Rica’s electricity. Today Lake Arenal generates less than 20%, but it continues to play a huge role in the development of Costa Rica’s world-famous approach to green energy.
Over the years, particularly following the expansion, the lake has become one of the favorite stops on the windsurfing and kite surfing circuit, with enthusiasts from around the world coming to Lake Arenal, especially from November through April, when the strong, reliable winds are ideal. In fact, it is often considered one of the world’s leading hot spots for these activities.
It’s also a mecca for all sorts of other aquatic activities, such as paddle boarding, canoeing and kayaking, especially towards the lake’s calmer eastern section close to the dam. You can sign up for guided tours for most of these activities if you so desire, but if you want to explore on your own and take in the sights on your own, you can also just pop into any of the many kayak, canoe and paddle board rental companies located on the lake.
There are also excellent fishing opportunities, yet another big draw to the area. Fishing in Lake Arenal centers on two main species of fish: rainbow bass – known locally as “guapote” – and machaca. If you prefer to stay on dry land, there are multitude activities in the area surrounding the lake: hiking, biking, bird watching, horseback riding and much more.