Just 23km southwest of La Fortuna but a world away in ambience, the idyllic mountain village of EL CASTILLO is all undulating hillsides covered with farmland and rainforest. Blessed with dead-on volcano views, this little village is also currently the best place in the Arenal area to gawk at the volcano’s southwesterly lava dribbles. The turn-off for El Castillo is 15km west of La Fortuna, on the road to Nuevo Arenal; the (currently) unpaved, bumpy road which heads 8km east from here has for years kept the village off the traditional tourist trail, making it a welcome retreat from the buzzing commercial circus that is La Fortuna.
There’s not much to the village itself, just one main street with a school, church, small supermarket and the Arenal Eco Zoo, principally a serpentarium housing over eighty species of snake, including a monster Burmese python that’s knocking on 4m long. About 800m up the road from the school lies the enchanting Butterfly Conservatory, a regeneration project occupying a former cattle ranch, with six well-tended butterfly atriums, an insect museum, medicinal herb garden and riverside trails that weave through lush regenerating rainforest.Read More
The main reason for coming to El Castillo is to visit the extraordinary Rancho Margot, an organic farm, wildlife rescue centre and scenic accommodation that is well on the way to becoming the poster child for ecotourism in Costa Rica. The expansive property, set in a valley of the Río Caño Negro, is a byword for sustainability: a water-powered micro-turbine generates the ranch’s electricity, the outdoor hot pool is heated using a biodigestor that converts animal waste into energy, and most of the food served in the excellent buffet-style restaurant is grown or raised on the property. A free shuttle bus runs four times daily from La Fortuna.