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.