Expats Contribute to the Tourism Market in Arenal, Costa Rica

The town of Arenal is home to many Americans, Canadians and other foreigners who enjoy living and working in one of Costa Rica’s most spectacular regions. The natural beauty of this area relies on an active volcano that overlooks a beautiful tranquil lake.

The temperate year-round climate, bargain real estate, and the active expat community are big draws…but so are the local businesses based in the area. What appeals to most expats is that Arenal is a place where you can do what you love.

Many expats have set up successful businesses in Arenal, often reinventing themselves and their lifestyles at the same time. Some recognized gaps in the tourism market and have set up various companies from charter fishing trips, to running restaurants and hotels…one American expat even set up his own brewery.

The active volcano can be seen from hotels and lodges in the surrounding National Park or you can go on a guided tour that takes you closer to the mountain of fire. Recent activity may increase tourist activity to the area according to IL editor Jason Holland, “Tourism did go way down after the lava show stopped and local businesses are hoping the recent activity continues and turns into something like it used to be. If it does it would increase tourism. A lot of hotels used the lava flows heavily in their advertising and charged extra for volcano view rooms.”

The park offers many other activities, if you can draw yourself away from the volcano. The grounds are beautifully maintained and offer a variety of birds, wildlife and flowers. Free tours include self-guided hikes to the beautiful waterfall and a guided hike to the lava flow. There is also a walk across the swaying suspension bridge to the volcano museum, which contains an active seismograph constantly monitoring the volcanic activity.

The volcano has attracted much attention over the years and has led to many expats setting up a range of businesses in the area to promote tourism.

Expat Joe Walsh moved to Costa Rica in 2001 and opened a surf camp with some friends and his Dad. Once the camp grew in success Joe was ready for a new challenge. Originally from California, Joe saw only one problem with Costa Rica, “No Pale Ale”, and in 2011 he and fellow expat J.P Cazedessus set up the Volcano Brewing Company in Arenal. At this time J.P. had been living in Costa Rica for more than 20 years and owned brewing equipment from a previous brewpub in San José.

After experimenting with many different recipes they came up with Witch’s Rock Pale Ale. Now they own a bar, restaurant and hotel in the area. Craft beer is made in small batches and is known for its unique flavors and interesting takes on traditional styles, like pale ale, brown ale, stout, and more. Volcano Brewing is growing slowly and that is just the way that Joe likes it. “I’d rather have a small company doing a lot of cool stuff than have a 100-room hotel you have to run like a small corporation,” he says.

“Fish don’t live in ugly places.” This is the motto of former Las Vegas custom cabinet maker Ron Saunders. This is true of his lakeside home of seven years where Captain Saunders has made his living from his charter fishing company. “Usually the first thing people say when I take them out is ‘Oh my God, it’s beautiful,’” Ron says. Mostly catching rainbow bass, peacock bass and the piranha like machaca, he meets clients from every side of the 33-square-mile lake.

While 80% of his clients are serious fishermen, the rest range from novices, those that want to cruise the lake, check out the volcano from the water and even some birdwatchers. Ron first came to Arenal on vacation about eight-and-a-half years ago and he fell in love with the view as he drove along the shore. Being out on the unspoiled gem of a lake inspired his next move: to make a living from his hobby.

Peter Hopley, originally from England, owns Ticowind, a wind surfing and kite surfing base on the lake. All equipment can be rented at the base and the temperate climate promotes the active lifestyle that Peter and his clients enjoy in this picturesque setting. His clients come from all over the world and he enjoys repeat business especially during the months of November through to April. The north end of the lake has perfect winds for wind surfing and kite surfing prompting Peter to move to the area 20 years ago.  Watch this video here, where IL editor Dan Prescher talks to Peter about Ticowind.

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