Question: I am planning on going to Costa Rica this summer and I am interested in knowing what (gay activities/bars/restaurants etc) may be available in and around the Lake Arenal, Tilaran, Sabilito areas. Also, approximately how far away from Villaroca is Lake Arenal?
Would you recommend a 1 day excursion to the lake or should we plan to spend a night or two there??
Answer: Hi Mary,
First, I should let you know that my personal familiarity in Costa Rica is with the San Jose region, Arenal, and Quepos/Manual Antonio National Park. I will say that the best guidebook I know of out there on Costa Rica is Moon Handbooks Costa Rica, by Christopher Baker, which you can get on Amazon or at any big bookstore. He's not gay to my knowledge, but the book is quite useful and well-written, and he does occasionally discuss areas in the country of gay interest.
The parts of the country with the most significant gay scenes are Quepos and San Jose - I mean in terms of bars (such as La Avispa in San Jose), restaurants. As for gay-owned or simply gay-friendly guest houses and accommodations, Costa Rica has plenty of them. It's a very comfortable place for gay travelers, and most of the foreigners who have moved there to open inns and accommodations (i.e., Americans, Canadians, Europeans, etc.) tend to be on the left-leaning, eco-conscious, and gay-friendly side. So in that sense, it's hard to go wrong.
Around Arenal, I know of one gay-owned (two men) and "everybody-friendly" B&B that has gotten very high praise from guests - Villa Decary, in Nuevo Arenal. Another that's very reputable is Palo Verde Resort, which I've been told has regular gay parties.
If you want to go high-end and stay at a rather fancy mainstream resort with beautiful spa facilities, go with Tabacon Grand Spa - this is where I stayed when I was in the area last. It's a nice place, and the staff was perfectly gay-friendly and helpful. But just keep in mind that most of the guests there are straight - it would be like staying at an upscale Marriott or Sheraton resort in any other gay-friendly destination. The advantage is the location right beneath Arenal Peak, the fabulous spa and natural hot springs, and the pretty grounds (and in summer, you can score some great deals there).
One thing that might be helpful is planning a night, when you first arrive, at Colours gay resort in San Jose - it's a very nice place, gay-male-owned but gets a mix of gay men and lesbians as guests. The staff is extremely kind and helpful, and it's not far from the airport. It can be a good choice just because the staff can give you advice about other parts of Costa Rica you might be traveling to. There are also some very fun gay disco in San Jose's city center, including La Avispa and Club Oh!.
I've also heard good things about Casa 69 in San Jose, an mixed gay/straight inn that's quite close to San Jose's many attractions and restaurants, as well as the gay bathhouse, Sauna Hispalis. This is a good place to stay if you wish to be centrally located, and the staff is very helpful about suggesting where to go and what to see.
When you referred to Villaroca, are you meaning the gay resort in Quepos? If so, that's a long (but pretty, in places) drive to Arenal - four to six hours on bumpy roads (that can be a messy during the summer rainy season). So I would recommend overnighting in Arenal if you go up there.
A pretty drive is up the coast from Quepos to the national highway, then west to Canas, and up to Tilaran, and then around the lake to Neuvo Arena or La Fortuna (wherever you end up staying). Ideally, I'd even budget two days for Lake Arenal. Hope that helps!
Some further ideas on Costa Rica gay travel:
On the country's lush and tropical Caribbean Coast, in the Puerto Viejo section of Limon, there's one very well-established gay-owned accommodation, Banana Azul that consistently receives rave reviews from guests. Knowledgeable owners Colin (from Vancouver, BC) and Roberto (from San Jose) built this elegant yet rustic 12-room property overlooking the sea, with a mixed clientele. Rooms all have free Wi-Fi, and there's a restaurant and bar right on-site. Rates are extremely reasonable, and the vibe tranquil. The owners also part-own a gay-friendly tour company, Gecko Trail Adventures, that can help plan Costa Rica vacations.