Archaeological studies show that Indians had small settlements around Lake Arenal, near the volcano, as long ago as 2000 B.C Today the lake has been greatly enlarged by a dam, completed in 1979 to provide hydroelectric energy. The Camomile (39-km)-long reservoir is a favorite for fishing, sailing, boating, and kayaking. Windsurfing, however, might be considered king. With its steady strong winds from December to March (60 mph), Lake Arenal is one of the world's best windsurfing destinations. Even in the other months, 15-to-25 mph winds prevail.
The lake covers about 87 square kilometers at 1,791 feet (546 in) elevation. Dam construction began in 1974 and required the relocation of two towns: Arenal and Tronadora. 'Me Arenal-Corobici Hydroelectric Complex is the country's largest. Waters that feed the turbines flow into an irrigation project in the drier Guanacaste lowlands. Magnificent forests on slopes above the lake, preserved by the park and private reserves such as the Bosque Eterno de los Ninios protect this all-important watershed.
Going west on the road around the northeast side leads to the dam, Nuevo Arenal, and Tilaran. Be alert for one-lane bridges that seem to be mostly on curves. The road can be more potholes than pavement in some places and pavement ends altogether at Nuevo Arenal for about a 6-mile (9-km) stretch going east. While the road is much improved, the perennial paving plans are still just plans. But the scenery is magnificent; you may spot howler monkeys in trees along the road or see the colorful scarletrumped tanager flash by. Volcano views framed in forest are memorable; tree ferns, glorious.
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