The village of Chachagua, 10 kilometers southeast of La Fortuna , is evolving as a center for ecotourism. About one kilometer east of Chachagua, a dirt road leads west and dead-ends at the Chachagua Rainforest (tel. 506/2468-1010, www.chachaguarainforesthotel.com ), a 130-hectare private forest reserve, cattle ranch, and fruit farm nestled at the foot of the Tilarán mountain range. It has a lodge, plus a small butterfly garden and orchid garden, and the forest is a great place for bird-watching and hiking.
Nearby, Finca Luna Nueva Lodge (tel. 506/2468-4006, www.fincalunanuevalodge.com ) is an organic biodynamic herbal farm that welcomes visitors for hikes and horseback tours, and for tours ($20–60) and classes ranging from the culinary arts to sustainable living. Wheelchair-accessible trails lead through a rainforest reserve, with a 50-foot-tall observation tower. It’s unsigned; take the dirt track on the south side of the highway and 100 meters east of Restaurante Los Piruchos del Volcán, at San Isidro de Peñas Blancas.
La Tigra, 12 kilometers southeast of Chachagua, is a gateway to the Bosque Eterno de los Niños  (Children’s Eternal Forest) and Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve ; you’ll see a sign about 800 meters south of La Tigra and an information office one kilometer north of town. At La Tigra, the highway begins to climb into the central highlands via San Ramón .
You must visit Coco Loco Art Gallery & Café (tel. 506/2468-0990, www.artdk.com , 8 a.m.–5 p.m. daily), five kilometers east of Chachagua. In addition to serving milk shakes, smoothies, and coffee, this exquisite German-run roadside bistro has galleries displaying the very finest Costa Rican crafts, including hammocks, exquisite marble carvings, and ceramics, plus owner Ruth Deiseroth-Kweton’s own exotic, indigenous-infused art and masks.
Wow! What a makeover at Chachagua Rainforest Lodge (tel. 506/2468-1010, www.chachaguarainforesthotel.com , $110–165 s/d low season, $125–195 s/d high season). This formerly average hotel has been refurbished in chic contemporary style. It has 22 spacious wooden cabins, each with two double beds, ceiling fans, WiFi, gorgeous bathrooms, and a deck with a picnic table and benches for enjoying the natural surroundings. The atmospheric natural-log restaurant looks out upon a corral where sabaneros (cowboys) offer rodeo shows. There’s a swimming pool, horseback riding, and nature and bird-watching hikes.
A similar and delightful alternative is Tree Houses Hotel (tel. 506/2475-6507, www.treehouseshotelcostarica.com , $95–120 s/d including breakfast), midway between San Pedro and Florencia. Yes, you’ll sleep in one of five actual tree houses within a private wildlife refuge great for wildlife-viewing. The cozy, rustic, air-conditioned units have en-suite bathrooms, plus double beds and a loft with two singles perfect for kids.
Finca Luna Nueva Lodge (tel. 506/2468-4006, www.fincalunanuevalodge.com , from $60 s, $70 d low season; from $70 s, $80 d high season) has a delightful ecolodge with seven spacious air-conditioned rooms in two raised wooden structures with wraparound balconies; plus two styles of bungalows, including family-size. It also has WiFi, plus a spa and solar-heated tub, and an ozonated swimming pool. The restaurant serves organic meals, and will especially appeal to eco-conscious travelers.
A lovely alternative, Jardines Arenal Hotel (tel. 506/2479-9728, www.hoteljardinesarenal.com , $45 s or $57 d low season, $57 s or $66 d high season) offers modestly furnished rooms in a lovely two-story lodge set in handsome gardens.
Coco Loco Art Gallery & Café (tel. 506/2468-0990, www.arenalbyowner.com , $75 s or $85 d w/breakfast) offers an exquisite cottage rental with forest views. Created by artist Ruth Deiseroth-Kweton, it’s a sheer work of art, with bamboo ceiling, faux-forest wall, Guatemalan curtains, king-size bed with built-in sofa bed, and a fantasy bathroom. A bargain, especially considering you get your own forest reserve and trails.