The bus began a winding ascent into the mountains past small towns and mountain villages. Steep mountainsides boasted of beautiful farms on the grade which made me wonder how they ever plant, cultivate and harvest their crops. Surely any tractor would tumble down the hill if it attempted even an approach to these terraces. My guess is that most of these farms are hand cultivated.
As we ascended the air grew cooler and mist wafted in in the form of small clouds until we were fully engulfed in thick mist. Occasionally, we would descend out of the clouds for views of the countryside. As we rounded a bend suddenly before us was the looming stark figure of Arenal Volcano. She stood high above the other mountains pointing straight into the sky. She graced us with a beautiful view all the way to La Fortuna.
After we got off the bus, a few clouds started to form around the volcano’s coned top. Within half an hour the clouds thickened until only her base could be seen. Soon the rain began to pour and she disappeared from sight. The hot afternoon became bearable and a pleasant breeze cooled the skin.
Our hostel for the evening was just outside of town. Trin texted the host this morning but we have not heard back from them so we began to walk. There was still no response from the host when we arrived in town. We reached the area where the hostel was supposed to be then logged onto Airbnb to try and find her phone number. It seemed like a wrong number.
Finally giving up on the host we began to search for alternate accommodations. The sun sets around 5:30 so we needed to find something quickly.
We crossed the street and inquired at a nearby hostel. They had a room available for $35. Our original accommodations were supposed to be only $10 a night. I suggested that we look just a little further. Although the fancier hotel would almost definitely be more I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask. We walked up to the front desk and inquired about their rates. They were $50 a night.
I said to Trin, let’s just do the hostel for $35. Upon hearing this, the hotel attendant quickly piped up and said that they can give us the room for $35. We took it. I love offseason. I think there was only one other guest in the place. We had the pool and kitchen to ourselves. We had a wonderful relaxing night.
The Airbnb host fail was inconvenient, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise as we found out later.
In the morning we went to the nature center at the base of Cerro Chato. We paid the park entrance of $12 each then headed up the path that was partly maintained for the first few hundred meters. Once we rounded the bend into the jungle, the path turned into what merely is an escape route for water during heavy rains. It was steep, so steep I could stand straight with my arm outstretched like a T and touch the path in front of me at times. It was the equivalent of doing one-legged squats for a few hours. But it was beautiful.
The light rain kept us cool as we hoisted ourselves up against the incline. At the crest of the crater, we could see nothing but clouds. There was another couple at the top who decided not to slide down into the crater saying it was too steep and slippery.
After wandering to the beginning of the path down into the crater Trin wondered if we should attempt it. At first sight, it appeared to be an almost vertical scraggle of mud erosions, not a path that could be navigated. I figured if we came this far already we had to give it a shot.
As we slipped and slid our way to the volcanic lake, a scene from Romancing the Stone kept coming back to me. The one where they slide down the hill and land awkwardly together at the bottom. It was a possibility here. Once we gave in to the fact that we would be caked in mud then it became fun.
We slid to the shore of the lake as a breeze began to move the clouds and the entire crater lake became visible. It was serene. We pulled off our shoes and jumped in. It was cold enough to make me catch my breath, but so refreshing after that hike.
VOLCANIC CRATER LAKE
We sat on the shore while little minnows pecked at our feet and we ate a few cookies from our stash. Eventually, we pulled ourselves away from the view and studied the incline before us back to the top, deciding the best path to take. We took our time on the way up. By the time we reached the crest again the breeze had cleared the view enough for us to see the lake from the top.
The hike back down was easier and was more scenic since the clouds had thinned out and we could see the La Fortuna and its surrounding countryside.
We retrieved our backpacks from the previous night’s hotel and proceeded to walk to town. The home we stayed in during the remainder of our stay in La Fortuna was about a five-minute walk from the bus station where we originally arrived.
The home was a small two bedroom home. They gave us their little girls room. She was an adorable happy girl who loved to sing as she walked around the house or washed up in the bathroom.
The room had a double bed and no fan. It was hot. For any breeze to flow the bedroom door had to be open. We had to choose between privacy or airflow. We ended up with something in between. Just outside our door, however, was a great view of Arenal
The family was very kind to us and was willing to help with anything we needed and shared their food with us.
We splurged the next day on a SkyAdventures package tour. A shuttle picked us up at the town square and took us on a drive to the other side of Arenal volcano. When we arrived we took a tram up into the forest. From the top, we had a guided hike back down the mountain through a series of switchbacks and over a few hanging bridges.
At the start of the trail, the guide advised us to apply the mosquito lotion thickly and not to touch anything. Poisonous creatures like to hide all around. Along the way she pointed out a few that we would probably have never seen. One was an eyelash pit viper. A tiny little snake that can kill you in two hours. The superciliary scales above their eyes that inspired their name were awesome.
We also found a hawk wasp. This one was dead so it was safe to handle. They sting a tarantula to paralyze it and then lay their eggs in the spider’s abdomen. Once the eggs hatch the baby wasps feed off the tarantula until they are fully developed. They wait until the very end to eat vital organs so that the tarantula remains alive for 22 days.
It seemed our guide knew the song and name of every beautiful bird we saw. She also told us about the amazing life of the leaf-cutter ants. These are the ants that create ant highways, paths that can be seen and followed cleared for the workers and soldiers.
There are three jobs for the ants on this highway. First is the ant that carries the leaf which is 20 times bigger than itself. As the leaf is being carried, another smaller ant walks all over the leaf cleaning it and secreting enzymes that will aid in its decomposition in their underground compost pile. A certain kind of fungus grows in these compost piles and serve as food for the ants.
The third kind of ant on the highway is the soldier ant. The soldier protects the other ants and will be called in occasionally when the little cleaning ant finds contaminants on a leaf that should not be taken home. When this occurs the soldier ant carries the leaf and the ant carrying it to their garbage pile outside the camp. Here the leaf is dumped and the legs are taken off the contaminated ant. He is also left there to die so that he will not contaminate the nest. Or so our guide told us.
Back at the base camp, we suited up with harnesses and helmets for zip lining. Flying several hundred feet over the treetops gave us amazing views of Arenal volcano and the Arenal lake nearby. We had a blast and our guides were awesome. Each time he hooked my harness to the next zip line he would ask, OK are you going to scream this time? No, probably not – I would say. He’d then say, come on make some noise!
VOLCANIC HOT SPRINGS
The following day we wanted to relax in some of the local, natural, volcanic hot springs. Diego, the host of home we were staying in, heard we were thinking of going to a hot spring. He works at the Tabacon resort and he hooked us up with the friends-and-family pass at a huge discount.
We ended up with an all-day pass that included a buffet dinner, all at about a third of the normal cost. The Airbnb snafu didn’t feel too bad after that. This blessing fell into our lap.
The hot springs river runs directly through the resort. They have tiled some of the river sections and groomed the entire area with local vegetation.
The result is a spectacular array of many different pools to soak in the volcano-heated water. When we were too hot we could go sit in a nearby cooler pool. Want a massage? Sit under one of the many waterfalls, all at various strengths.
La Fortuna is one of the more popular tourist destinations in Costa Rica and we’re happy to experience it. The volcanic hot springs made for a luxurious day. From here we are headed to Uvita to do a work-away stint at a Christian retreat center. We are very excited about this prospect.