LA FORTUNA/ARENAL

Climbing onboard the shuttle headed to La Fortuna was bittersweet. It was exciting to head off to the mountains for a few days, but at the same time, I knew it was the last stop on this incredible adventure before one last night in San Jose. Crammed in the back between a skinny hipster and a middle aged woman dressed like a teenager, I tried to sleep for the duration of the bumpy journey, but was unsuccessful, so I turned my attention to the landscapes whizzing by outside. Long stretches of beach quickly turned to green pastures and tall, thick, sprawling trees and farmland – it was beautiful!

Six and a half hours later and one change of vehicle at a deserted service station, we were dropped off in town. Lugging our backpacks, we headed to a hostel that some of our Tamarindo friends had recommended. “It has a pool!” one of them had exclaimed. Luckily they had vacancies, we dropped off the bags and headed back into town in running gear, set to trek the volcano and book an excursion for the following morning (it was 3PM by now). Rain loomed overhead and as fate would have it, every ATM in the town was broken. I kid you not. We went to every single ATM (6 in total) throughout the town, and they were all ‘temporarily out of service’. We had no cash and being a Sunday we couldn’t walk into a bank. Locals we chatted to just shrugged and said “Yeah that happens a lot”. Luckily the tour operator said we could pay in the morning and booked us in good faith to go whitewater rafting and zip lining.

We got a message from a couple of friends that we travelled through Mexico, Belize and Guatemala with to say they were in La Fortuna for the night as well (thanks Facebook!) and did we want to go to the public hot springs that evening with a couple beers? Absolutely. We headed down around 8PM and forged our way through rough waters, under bridges, over rocks until we found a suitable spot to sit for awhile. We caught up for a few hours, sitting uncomfortably on sharp rocks, the hot (HOT!) springs bubbling by us. I had to re-adjust several times in order to not get swept away with the current! But it was great to catch up and see them as who knows when we will ever see the lot of them again.

Arriving home at 11PM, we crashed, waking early to head off to the Class III and IV rapids an hour away. We met a couple of Aussie guys on the bus and had a laugh with them, when we were told to go into groups of six we all stuck together and were paired with a couple of American guys.

Taking on the river was awesome. They prepped us to make it sound super intense, and parts of it definitely were, but when our guide purposefully flipped our raft into the river I realised that it probably wasn’t as ‘dangerous’ as they had made it out to be – the most dangerous part was the American guy behind me with no concept of synchronised paddling and a habit of bonking my helmet with his paddle. There were a few unexpected incidents where people were thrown out of the raft and nearly crushed into the rocky sides of the river, but the four of us were quick to respond and pull mates out of the river by their tightly strapped life vest.

Following the rapids, we downed a few beers and headed back to the Arenal Volcano Park to zip line, which had been my idea. As they strapped us into our harnesses, it began to rain, and I began to panic slightly. I don’t like heights and I don’t like flying, so I’m not sure what compelled me to try zip lining aside from the fact that it is one adrenaline activity that I had not yet experienced. As they told us the dangers and procedures, I felt more and more nervous until I realised I was being pushed out over a rainforest canopy, instructed to brake at the end. “If you brake too much, you will be stuck and you will have to flip around and climb yourself to the end.” I couldn’t think of anything worse than being suspended above the treetops in the rainforest left to my own devices to climb to the platform, so the majority of the time I would brake at the end really quickly and more often than not, slam into the rope knots/tree. The platforms were super tiny that you had to end up jumping on to. The instructors were all really lovely and tried to keep everybody excited and spirits up in the rain, pointing out wildlife (SLOTHS!) and enthusiastically hopping onto the zip lines backwards or upside down. By the end, I was glad I had experienced, and was much more confident, though I declined the opportunity to rappel down 100ft off a cliff next to waterfalls. We all have our limits.

Hot springs across the road were the next and final destination for the evening. I covered myself in volcanic clay and had a shower after testing the various man-made hot springs, with a cold Imperial Silver in hand.

After a couple of hours at the hot springs, we headed back to town, ate a quick dinner of nachos and crashed, not before setting an alarm to wake up early to pack our bags and catch the bus to San Jose for our last evening, as we were flying out of SJO early the next morning.

Top Tips

  • Although some tour operators will tell you some options aren’t available as a bundle, they are, and the good operators will find a way how. Negotiations are more possible here than the coast but they won’t budge too much. Shop around for the best deal and option for what you want to do.
  • Bring cash! Apparently the ATMs are frequently out of service, which is a huge pain in the ass because most tour operators only take cash.
  • If you are strapped for cash definitely check out the volcano treks and the public hot springs. The springs are not as comfortable as the man made ones but it’s definitely worth it (and free to enter!)
  • Have an idea of what you want to do and try to get to La Fortuna early to book what you are after. Popular excursions do sell out but you usually will be able to find a tour operator to do something.
  • Morning is the best time to see the volcano without the haze or clouds obstructing. If you are staying at a lodge with a view, wake up for sunrise, otherwise, if you are staying for a few days you will probably be able to see it one of the days at least briefly. 
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