The Costa Rican adventure: Arenal
If you haven’t already read the first part of us being in Liberia and Del Coco, I highly recommend reading it here.
We were on a week vacation to Costa Rica and spent the first few days basking in the sun and rolling in the beach. Our second leg was to go to Arenal Volcano region.
Initially we had planned to take a bus from Del coco to arenal volcano where we had planned to spend the last half of our trip. But when we did check out the bus situation it would take 6+ hours and need 3 bus changes to get to La Fortuna (which is the main town near Arenal volcano). Our hotel was about 10 KM from La Fortuna town so we would then have to take another taxi. We kind of decided at last-minute to get a rental car. If you book in advance you can get them for like $10-15 a day and ours was $25 a day. In hindsight, this was the best decision of our trip.
We started around 1PM, followed google maps and ended up on a non-existent gravel path, returned to the highway, stopped at a scenic place for snacks and reached our hotel around 5PM. The actual drive is 2 hours 30 minutes, give or take 15 minutes. Also if you do follow google maps, check your route to make sure you are always following the major highways. The roads are really good on the major highways, you can drive a 100 KMPH on half of them. However that’s where it ends. Most other roads are basically gravel or mud or barely road.
The drive to Arenal has big highways, then some winding flat roads, merging into a wind farm with lots of wind mills. Eventually you start driving around Arenal lake and that is extremely beautiful. When you get away from the lake, you end up with views of Arenal volcano (on clear days) and that for me, was breath-taking. I had never seen a volcano before, so for me, it was nothing short of stunning.
When we got to our hotel, we realized everything in that area was kind of spread out, like resorts etc. We also ended up getting the best cottage of the 14 in total. We stayed at this place called Hotel Campo Verde and our cottage opened up onto a trail with Arenal Volcano in the background. There was no man-made thing like wires or poles or buildings between us and the Volcano. That mixed with a wooden cottage gave me the feeling of just retiring here.
We did a lot of walking and hiking in that area. There are trails all over, some for wildlife, some for watching the volcano, some for views of lake, some for waterfalls. Also you can do a lot of packaged tours and activities including adventure sports like ziplining etc. We just did a lot of random hiking on our own. Everything seems fairly organized, most areas would have some parking and an entrance fee from $10-$20 and pretty much be surrounded by greenery. Make sure you buy an insect repellent since there can be lots of different bugs (mostly harmless). We did the hike through Hanging Bridges at Mistico and also the arenal 1968 hike. Both were pretty good and satisfying and offered good views as rewards for the hike.
Arenal Volcano is a fairly new volcano by geological standards, being about 7500 years old. It was also recently active from 1968 to 2010 and has since been dormant.
The last day we reserved for all kinds of relaxation stuff like Hot springs and spa. We ended up getting a hot stone massage at a Spa in down town La fortuna and it was heavenly. Look for Day Spa Herrera and definitely get a massage there if you are in the area. It was super cheap by US standards, expensive from Thailand standards and seemed cheap by Costa Rican standards. We paid $90 for 1+ hour massage for 2 people.
Later we ended up going to Tabacon. It is one of the more expensive, 5 star resorts in the area famous for its hot springs. In general the rooms there start at $400 a night but they also offer a day pass for those who just want to enjoy the hot springs. The day pass costs around $85 including a buffet dinner or lunch. It is recommended to go there in the evening, when the sun is setting down because who wants to do a hot spring with a hot sun beating down. The hot springs are directly heated from the volcano and is really more like a hot river with various embankments created to separate water in varying heat levels. The place is extremely natural with hardly any manmade areas except for the pools. You can go around the river trying to find your own favorite spot and just soak in the hot water or sit under hot waterfalls. Most of the river was between 97-101 Fahrenheit. The beer was $6 just in case you were wondering. It was my first hot spring experience and it was awesome.
The thing with such first experiences is that it sets the tone for future. If you did a hot spring for first time and it was bad or average, you would never again give it the chance. However if you loved it, at least you are more open to trying it out again. The same thing holds for going to South america. Had it been boring or average, I would probably not want to go down in that region but Costa Rica definitely opened my mind to going and exploring a bit more of South America again.
We drove back on the final day from Arenal to Liberia, returned our cars and took the flight back to Seattle. Keep in mind that CR recently introduced a $29 departure tax for each person. A lot of companies have started including this in the flight ticket prices but you might have to pay in case it isn’t!