On This Page
To check out one of Costa Rica’s magnificent volcanoes.
When We Went
May 2016. May is during the rainy season.
While in the rainforest, we actually didn’t experience down pours, but rather an almost constant, continual mist.
Even though it was always wet, it wasn’t cold. The overall temperature stayed pretty warm during our stay.
Everything was lush and green during the rainy season, the whole area seemed to be exploding with life.
Length of time
We had a total of five days to spend on the rich coast, half of which were spent in La Fortuna to catch a glimpse of the Arenal Volcano.
For the second half of the trip we decided to hit the beach in Playa Hermosa. You can read more about our time at the beach here.
Spanish. We found that people would greet us in Spanish and then switch over to English when they saw we weren’t fluent.
The colón. We exchanged our US dollars for the local currency. Make sure to keep some smaller bills of the local currency on you.
Most places also accepted US dollars and credit cards.
This map is meant to give you a visual representation of where we were, and to help you approximate travel time between cities.
Health & Safety
Check out what the CDC recommends for travelling to Costa Rica here.
You cannot throw trash of any kind in the toilets or it will clog them up, this includes toilet paper. Instead, little trash cans are provided next to the toilets. When you are in a public restroom you need to grab your toilet paper before you enter the stall, as it is usually kept on the outside.
We were not very careful about avoiding the water or ice on this trip. Neither of us got sick.
Zika was a known risk in the area in May of 2016.
Alex judges the general safety of an area by whether or not you see women walking around at night by themselves, this was the case in La Fortuna.
We felt safe where we went on this trip.
How We Got Around
We flew in and out of the Juan Santamaría International Airport located in San José, the capital city.
We flew Spirit Airlines. As a budget airline, anticipate being nickel and dimed for every last thing (no free drinks or snacks, only small personal items fly for free.) We barely made it. It was one of those ‘run through the airport and hope you get lucky’ situations.
We used Ride Costa Rica as airport pick up, and when traveling from city to city. We booked this transportation in advance. It was reasonably priced and we were able to choose from a list of pick-up and drop-off spots on the day and time of our liking. Of course public transportation would have been our cheapest option, but we wanted something convenient and stress-free. The staff was very helpful and I would highly recommend this service. There are several tourist shuttle services like this available.
La Fortuna was a fairly small town and we were able to get around well enough by walking.
Where We Stayed
We found Airbnb to be extremely helpful because we were able to talk to our hosts beforehand. Before we booked a reservation anywhere, we messaged a few different hosts and asked them questions about the area we wanted to stay in. We ended up booking where we thought would be the best fit for us.
Our Apartment in La Fortuna
The shuttle we booked dropped us off right at the property’s main office where we met our Airbnb host. We didn’t realize that it was going to be this easy to find our Airbnb when we booked the shuttle, but our driver knew exactly where we needed to go once we arrived in La Fortuna.
Our Airbnb host gave us a map of the town, booked a hike for us for the following day, and showed us to our apartment. It was a small, studio-style space with brightly colored orange and green walls. There was a bathroom and shower, bed, and kitchen area complete with a table and mini fridge. There was no air conditioning, but we had electricity and a small fan.
What To Pack
Our time in the rainforest was pretty intense, be prepared.
Clothing & Gear
- Bring a good pair of athletic/hiking shoes
- Wear cool, comfy clothing. I had packed mostly running shorts and tanks, however, longer, lighter layers may have served me better considering I became completely covered in bug bites despite my efforts to apply bug spray regularly.
- Lots of insect repellent
- A rain jacket
The electricity used in Costa Rica is 110 volts, 60 cycle, which is the same as the US, therefore we did not need to use a converter. The plugs are typically the 2 pronged flat type, which is also the same as the US, so we didn’t need to bring an adapter either.
The Local Supermercado
There was a store within walking distance from the apartment we stayed at stocked with groceries, toiletries, and pretty much anything else you would need.
We were surrounded by fresh fruit.
The juices were thick and frothy.
The smoothies were smooth and creamy.
Fresh ground coffee and beans were everywhere.
Rice & Beans
Rice and beans were the staple served with every meal.
Costa Rican Breakfast
On the morning of our volcano hike, we stopped in an open-ended cafe to grab some breakfast. (We did not realize at the time just how much we would need this fuel…)
Rows of coffee beans lined the shelves.
We ate rice and beans and scrambled eggs served with avocado slices and chunks of hearty wheat bread. Coffee and fresh fruit smoothies completed the meal. I ordered strawberry, Alex had pineapple.
Simple. Delicious. Satisfying.
We recreate this breakfast often at home, but somehow, it’s just not the same without the Arenal Volcano looming in the background.
What We Did
My First International Trip
This was my first time traveling outside of the United States, and I was a mixture of nervousness and excitement. I’m the type who gets the ‘pre-trip jitters’ anywhere I go, even if it’s back home to Nebraska. Alex had insisted I get my passport a few months prior, ‘just in case’ an international trip popped up in the near future. Coincidence?
Arrival in San José
As I mentioned earlier, we flew in on Spirit, and by some miracle managed to land in San José right on schedule. When we thought we were going to miss our connection, I had called the shuttle service to see how hard it would be to reschedule our rides. Then, when we ended up arriving in San José on time, I called again and asked if we could keep our original reservations. The shuttle staff was friendly and helpful throughout the process. A man at the airport had let us use his phone for the call when we landed, but then asked for payment afterwards. Looking back, we should have seen this coming. Alex gave him some change from his pocket and we moved along to catch our shuttle.
Moral of the story: be prepared for anyone offering you assistance to ask for payment afterwards.
Welcome to the Jungle
Not long after exiting San José, we seemed to have plunged directly into the rainforest.
All I could see was green.
After a full day of travelling, Alex fell asleep as soon as the van got moving. I, however, was wide awake. Whether it was the scenery or the fact that we were twisting and turning and jerking around so much I was struggling to stay in my seat, I’m not sure. Our driver was very friendly, spoke English, and obviously knew these crazy winding roads well.
A few hours later we arrived at our first destination, La Fortuna, nestled in the valley of the majestic Volcán Arenal.
We Were Eager to Explore the Town
There was a school near our apartment, we passed a group of kids playing fútbol in a field while out walking around.
We popped in a particularly intriguing shop, inside there was an array of multi-colored wood objects ranging from small trinkets to large pieces of furniture. We came across similar wood work all over Costa Rica.
A fountain and a church stood at the center of town.
The Two Volcanoes Tour
We had signed up for the Two Volcanoes Tour. We would be hiking up Arenal’s sister volcano, Cerro Chato, which has long been inactive and has since filled with water, forming a lagoon. We filed on the bus that took us to the starting point of the hike, there were about 20 people total in our group.
The Most Difficult Hike of My Life
I like to think of myself as in decent physical shape, I’ve been a runner most of my life. Alex and I both have a good amount of hiking experience, but the Two Volcanoes Tour was on a whole other level.
It is by far the hardest hike I have ever done in my entire life.
The trail up the dormant volcano was unpaved.
It was a steep, unrelentingly vertical climb to the top.
If you stopped and looked, you could see the sliver of a path ahead of you, but with no end in sight. Every half an hour or so, our guides would reassure us that it would not be much longer until we reached the top, just ten more minutes. This soon became a joke amongst the group. (It’s okay guys, just ten more minutes.)
One self-proclaimed resort girl in our group was having a dreadful time, she was obviously not the outdoorsy type. Her friends had signed her up for the hike and she insisted that it was the worst day of her entire life. Honestly, I couldn’t feel more different.
Even though I would literally be sore for days afterwards, I can’t think of a better way to experience the rain forest.
Sometimes, you’ve just got to get your hands dirty. And in this case your arms. And your legs. And your clothes. And your shoes. And by dirty I mean completely covered in mud and sweat.
The Army Ant
Our guides were extremely knowledgeable about the area, and they took the time to share some of this with us.
Once we finally reached the top, we stopped to rest for a bit and eat the sack lunches they provided for us (sandwiches, fruit, and cookies).
The lagoon was before us. It was overcast that day (every day we were in La Fortuna was overcast), which limited overall visibility, we could not see past the water’s edge. There was a dense fog above the water’s surface, giving the whole area a mystical, if not slightly eerie vibe. We had been advised to wear our swimsuits for the hike, although at this point it didn’t make much difference as we were all sopping wet from a mixture of the rain and our own sweat. Nonetheless, we peeled off our soggy layers and waded in. The water was refreshingly cool.
But shortly after, it was time to descend.
It was no easier than the climb up. Not at all. Not even a little bit.
Alex’s face says it all (wait for it at the end):
Sometime, a while later, we finally reached the bottom. The bus was there waiting for us. We stumbled on went to an area of thankfully flatter terrain for a bit more exploring.
Hanging Bridge and Frog Pond
We walked over a hanging bridge and a pond where we caught a glimpse of some red-eyed tree frogs.
A Dip in the Hot Springs
There was one last activity in store for us before the Two Volcanoes Tour came to an end, a dip in the hot springs. The guides came around passing out drinks (I believe it was rum and juice or something of the sort) and applied a mud treatment to our faces. A little while later we climbed out of the water, beyond tired, but feeling relaxed and accomplished.
10 Hours Later
The Two Volcanoes Tour had taken us a solid TEN HOURS to complete.
We collapsed in a heap of exhaustion the minute we got back to the apartment.
We had to force ourselves out of bed the next morning to catch our shuttle that would take us to the beach. We took in the sight of Volcán Arenal peeking through the early morning haze one last time before starting the short walk through town to catch our shuttle.
Fast forward a few days, after our time in Costa Rica was done, to when I finally arrived at work back home and no one expected me to be there. Apparently, over the course of our time in Costa Rica, Volcán Turrialba had erupted and it had been all over the news in the states. A couple of coworkers even attempted to contact me via Instagram while I was gone to see if I was okay.
Disclaimer: No I did not actually go “lava surfing”, nor do I condone such behavior.
Somehow, we had not caught word of this eruption the whole time we were in Costa Rica. Maybe the locals weren’t overly concerned about it, I’m not certain. I suppose every place has it’s own, anticipated, if not even somewhat normal, natural disaster to contend with.