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To check out one of Costa Rica’s many magnificent volcanoes.
When We Went
May 2016. This was during the rainy season.
While in the rainforest, we didn’t experience down pours, but rather an almost constant, continual mist. It added to the experience (we had made the decision to come to the rainforest, after all). Even though it was wet, it wasn’t a cold rain. Overall the temperature stayed pretty warm during our stay. Everything was so lush and green, the whole area seemed to be exploding with life.
Length of time
We had a total of five days 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 sand in Playa Hermosa. This post focuses on our time spent in La Fortuna, you can read more about our time at the beach here.
Spanish. I know basic Spanish, enough to get by. We found that people would greet us in Spanish and I would do my best to converse with them. Once they saw us struggling to keep pace, most people switched over to English. English speakers weren’t hard to find where we were.
The colón. We exchanged our US dollars for the local currency, but discovered throughout the course of our trip that most places also accepted US dollars and credit cards. (I would definitely keep some smaller bills of the local currency on hand, at the very least.)
Please keep in mind that this may not be the exact route we took.
This map is meant to give you a visual representation of where we were, and to help you approximate travel time between cities.
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. Just remember when you are in a public restroom 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. Do your own research and use your own judgement to decide what is right for you.
Zika was a known risk in the area at the time we went.
We didn’t need to get any vaccines before going.
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.That being said, anytime you are traveling somewhere new, it’s wise to keep your guard up and ALWAYS be aware of what’s going on around you. (Take it up a notch if you can’t understand the locals.)
We didn’t purchase travel insurance before going.
We flew Spirit Airlines, a “budget airline”. Anticipate being nickel and dimed for every last thing (no free drinks or snacks, only small personal items fly for free.) You get what you pay for, so just know it’s a bit of a gamble each time. In this case 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 fairly 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.
We used Airbnb.
We found Airbnb to be extremely helpful with this being an international trip, because we were able to talk to our host beforehand. Before we booked a reservation anywhere, we messaged a few different hosts. We asked them questions about the area we wanted to stay and 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 when we booked the shuttle, but we found that 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 then showed us up to our little 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.
Our time in the rainforest was 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 insect repellent regularly.)
- Insect repellent
- 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.
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.
Foods We Enjoyed
We were surrounded by fresh fruit, a lot of which we consumed in the form of a thick frothy juices and creamy smoothies.
Fresh ground coffee and beans were everywhere.
Rice and beans were the filling staple served with almost every meal.
The Wistful Costa Rican Breakfast
On the morning of our volcano hike, we stopped in a little open-ended cafe to grab some breakfast. (We did not realize at the time just how much we would need this breakfast…)
Rows of fresh coffee beans lined the shelves inside. We grabbed a table outside on the patio and ate creamy avocados, rice and beans, scrambled eggs, pieces of hearty wheat bread, coffee, and fresh fruit smoothies. 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.
My First International Trip
I was coming up on my 25th birthday. Hitting the quarter century mark seemed like the perfect excuse to justify packing my backpack and exploring a new country. This was actually to be 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 right asleep as soon as the van got moving. I, however, was far from it. Whether it was because my eyes were glued on the images passing through the windows, or the fact that we were twisting and turning and jerking around so much I was struggling to keep my bottom in the seat, I’m not sure. Our driver was 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 looking shop we passed, inside there was an array of multi-colored wood-carved 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 or 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 wind its way up. And up. And up, 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 not the outdoorsy type. Her friends had signed her up for the hike and she insisted that it was the worst experience 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 rainforest. Sometimes, you’ve just got to dive right in. 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.
I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.
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 hovering above the water’s surface, giving the whole area a mystical, if not slightly eerie feeling. We had been advised to wear our swimsuits underneath our clothes 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:
Sometime, a while later, we reached the bottom. The bus was there waiting for us. We stumbled on and our guides took us over to an area for a bit more exploring on some thankfully flatter terrain.
Hanging Bridge and Frog Pond
We passed over a hanging bridge, a frog pond (where we caught a glimpse of some red-eyed tree frogs), and over to a watch tower to catch the sunset.
A Dip in the Hot Springs
One last activity before the completion of the tour, a dip in the hot springs. We walked gingerly across the slippery stones before sliding in the warm water. 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 gingerly coaxed our tired bodies out the door the next morning, more than ready 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 our ride meet up spot.
Playa Hermosa here we come.
Fast forward a few days, after out time spent at the beach, to when I 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 for certain. I suppose every place has it’s own, anticipated, if not even somewhat normal, natural disaster to contend with.