La Fortuna

After departing our hostel in Monteverde we decided to give our failed hike another shot, this time going the long way via paved roads on our way to La Fortuna. A few hours later (thanks to a much more manageable route) we arrived at Cerro Pelado where we parked on a family’s property, paid a few thousand colones, and began our hike. Equipped with some old-fashioned walking sticks provided by the host we started up the path.

I am not exaggerating when I say that this was the windiest conditions Emily and I have ever faced in any part of the world. On several occasions the wind blew our hats off of our heads, including one such gust that took my hat literally off the side of the trail and about 50 feet down the side of the mountain. I was able to stab it with the walking stick and retrieve it but I stuffed it in my bag and went hatless (with lots of sunscreen) for the rest of the hike. Emily had to use a carabiner to keep her hat secured to her hair tie (which fortunately saved her hat a few times). As we reached the highest peak of the hike the wind only intensified, but the view was incredible.

When we made it to what looked like the end of the hike we noticed another narrow trail trodden by some seemingly more adventurous hikers who’d come before us. The additional stretch of trail lead out to the end of the furthest mountaintop which included a tall slender stretch of what looked like particularly jagged rock. After trying and thinking better of taking on a super sketchy rock scramble section in crazy wind (probably 1.5 feet wide and 20 feet long, with a drop of several hundred feet immediately to either side), we stopped to eat lunch and turned around. Emily spent most of the return trip alternating hands on her head to keep her hat from flying off.

The remainder of our drive to La Fortuna took us around Lake Arenal, a huge lake in the shadow of the Arenal Volcano (the largest in Costa Rica at 33 square miles), before arriving at our AirBnB. Our accommodation for the week was a large 3 bedroom house in a quiet neighborhood a few blocks from downtown, complete with a fantastic view of the volcano from our street.

Arenal Volcano concealed by clouds in the distance

We spent the next day relaxing after the tough hike and taking some time to explore the small town. La Fortuna had less of a touristy feel than some of our previous stops, and felt more like a small community that was still bustling despite the decrease in tourism due to the pandemic. It had plenty of small shops (including a coffee shop that we stopped at several times throughout the week), sodas, and a great park in the middle of town where we saw some wild hummingbirds flying within the flowering trees. It was an added bonus that the volcano was within view no matter where in town you were (though the top was usually covered with clouds, like the photo above). We wrapped up our day by stopping at the grocery store to get a week’s worth of eggs and fresh fruit for breakfast and smoothies (smoothies were possible due to the blender that our AirBnB host provided upon request, so clutch!)

After sleeping in on a second consecutive day and perfecting our smoothie recipe we packed up for the day and took off towards Tenorio Volcano National Park. When we arrived at the location shown on Google Maps, we realized we weren’t actually there (something we’re getting used to). We turned around, drove back down the same road for a while until we found a cell tower, and consulted the internet for new directions. Second times the charm! The park was beautiful with lush jungle, tons of birds and animals, and a long stretch of trail along the Rio Celeste, which was the main attraction. Sporting a beautiful teal color due to minerals in the water (here’s a more scientific explanation), the river even bubbled at a few spots with hot springs from the heat in the earth below. There were also a few sections where you could see two rivers (one with clear water and the other with blue) meeting where the water would eventually mix.

Where the two rivers meet.

The last portion of the hike had us cross a few cool hanging metal bridges and brought us down a few hundred steps to the pool beneath the waterfall which was just as blue as the river that fed it. We stopped for a while to eat our lunch (our staple has become crunchy peanut butter and Nutella sandwiches; two for me and one for Emily) before making the return hike. For some reason we decided to “trail run” back up the steps, thinking that the increased pace might help with he odd sizes and heights of the steps (which it did, a bit, maybe?) but this ultimately wiped us out and required a quick rest at the top before finishing the hike.

Later that week we got to experience some of the less enjoyable parts of long term travel. While spending a lazy day at our favorite coffee shop with strong WiFI in town (Arabigos Coffee House) I realized that there were numerous fraudulent Amazon charges on the main credit card that we’d been using for our trip. It didn’t stand out at first since before leaving the US we used Amazon quite a bit. After an afternoon of phone calls with Amazon and Chase, getting disconnected, navigating the complications of WiFi calling from a foreign country and not being able to get text messages, and almost having to give up because my name on our Amazon account is listed as “Mike” and not “Michael”, we got it sorted out and new replacement cards have been sent to our PO Box in DC (to be honest it wasn’t that bad, but it was as stressful and frustrating as expected). Fortunately we have other cards to use until we can get a hold of our replacements. Having spent hours investigating and sorting out the fraud situation, we took it easy and made dinner at home that night before watching TV in our family room bed. Since our house for the week had 3 bedrooms and we only needed one, we figured pulling a spare mattress into the living room was appropriate.

Later that week we picked out a hike around Arenal Volcano to Mirador el Silencio, a nature preserve between the lake and volcano. The trail was empty as we started in the late morning and it took us up through the rain forest towards an overlook. In addition to the numerous birds there were also lots of lizards and a copious amount of leaf cutter ants. At almost every turn we noticed a significant trail of the ants, each with a piece of leaf, hurrying across the path to continue on their mission of collecting leaves.

We’ve seen a number of birds on our trip, and usually end up on Google trying to figure out what they are. We’re slowly getting better at identifying them based on what sound they make. And as usual, this hike included all sorts of amazing trees. It’s hard to really grasp just how massive these trees are even in photos and it was incredible to see the size and span of them in person.

The second part of the hike brought us across some lava rock fields but also opened up the view of Arenal Volcano. We really lucked out with the weather, as the top of the volcano was clear of clouds for the first time during our trip. It was fascinating to just sit and watch how the clouds at the top of the volcano change so rapidly as they pass by.

One of the most popular things to do in La Fortuna is soak in one of the many volcanic hot springs near the base of the volcano. There are a number of high end hotels and resorts, but we read about a spot with free access to the same river that feeds the hotel hot springs. We parked on the side of the road and walked about 50 feet before climbing down to the riverbank at an old bridge. Climbing under the bridge and through the river, we went another 50 feet or so and found a quiet pool to hang out in. It was fascinating how the water temperature would change with just a small shift in our position within the river. Our pool was warm but not quite to hot tub level, but the adjacent pool was a good 10-15 degrees cooler. A perfect spot to soak in for the afternoon. From there we continued back towards town and stopped at the soda run by our AirBnB host, which offered typical Costa Rican food and was very tasty.

For breakfast the next day we tried our hand at cracking open a coconut. A tico will typically use two or three swift swings of a machete to expertly open a coconut (without spoiling any of the liquid inside, I might add), however we did not have access to said machete. Instead I scored a ring around the top of the coconut using the raw edge of our concrete porch, and then used the sharpest knife in our kitchen to carefully pop the top open. Not the ideal or perhaps the safest method, but it got the job done.

Making a breakfast smoothie with watermelon, pineapple, passion fruit, mango, coconut, and papaya.

We then spent the day exploring the town a bit more and actually stumbled across the gem of La Fortuna; a small food shop offering 500 colones (+/- $1) portions of typical food including mixed rice, chicken in sauce, and empanadas. The food was not only cheap but super tasty and of course we went back the following day on our way out of town. With full bellies we made our way to another free swimming hole. Not a hot spring this time but just a calm portion of the river with plenty of space to hang out, swim, and people watch. We hung out with a few beers and watched as some locals used the rope swing to jump (from pretty high up, 15-20 feet maybe?) into the pool at the base of the small waterfall.

Our final day in La Fortuna also happened to be Valentine’s Day so we set out to find a new coffee shop to hang at for the day. Our first location was a bust, as there was simply nothing even close to the location shown on Google Maps. Luckily Emily had researched some backup options we we backtracked a half mile or so and found a woodworking art gallery. The art was incredible, ranging from small bowls to a full size carving of a man’s torso, and numerous pieces carved into women in traditional clothing. It was incredible to be able to see all of this work up close, and we even got to chat with the shop owner (and artisan of some of the pieces on display) to learn about his process and the different types of wood used.

From the art gallery we wound up at a new coffee shop just outside of town which turned out to be really tasty. To celebrate valentines day we found a local chocolate shop and grabbed a few different treats to enjoy in the park with a great view of the volcano. Our dinner consisted of an appetizer of ramen noodles and a main course of mint chocolate chip ice cream, followed by us enjoying a movie from the family room bed. It was a great week and gave us a chance to really slow down, explore the town, and see everything that it had to offer.

Pit stop on the drive around Lake Arenal

Next morning we set off for the Pacific Coast for some sun (and sun burn, whoops).

  • Mike

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