Seven days of adventure in La Fortuna, Costa Rica
It’s a sticky summer day as we land in bustling city of San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica. Our resort, the Volcano Lodge and Springs in La Fortuna, is another three-hour drive through rugged rolling mountains, jungles, pineapple, banana, papaya, sugar cane, chocolate and coffee plantations. Costa Rica is a Central American country that’s known for its biodiversity, protected jungles and is teeming with wildlife as a result.
Although driving down the bumpy and winding roads, which are hit in parts by landslides from hurricane Nate, remind us that we are far from the comforts of home in Prince Edward Island – where a hospital is within reach, reliable phone service, as well as a gas station.
But when we finally arrive at our destination our nerves are calmed with the sunset behind the Arenal volcano that’s wrapped in cotton wool clouds, along with the lush rainforest that moves with a troop of howler monkeys making a chorus of “hoo, hoo,” as they swing from branch to branch.
This way of life is what the Costa Ricans call “pura vida.” Pura vida literally means “the pure life,” but Costa Ricans use it to mean everything from “live life slow” to “no worries.” And we found ourselves embodying this phrase in all its meanings over the next seven days.
In the evenings at the Volcano Lodge and Springs, which is nestled under the shadow of the smoking Arenal volcano that’s outside the town of La Fortuna, we soak in the hot bubbling thermal springs, while listening to nature; the silken plop of a bullfrog in a pool, the clicks, caws, hisses and rattles of insects and birds perched in the surrounding trees, the flashes and smell of rain as a tropical storm approaches.
The resort is also closely located to all major attractions in the La Fortuna area. And an added bonus is a sloth that lives near the reception area and makes an appearance every morning, high in a tree, either grazing on a leaf, dangling on an arm, or falling asleep under the warm rays of the sun as it cuddles into a nest of branches. Terry and I can’t imagine what better way to feel close to nature.
Perhaps one of the most significant plunges we make into nature comes when Terry and I venture on an Extreme Hike around Arenal volcano, which last erupted in 2010. Our guide, Nano, collects us in a small white van from our hotel, along with three other hikers, and we reach our destination after a 30 minute drive along bumpy roads.
The hike starts with a crossing on a rusty, rickety old hanging bridge that takes us into the forest. Nano then points out all the flora and fauna; we see sloths high in the treetops, monkeys, deadly venomous snakes, a tarantula, and some incredible plants and rainbow-coloured eucalyptus trees.
At first step, the hike is at an easy pace on a relative flat surface, but the deeper we go into the forest, the harder and steeper it becomes. Terry and I hurdle over rocks, sink our boots into mud, cling onto branches and roots as we abseil down gorges and cross over dried rivers on fallen trees, and slap bugs from off our bodies. Of course, we have to be fully alert with all the venomous and poisonous critters. Camouflaged under leaves are snakes, crawling out a crack on a branch is a tarantula, and then, of course, there are mosquitoes.
The Zika virus is still a big deal in Costa Rica, although the government has restlessly worked to eliminate these nests, but a good lathering of Deet lotion and spray did the trick for us. And with unbridled enthusiasm our hike continues deep into the forest of hissing insects, Alice in Wonderland style plants, trailing off on old lava flows, until the sound of flowing water becomes louder and a remote and wild waterfall – in all its glory – literally takes our breath away.
I nudge Terry and say, “This is the great outdoors.” Travel of this kind, when your hands get dirty and when contact is made, brings home how much we see on television, online or, even in print and how little of it we really know. And we stumble down the slippery rocks and splash into the icy, but refreshing, water and wash away the sweat and mud from our bodies after an eight hour hike.
Before the hike is over we end up at the Arenal Observatory, which is close to the core of the volcano, and are given a cup of fresh Costa Rican coffee for that quick adrenaline kick followed by a short weaving drive to a thermal river.
The thermal river drips through the rather pricey Tabacon resort, but is free to use – and often used – by locals and the more adventurous tourist. By the time we get to the river its pitch dark, but with the use of a flash light, Terry and I stumble into the currents and soak in the hot volcanic waters and mud with the lively locals.
Things are about to get more extreme the following day as we hit 10 kilometres of fun, rolling rapids with a tour company called Desafio. Now I have been white water rafting before, so had a good idea of what to expect, but for Terry this was his first time.
As we wait for the water to be released from a nearby dam to fill up the river (the government built two dams to stop nearby communities being flooded during the rainy season from September to December), we are instructed on how to rescue someone if they fall out the raft, as well as how to paddle. Once the instructions are given, helmets and life-jackets strapped on, we hit the rapids in the raft.
Terry and I are placed in the front of the raft and there are four other people in the middle, and the bilingual guide at the back to steer. The current pulls us down the river, this way, that way, we brace and duck, graze boulders, and then things get crazy.
Our raft hits another huge rapid with hidden boulders and we nose-dive, twist and bounce into the air and Terry flips out the raft. I can’t believe what’s happening at this moment. I yell, “Terry!” as he gets washed down with the current, landing on a boulder, and then swept down the river. I am panicking, along with the others in the raft, but the guide has seen this all before and remains calm.
As we hurl past Terry, I have one hand clenched to the side rope on the raft and the other stretched out with an oar for him to grab. He manages to grab onto my oar, and with a rush of adrenaline I reach for his life-vest and with two hands yanked him into the raft. He’s okay. We all breathe a sigh of relief and Terry fist pumps the air with a, “Yeeeah!” as we continue down the river. We pass a giant iguana the size of a crocodile, toucans, and other wild birds along down the river. And the rafting concludes with us eating at a local rustic restaurant with a fine Costa Rican meal of rice and beans.
Another highlight of our adventure and an absolute must if visiting Costa Rica is swinging through the trees like a monkey and giving the victory cry of Tarzan (okay, minus the latter). We went on the Los Cañones (the canyons) Canopy tour through the tropical rain forest in the foothills of Arenal Volcano. The Canopy Los Cañones consists of 15 cables and 16 platforms, traveling a full distance of three kilometres (1.86 miles), while using your hand as a breaking system.
At first I hesitated and thought of all the things that could go wrong – hair getting caught, falling, losing fingers – to keep from doing it. But with Terry eager to zip through the tree I sucked in my nerves and with a sense of courage and bravery, felt the adrenaline rush. The zip lines varied in size, speed, and at one point we decided to challenge ourselves and try it freehand, superman style, with a guide holding our legs as we soared through the trees.
To cool off from all the nerve-racking activities, Terry and I visited La Fortuna waterfall, located just outside the picturesque small town (past the white supermarket). You pay an entrance fee of $15 per adult (open 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.) for park entry, and once inside there are several lookouts of the waterfall, a gift shop, restaurant, changing rooms and washrooms. But to get to the waterfall you have to walk down several sets of stairs. There are also large bugs that make a really loud hissing sound as we walked through the canopy of trees and to the waterfall. But with the heat and humidity it was so refreshing to swim in the cool water.
Costa Rica got us away from our routine and gave us memories of a lifetime. It offers an escape – in the true sense of the word – from the rest of the world, and it brought Terry and me closer together. And its fascination – a promise of an out-of-time, out-of-place paradise – endures.
‘What to Know’
- Stay at the Volcano Lodge and Springs in La Fortuna. The resort is situated under the shadow of Arenal volcano, and is close to all major attractions in the La Fortuna area. For more information, visit volcanolodge.com
- Eat at the Red Frog CoffeeRoaster and Hostel in La Fortuna, for traditional Costa Rican cuisines and rich blends of home brewed coffee
- Go white water rafting with desafiocostarica.com. They offer a variety of different tours and combinations, including beginner, intermediate and pro with rafting. You can’t go wrong with these friendly professionals
- Visit one of the hot springs in La Fortuna. There are a number of private, mid to high range spas, as well as the local river that runs into the pricey Tabacon (rated five stars) resort, where the locals hang out for free! Relaxing in the hot springsis one of the highlights of every visitor’s trip to Arenal, due to the 1968 Arenal volcano eruption. Although it is the most expensive of all the hot springs, the Tabacon is by hands down the best to visit, tabacon.com
- Go zip lining at hotelloslagos.com. There are many other attractions at this resort including a small zoo, so it makes for a fun day out for every member of the family.
Plan a trip to Costa Rica by checking out their essential tourism website, www.visitcostarica.com/en.