Our first full day in Costa Rica began early, around 7:15am, with beams of sun streaming into the room. We opened the back door to find that it was already warm at that early hour, and a step out onto the lush back patio afforded us a full-frame view of Arenal Volcano. This day was off to a good start. After mobilizing and dressing we enjoyed breakfast in the lovely open-air hotel restaurant, which was quite pleasant, and gave ourselves a leisurely tour of the Arenal Manoa Hotel grounds. The hotel is like a small neighborhood of stand-alone bungalows, a spa, a restaurant, a pool and hot springs, with a swim up bar. We were quite pleased with our choice in accommodations.
Arenal Volcano National Park, about 20 minutes down the road away from town, was the first stop of the day. There we walked a jungle path that led us to a nice viewpoint of the volcano. As far as we could tell, tourists couldn’t get much closer than this, and although we were still quite a ways away we were satisfied with the open view of the majestic volcano on one side and Lake Arenal on the other. The lookout point was located on a 1992 lava flow, the year of the last significant eruption. Our walk back to the parking lot wound us around a different, longer path, on which we saw a number of interesting birds and a White-nosed Coati, a furry animal with a long monkey-like tail and a rodent’s face.
Arenal Volcano, from the viewpoint at the end of the trail
A pretty cool tree in the Arenal Volcano National Park
By the time we got back to the car it was lunch time, so we made our way back down the winding road around the volcano, past our hotel and into La Fortuna. The night before we had tried to locate a restaurant called La Choza de Laurel, but the vague Costa Rican directions and darkness of night made it difficult. Today we found it easily on the main drag of La Fortuna and decided to stop in for lunch. I had a fish fillet served with tortillas, beans, guacamole and salsa. I also ordered an iced tea, which turned out to resemble a lime/tea slush. Unexpected, but good.
After lunch our next stop was La Fortuna Waterfall, located about ¼ miles from the main road, down a series of steps that varied in quality – some were quite dodgy. A crew of workers was in the process of building better stairs when we visited (February 2014), so improved access can be expected in the future. The waterfall was fun because visitors can swim in the pools it creates. Of course, this was no hot springs water, but it wasn’t frigid either. I enjoyed sitting on one of the rocks as the water gurgled over my feet – just like being in a foot spa, except with much more eye-pleasing surroundings. The waterfall was our last stop for the day, so after about an hour lounging in the water we returned to our lovely hotel and took advantage of the hot springs and swim-up bar. While there we even spotted a tucan in the trees. Not a shabby way to finish the day.
La Fortuna Waterfall
For dinner we ventured back into town to a spot called Don Rufino, one of the most upscale spots in town. The place was crowded, so reservations are a good idea, especially on a Friday or Saturday night. We were able to sit at the bar, but it was difficult to get the wait staff’s attention. When the food finally did arrive, it was quite tasty. Unfortunately I was sick later that night, but I am blaming the accidental ingestion of shellfish, which I cannot eat. My boyfriend felt fine and ate many of the same things I did.
On our second and last day in La Fortuna we had booked a rafting trip with a company called Desafío Adventures – a day-trip down the Balsa river on class 2 and 3 rapids. The tour van picked us up at the hotel at 10:30am, and drove us about forty-five minutes to our launch point on the river. After a quick introduction and safety lesson, we were on our way! Our guide, Hernán, was a lot of fun, laughing and joking the whole time. The water was cool, and it was a good day to get wet in the river, which we did, even floating down on our backs in parts. The trip lasted close to two hours with a stop toward the end where we were served freshly cut pineapple and watermelon – very tasty! At the very end of the trip Hernán tipped the boat and we all swam to shore. My shoe fell off in the process, but luckily another girl in our group came up with it, confused as to why she suddenly had a shoe in her hand.
After rafting, Desafío transported us to a local estate that once belonged to a Costa Rican president. There we were served a lovely traditional Costa Rican lunch, prepared on a wood stove and served on wooden plates layered with plantain leaves. The festivities wrapped up around 4:30pm, and we were dropped off back at our hotel a little after 5:00pm. I recommend rafting to anyone who likes a little adventure and doesn’t mind getting wet – such a fun day!