A Costa Rican Road Trip

Our guest post comes from Bill & Bonnie Neely of: Real Travel Adventures Ezine – Your free online monthly travel magazine with hundreds of features and photos on travel to anywhere.

photos courtesy of Bill and Bonnie Neely

Arenal is the most famous active volcano in Costa Rica and is a big attraction for tourists. The town of La Fortuna caters to all kinds of tourists, with accommodations ranging from $6 a night in well-located, clean hostels, to $25-a-night private room with hot shower and fan, to over $100 for resorts with air conditioning and private suite bungalows.

We stayed a ten-minute walk outside La Fortuna at Arenal Country Inn, a gorgeous resort owned jointly by Costa Ricans and Brits. The exquisite hacienda resort, started in the late 1990’s, is built on a former dairy farm. The manicured grounds are a tropical paradise with scores of different blooming trees and bushes and a myriad of birds to watch. The yellow stucco duplex accommodations with orange metal roofs have modern tile bathrooms, air conditioning, two double beds, and a private entrance.

photos courtesy of Bill and Bonnie Neely

Breakfast, which is included, is your choice of eggs and gallo pinto, the typical Costa Rican breakfast, or eggs and bacon, with fresh fruit, warm-from-the-oven freshly baked bread, and hot Costa Rican coffee. We enjoyed this lovely open-air breakfast room, uniquely created in the former milking pens. The milking stall is now filled with tropical plants. For lunch or dinner you can select from a varied menu in a second outdoor restaurant on the premises.

All kinds of tours can be arranged from the front desk, and La Fortuna is well set-up for tourism. Many visitors enjoy walking the hanging bridges made of ropes. You can have the thrill of a Canopy Tour in which you hold a cleat and zip along over the trees on a steel cable and then repel to the ground…  a heart-stopping adrenaline rush! Great fun! We were assured these zip tours all over Costa Rica are constructed by first class engineers and are checked daily for safety. You can ride horseback or take the steep hike to the beautiful water fall, or go sport fishing in the large, man-made Lake Arnal, where the dam provides a large percent of the hydro-electric power for Costa Rica.

In La Fortuna there are many shops with Central American handicrafts, and the most typical Costa Rican craft to buy as a souvenir is a little hand-painted ox cart.

We had only one day, so we chose the most famous attractions: the Arenal Volcano and Tabacon Hot Springs package from Jacamar Tours. Our professional guide, explained very well, in English, the facts about the many and constant eruptions of this, the most constantly active volcano in the country. There have been several disastrous eruptions, the most recent one in 1968, before seismologists learned how to study and predict eruptions.

Arenal was designated as a National Park in 1994, two years before another dramatic eruption. Other eruptions followed in the 1990’s, but no one had been permitted to build or go beyond carefully marked territory, so few lives were lost then.

The Arenal National Park hiking trail reveals three distinct phases of re-growth. Our guide explained how the devastated earth regenerates first with the huge cane fields, then with small bushes and trees, and finally the beautiful forest where we saw and heard howler monkeys and also saw an eyelash viper, one of Costa Rica’s 22 poisonous snakes of the 130 indigenous snake species in all.

Everyone is advised not to touch anywhere before looking carefully, as all species are heavily camouflaged. Even though our guide was pointing to this viper, which was on a smooth tree trunk, we could scarcely see it as it appeared to be a knot in the tree. Everyone must walk only on trails because of the many plants that are harmful to touch, some even fatal. Even natives do not take a shortcut through the jungle.

When we passed through the forest, we arrived at the black lava beds and saw yellow-billed toucans as we climbed over the rocks to get to a good vantage point. Our guide knew just the spot for us to see the sunset over Lake Arenal to the west and moon rise over Arenal Volcano to the east.

photos courtesy of Bill and Bonnie Neely

We were happy we chose the afternoon tour, which goes into the evening, as it offers the greatest chance of seeing wildlife and the volcanic cinders. During daylight we saw these rocks constantly hopping down the mountain as little puffs of white, but their thunderous roar assured us they were no tiny pebbles. After darkness fell we could see these are really red-hot cinders spewed continuously from the boiling heart of Arenal. However, Arenal is not like the volcanoes of Hawaii, where you sometimes see rivers of molten orange lava, although the time photography on some of the Arenal post cards leads you to expect such a display.

We were very fortunate to see Arenal because a mountain so large creates its own weather and manufactures steam all the time, shrouding itself in clouds frequently and unpredictably. It seems the most reliable time to actually see the volcano is the rainy season, when clouds are lower down and the top is in full view above the clouds.

Returning toward La Fortuna we stopped at the famous Tabacon Hot Springs resort where naturally heated springs and waterfalls in a beautiful system of pools offer a refreshing and relaxing experience of several hours. You can enter at a very hot temperature and gradually move to cooler pools, or go in reverse from the glacier pool. The therapeutic waters from volcanic areas around the world have long been revered for their healing qualities. The resort is a lovely hotel and spa. On this tour we enjoyed a huge and delicious buffet dinner. The dining room serves about 400 people nightly in an impeccable setting with delicious fresh food in a huge array of choices. It was an excellent experience we highly recommend.

We found Costa Rica to be one of the most beautiful countries we have ever seen. Although the roads are rough, the tour buses and vans are comfortable with excellent drivers who speak English. The country is well set-up to accommodate tourists in the most special way, with all amenities you could want. World-renowned for its ecological practices and for having the most bio-diversity of any geophysical location, it is a must-visit for any age tourist. We can’t wait to go there again!