How to get to La Fortuna
La Fortuna is a small town with the view of an active volcano Arenal and his smaller “brother” Cerro Chato. Volcanos are located next to the large lake Laguna de Arenal. The direct path from Monteverde to La Fortuna is covered with dense forest and mountains, so you have to take a longer way around it. The best option to travel from Monteverde to La Fortuna is a “jeep-boat-jeep” ride for 29$ per person.
The jeep came to pick us up at our hotel in Monteverde. They picked up other guests from hotels nearby and we headed on a hilly road (but this time not so wild) to La Fortuna. We traveled with people from Switzerland, France and 2 chubby German guys, who were drinking beer during the whole trip.
Somewhere next to the town called Marsellesa, we stopped at a rest stop, where we bought delicious coconut cookies, a typical pastry filled with pineapple (or guava), and the Germans bought their next beer.
The lake Arenal belongs to two Costa Rican regions – Alajuela in the east with volcanoes and La Fortuna, and Guanacaste in the west. Guanacaste region is famous for livestock farming and its hills are filled with cows grazing. Every once in a while, we would see a steakhouse along the road. At one point, we had to stop the jeep to let the cows pass and we used the moment to take photos on beautiful green hills with a volcano in the background.
Laguna de Arenal
We came at the shore of the Arenal lake and got into the ferry. Laguna de Arenal is an artificial lake made in 1973. With the surface of 85km², it’s the largest lake in Costa Rica and it generates almost all hydropower of the country.
The lake is pretty vast and, besides the view of the volcano, it’s not very interesting for a visitor. However, it’s a popular destination for water sports – windsurfing, kayak rides or fishing. The Lake Arenal is home to a unique large fish (5m!) called “guapote” (Spanish for “handsome”), which only swims in Costa Rican lakes. Shores of the lake are rich with flora and fauna. Here you can find a rare jaguar, tapir or the most famous bird of Central America, Quetzal.
When we came to La Fortuna, it was about 6 p.m. We found our accommodation in Arenal Hostel Resort, a backpackers’ hostel from the same owner as of the Costa Rica Backpackers hostel in San José. The hostel had a large courtyard with trees, hammocks and a small “hot springs” pool next to a bar. Here you can relax in the water sitting on a bar chair and drinking your cocktail.
Arenal Hostel Resort offers breakfast for 7$ in a restaurant nearby, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Instead, we were buying fruits, fresh cheese, yogurt and crackers at the city’s market and the large supermarket, where we also got our coffee to go for less than 2$.
At first, we weren’t satisfied with La Fortuna, which is a tourist summer resort city mostly for rich Americans. Logically, we would connect the notion “summer resort” with relaxation on a beach by the sea. Where do the Americans bath at the center of Costa Rica? Well, in many hot springs around La Fortuna or, rarely, under the waterfalls.
La Fortuna is a small city (about 15 000 inhabitants) with a large park and a modern Catholic church Parroquia San Juan Bosco in the center of the town, and a simple net of streets full with tourist agencies, cafés, restaurants and souvenir shops. The real charm of the city lies in tours and trips to the beautiful nature, which surrounds it.
You can choose between hiking to the volcano Arenal and his “little brother” Cerro Chato, a visit to the 70m high waterfall La Catarata de La Fortuna, bathing and relaxing in hot springs (a luxurious hot spring area Tabacón, Baldi Hot Springs or the more affordable area Termales Los Laureles). The popular activities are also zip lining, hanging bridges, rafting on a Celeste river, canoe rides or horseback riding around Arenal.
We put our dresses on and went in search of dinner. We passed next to half-naked Americans (it was 30°C and extremely steaming) and locals, who sat in American or Italian fast-food restaurants, drinking their Coca-Cola and chewing their hamburgers.
We successfully avoided fast-food restaurants and found a bit hidden restaurant Nene’s, which looked like a wooden restaurant on some ranch. The Nene’s restaurant had huge portions of food for decent prices (about 13$ for a meal, except for a lobster, which was double the price). We ate our favorite ceviche as an appetizer and daily fish and meat specialties as a main dish. We accompanied everything with a bottle of local beer Imperial.
After dinner, we had a walk through the city. We passed many “pollerías” (fast food with chicken) and shop windows, where the models wearing clothes had one size larger breasts than the ones in Europe. 😀 We even found a small market with all kinds of tropical fruits.
The extreme hiking tour to the volcano Arenal
The next day, we decided on a whole-day tour (about 60$) that includes most of the attractions of the area: in the morning, a walk in the nature around the observatory of Cerro Chato volcano, and in the afternoon, a bit more demanding hiking to the volcano Arenal. I also swam under the waterfall and we finished our day with a relaxing bath in hot springs in the middle of the forest. While resting in the hot springs, our guide made as a facial treatment with a mask made of volcano lava. 🙂
The shuttle picked us up at 8 in the morning and it brought us to the observatory of the smaller “sleeping” 1140m-high volcano Cerro Chato. Its last eruption was before 3500 years and it formed a waterfall La Catarata de La Fortuna. The biggest attraction of the Arenal’s “little brother” is 500m wide green lagoon next to the crater. You could reach the lagoon following a demanding trail, but I’m not sure if it’s accessible still today.
In any case, we saw Cerro Chato only from a distance, from an observatory area, where you can also spend a night in a luxurious hotel. We walked through the observatory garden with rich flora (a few species of orchids) and fauna (colorful butterflies flying around). We followed a path through the jungle, where we saw a Red-Eyed Leaf Frog sleeping on a leaf and a turkey sitting on a tree. 😀
From the observatory, the road leads to the small waterfall on the wild and fast river, full of rocks. I was the only brave girl from our group who went jumping through the waterfall. We also had to pass two hanging bridges, but, luckily, we were already professionals in that activity. 😛 On our way back to lunch, we saw an anteater walking on a high tree branch. I didn’t know that they climb the trees, but I guess they follow the ants on the trees, as well.
We had lunch at the restaurant The Corner, next to our hostel. It was the restaurant where they serve breakfast for the guests of our hostel. We could choose between casado, rice with chicken and spaghetti. My casado contained a half-raw fish, so I wouldn’t recommend the restaurant.
Our tour continued with the hiking towards the Arenal volcano. After 4km of hiking, we reached the place where the volcano lava came in the eruption of 1968. The volcano Arenal is the youngest and the most active volcano in Costa Rica, although it’s “sleeping” now. The eruption of 1968 cut the top of the volcano and created 3 craters. It had deathly consequences for the 78 inhabitants of the villages nearby and it destroyed a town called Tabacón.
On our way through the forest, we ran into the pack of coati. Coati, nosey little mammals similar to raccoons, are smart animals and they carefully pick their food. They eat tarantulas, fruit, small animals such as lizards, frogs, butterflies, etc. Some of the butterflies have poisonous wings and some of the frogs have poisonous glands. Coaties will pick only eatable parts of those animals.
Coaties wonder around in groups or packs, usually males separated from the females. When the time of mating comes, a male coati approaches to the pack of females and he impregnates them with 3-7 youngsters. The youngsters are sensible and easy prey even for capuchin monkeys.
While we were sitting on the rocks formed of lava with a miraculous volcano Arenal in the background, our guide explained to us why there are so many active volcanos in Costa Rica. Costa Rica lies on the Ring of Fire and, as a result of the collision of lithospheric plates, it’s an area with 40% of all active volcanos in the world. The border between two lithospheric plates is enough for the creation of a volcano, and Costa Rica lies on even 4 lithospheric plates!
Tired and “smelly” from the hiking, on our way back, we stopped to take a bath in one of the region’s hot springs. We relaxed our muscles in the water with a temperature of 30°C. I was swimming under the small waterfall, jumping around and playing like a child. 🙂 At the end of our tour, our guide made us a facial treatment with the lava masks and we went home all reddish. We continued our relaxation in a hostel pool with cocktails in our hands.
The next day before our shuttle to the Caribbean arrived, we had time to visit a local market, where we learned more about various tropical fruits. We asked a local woman on the market to explain to us what is what. We bought mango, passion fruit (here the passion fruit doesn’t look like a small purple ball as in Europe, but it’s similar to mango), avocado and water apple for breakfast.
The water apple (in Spanish, manzana de agua) grows almost on every tree in the Caribbean, as we saw later on. It’s a small red fruit, which looks like a pear and contains water like a watermelon. We didn’t like it much. After breakfast, we treated ourselves with a delicious coffee from a small café and chocolate store next to the central park. I also tried a dragon fruit ice cream. 🙂