La Fortuna – Room with a view (sometimes)

The road between Santa Elena and La Fortuna made the road into Santa Elena look and feel like State Highway One.  We spent the first 37 kilometres, which took one and a half hours, trying to avoid huge craters and making sure we didn’t slide off the side of the road.  Luckily after kilometre 37 things improved and it was plain sailing to our next destination, La Fortuna and Arenal Volcano.

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We stumbled upon a microbrewery for lunch and were immediately set upon by an American women who informed us she was there to arrange some sort of retreat for a group of people next February.  I took that to mean an orgy and immediately dismissed her as a crackpot and paid her no further courtesy until she mentioned Nigerian Dwarf Milking Goats.  Now, the word dwarf pricked my ears up (I love anything associated with little people) so I started to pay her some attention and we ended up having a decent chat about home-schooling (which she is doing with her daughter), travel (which she does a lot of) and milking Nigerian Dwarf Milking Goats (which she is breeding), that apparently produce excellent cheese.  My hunch on the orgy theme was confirmed however when she invited all and sundry to a swim in the pool with clothing very much optional (bear in mind, it was midday).  We declined the offer, quickly finished our lunch and high-tailed it out of there.  I would have been disappointed to draw her keys out of the bowl – she wouldn’t have stopped talking!

The drive around Laguna de Arenal (Arenal Lake) was a stunning drive.  Dotted with boutique art shops and cafes, mainly owned by ex-pats from around the globe.

A brief history of Volcan Arenal:  Prior to 29 July 1968 the area was best described as “sleepy”, then boom!  After nearly 400 years of dormancy the volcano violently erupted destroying a whole town, and continued to erupt regularly up until 2010, much to the delight of tourism operators.  Tourists flocked to the area like moths to a flame to see the volcanic activity.  Even though there haven’t been regular eruptions for a few years the area still offers all kinds of activities for the visitor and it’s all based around the perfectly conical shaped volcano.

La Fortuna town itself is pleasant enough with a very nice grassy square to hang out in, and it is home to the best mochachino in the world.  Thank you My Coffee for providing the perfect brew, which has been difficult to come across on our travels.  We went there everyday for our caffeine/choco fix.  It was here that Trina and Dominic saw a video presentation of a zip-line adventure that looked more suited to a seven year old and a pretty nervous Mum.  A couple of days later it was conquered safe and sound with two smiling faces at the end.  It was not nearly as adrenaline pumped as the Santa Elena offering which was cancelled due to inclement weather.  This ride incorporated 15 platforms and 13 cables with the longest one being 430 metres, and rather than being miles up in the sky this zip line went through and just atop of the tree canopy.

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We stayed at the Arenal Lodge, which was about a 10-minute drive from La Fortuna.  The hotel promised breathtaking views of the mountain.  What the hotels propaganda omitted was that for most of the time the volcano is shrouded in cloud cover.  In fact, it was only on the last day we were here that we actually saw the volcano in all its glory (it’s spectacular, by the way).

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My adventure for this part of the trip was a 30-kilometre mountain-bike ride in the pouring rain over gravel roads around the base of the volcano culminating with a swim in a roadside hot-water stream.  The benefit of an eruption is plenty of natural hot pools to sooth a sore backside.

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Speaking of hot pools, we descended upon Baldi Hot Springs for an afternoon.  It was pricey at USD100 for us all but well worth it.  Baldi boasts 30 pools of varying hotness (a couple were bloody hot), some water-slides and a couple of swim-up bars.  If we lost Dominic we knew where to head – he was at the swim-up bar ordering fruit smoothies on our tab.  The pools and facilities were spotless.

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A visit to the wildlife refuge was also a worthwhile excursion.  We saw crocodiles (something the boys had wanted to see since day one).  One had a massive chunk missing from its jaw as a result of a fight.  Plenty of snakes and the elusive Red-Eyed Frog, which we were lucky enough to not only to see in an enclosure but also our guide found one out in the wild.  They are amazing looking creatures and so iconic to Costa Rica that they are featured on the cover of the Lonely Planet Costa Rica guide.  The Red-Eyed Frog has the uncanny ability to change colour so whilst it’s asleep it’s green but when woken the back of the legs turn blue and the eyes change to red – hence the clever name.

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Wildlife is abundant as it is everywhere in Costa Rica.  Even a simple drive along a main road can reward you with great experiences like this family of coatis.

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Our four days here was very enjoyable.  It offered a mix of adventure, nature and of course, the perfect mountain.  Time now though for some beach action, apparently Dominic will die if he doesn’t surf soon.

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