Costa Ricans greet everyone by saying Pura Vida, which roughly translates to ‘life is good, enjoy it’, Its easy to understand why – this is a land blessed with beautiful beaches, lush rain forests, volcanos, mile long ziplines, adventure activities, exotic animals and most importantly can be travelled any time in the year!
We travelled for 4 days in July, which is the off-peak season, mostly in the Arenal Volcano region. While the weather predictions were thunderstorms and high precipitations, we were affected by none of that.
Tip 1: July is the the off-peak season, but its as good or even better than the peak season
Most adventure activities including the night walks/animal spottings go on normally even in heavy rains! The rains themselves are intermittent heavy showers rather than persistent all dayers. Kinda enhances the greenery of the region even more. Plus the advantage of off-peak hotel rates.
We chose to drive from San Jose airport, where we landed, to Arenal mountain.
Tip 2: You have to get mandatory insurance for car rentals, so deal with it
Yes even if you booked car online and got an insurance, or if your credit card covers the insurance. In addition, there is a mandatory deposit that the rental guys hold.
surrounded by lush green forests
We drove from San Jose airport to La Fortuna in about 3 hours. Do carry some medicines for motion sickness, you could have nausea due to the winding roads.
Our first stop was at La Fortuna waterfall – “Catarata Fortuna”. The entrance to the waterfall is located at a private property, you pay an entrance fee of 8$ per person. There’s a changing room and a restaurant right at the entrance before you start going down the stairs. To get to the waterfall you hike down 500 steps which are a bit steep but honestly not a big deal as it was made out to be on tripadvisor. Taking a swim in the slightly chilly waterfall was oh so refreshing!
There are ton of natural hot springs at the base of Arenal volcano. Some exquisite like Eco Termales allowing 100 people per timeslot charging $36 pp, some more luxurious like the Baldi hot springs costing $70 pp . We accidentaly discovered Ecotermalitas, which is free of cost. It has lots of pools inside of all shapes and sizes, just pay 2$ for the locker if you want one and a cozy little bar with really friendly waiters.
We stayed at Hotel La Fortuna in La Fortuna town and ended the day by eating our first proper Costa Rican meal at Marisqueria Snapper’s House just next door, run by a lovely couple. Their red snapper dish is a cannot miss!
This was adventure day. We booked a combo tour for canyoning and zip lining with Desafio. They drive you in a 4 * 4 beast to the top of a mountain and from there you rappel down about 5 waterfalls – tallest one was about 185 meters. To get from base of one waterfall to another you hike down and the hiking path is all through water streams making it more fun and exciting!
The tour provided with traditional Costa Rican lunch(yes beans) and then dropped us back to our hotel from where we were picked an hour later for zip lining. Zipping between trees, you’ll catch glimpse of some wildlife – howler monkeys, various birds chirping musically while you get views of the volcano and waterfalls. Truely unique.
After a short rest, we went to a Carribean bar for some drinks before heading to a soda – small family run restaurant. You will see a lot of them across Costa Rica, food here is cheap, delicious and totally hygenic. Plus they accept dollars.
Tip 4: US dollars are accepted everywhere in Costa Rica, however change is generally in local currency.
You cannot come to Arenal region and not do a hike. This places is dotted with numerous hike trails of all levels. We wanted to do one which was tough enough and memorable. Cerra Chato Laguna was just the hike for us.
The entrance to the hike is about 8 kms from Arenal Volcano National Park. Its best to start your day early. The park opens at 7 am but the road to the national park is unpaved so you cannot go beyond 20-30 km/hr, so please factor that time.
Cerra Chato hike begins inside the Arenal Observatory which is privately owned. At the entrance you will see 2 companies offering hiking trails, each charge $10 for entrance but one has a 3.5 hours round trip while the other was around 5 hours, we chose the shorter one.
This trail is an easy hike through flat green grasslands for about half an hour, then turns into this steep 60 degrees gradient climb for about an hour after which you reach the top of the volcano.
From the top is another 20 minutes of hike down the crater. The last 10 minutes of super steep, 70-80 degrees gradient hike takes you to the lagoon – the green, mineral rich lake surrounded by lush rainforest on all sides, one moment visible, one moment covered with clouds, is a SURREAL experience indeed!
A dip in the chilly lake will make you forget all about the grueling hike as well as the impending way back!
We finished the hike in about 4 hours and immediately set towards our next target – sunset at Playa Hermosa. It was again beautiful drive back, driving along the Lake Arenal. We were amazed at how never ending this lake seemed! It is huge indeed – 85 sq km long and major source of hydro electricity to the whole country. We reached just in time for the sunset at Playa Hermosa and it certainly did not disappoint!
For dinner we went to Aqua Sport which is right ON the beach. highly recommended! They lay their chairs right on the beach and the food is very good.
6am we were up and about and what better way to start than a morning run and some yoga at the beach! After 8 am it got almost unbearably hot so we decided to chill in the pool of our hotel before heading to the airport.