The title of this post involved a lot of deliberation between the three of us. ‘You either volcan-o you can’t’ was a close contender, as was ‘Hot spring in to action’. We’ve settled on ‘Craters gonna crate’ – you can be the judge of whether or not we made the right decision there. Welcome to La Fortuna, the land of craters, volcanoes and hotsprings (as if we didn’t already just give that away…)
The story starts in Tortuguero, where we left our luxury hostel room to catch a boat to a place called La Pavona. The boat ride was relaxing as ever but that all changed when we reached our drop-off point. There were so many buses, vans, cars and masses of tourists swarming around that we didn’t know where we were supposed to be. We asked everyone in sight about our transport but received the same answer each time: ‘I think it’s coming, just wait’. We’re all fairly patient people and we understand Central American time by now but, eventually, we were the ONLY people left in sight… The humidity was overwhelming and the only substantial food we had was biscuits. We were about 2 seconds away from giving up hope completely when a man emerged, calling my name in a strong Latino accent. OUR VAN IS FINALLY HERE, 273839202 hours later…. hallelujah.
The ride was bumpy but I slept the whole way, Abbie had a terrible journey (travel sickness won this time round) and Alice became best friends with the driver and scored multiple seats to stretch out across. Nothing changes for the 3 empanadas. One lucky, one unlucky and one asleep.
We pulled up to our hostel ‘Mayol Lodge’ on the outskirts of La Fortuna. Abbie was in charge of booking this hostel and, given her bad luck, we should have guessed it would be shit (we love you really, Abbie). Long story short, there were no plug sockets, ants in the beds and a tiny fan in the middle of the ceiling that provided approximately 0 cool air. Oh, but they made it up to us – in order to compensate for the massive crack running down the bathroom wall, they had kindly placed a bow made out of toilet paper on the toilet lid… We’ve gone from towel swans to this in just a matter of days, eh! The only saving grace of this place was the free breakfast in the morning – it was DELICIOUS, so shout out to Maria (the cook). Plus, there was a nice pool area and you get a free welcome drink upon arrival so it managed to scrape a few points back there.
Once we’d dumped our bags, we decided to get out and explore the town of La Fortuna. We had dinner at an amazing veg-friendly restaurant (they even had a vegan lasagna option which I was elated about) and then stumbled into a tour company to book some activities.
Just by chance, we ended up finding an agency that was connected to the hostel we wanted to stay at – Arenal Backpackers Hostel. Unfortunately, they couldn’t offer us a room but they did give us some great deals on a volcano tour and transportation to Nicaragua. The staff were so amazingly helpful and friendly that I’d reccommend them to anyone – they even sneakily gave us wristbands so that we could pretend to be guests for the evening and claim some free drinks at the bar. It was pretty hard for us to spend the night in a super cool, backpacker hostel with hammocks and good vibes knowing that we’d eventually have to trudge back to Mayol Lodge, but after a few hours we plucked up the courage to head back and get some sleep before our big volcano tour the next day.
A shuttle picked us up directly from our hostel at about 9am. We were driven to the bottom of the volcano, given packed lunches and told to douse ourselves in bug spray. The guides began to explain that this would be an extreme half-day hike – one that would involve a high level of fitness and may result in some people turning back…
Me, Alice and Abbie looked at each other with panicked expressions: 1) The tour has been advertised as a leisurely stroll by the tour agency and 2) We were not wearing appropriate hiking gear – great start. The only good thing about the surprise was that we weren’t given time to over-think and so, we weren’t given time to be negative. I despise hardcore, vertical hiking usually so this lack of knowledge was 100% for the best.
We ploughed on like true soldiers – first lunging uphill in the scorching sun and then continuing to lunge uphill under canopy in the forest. 3 members of our group even gave up and turned back – they weren’t kidding about how hard it was! For me, hiking is mainly mental – the level of fitness is definitely there but the willpower sometimes disappears. I say I hate it (and I do) but I’ll always be at the front of the group and one of the first people at the top because if I lose my groove then I won’t keep going – so I tend to just power walk through it all. This makes it seem like I’m a pro-hiker when in reality my body is just focusing on not collapsing in despair…
The guides were always offering words of comfort: ‘If you grab hold of a branch or a root to steady yourself then just make sure it’s not a snake’ and ‘we need to go first and check out the area because we’ve seen some jaguar footprints recently’. If you’re an avid reader of this blog then you’ll be correct in guessing that this freaked Abbie out. A lot. Luckily, the most dangerous thing we encountered was the common mosquito – I got bitten alive, so let’s all just hope that my body is free from zika/dengue/malaria right now.
After about 4 hours we finally made it to the view point where we were able to see the volcano clearly (luck was on our side – only 25% of people get to see the tippy top without clouds being in the way). We took plenty of pictures and gave ourselves a pat on the back for conquering the worst before starting to head on a downhill route to the Cerro Chato crater.
I don’t know how many people can say they’ve been swimming in a volcano before (I certainly hadn’t even heard of it until now) but we’ve officially ticked it off our bucket list!
It looked like a big lake surrounded by trees but, of course, was actually a body of water that had collected inside of this dormant volcano… cool, huh! The water was absolutely freezing so we didn’t stay in for too long but it was a welcome respite from the blazing sun. It’s hard to say whether it was a good or bad thing that the weather was so warm – of course, everyone loves a sunny day but exercise is made 10x more difficult when high temperatures are involved.
We sat down by the crater to eat our packed lunches. There was a racoon roaming around and we were all told to shoo it away if it came near our stuff – one couple didn’t get the memo and the racoon ran off with their lunch bag. As Queen of mealtimes I can only imagine how distressing it must be to watch your food disappear into the bushes after such a strenuous hike. Safe to say, we kept a firm grasp on our sandwiches after that!
When the guides came round to let us know that we had 10 minutes left at the crater, my heart started to sink a little. The thought of going back filled me with dread. “It’s all down-hill/it’ll take half the time” – I hear you cry. Well, for most normal people then yeah, those statements are both correct. However, I don’t fit into the normal category (shock) and I am absolutely incapable of going downhill gracefully. I fall over every two seconds and I am SO SLOW. Alice likes to go behind me because she finds it entertaining to watch me struggle – my friends are so good to me…
At the bottom, our guides made sure to fill us in on the history of the volcano. Alice was at the front of the group listening intently in both English and Spanish, whilst me and Abbie were lying on the floor a few metres away, completely exhausted and unenthused by volcano facts. Classic.
The tour continued across some small hanging bridges towards a waterfall. They were only small but still a nice reward for all our hiking efforts. Abbie powerwalked across without looking down (perhaps we need to add heights to the never-ending list of things that terrify her 😉) but me and Alice strolled behind to appreciate our rainforest surroundings. There are some massive hanging bridges called ‘Mistico’ in La Fortuna – metres and metres above the canopy – but they cost a lot more money and take a while to get to, so I’d only reccommend them for hardcore hanging bridge enthusiasts!
Once we’d crossed all the bridges, we reached a waterfall. None of us could be bothered to go in at this point but we watched a few other people swim, jump and climb to their hearts content. Have no fear, we didn’t fail to fulfil our waterfall quota – we took a trip to La Fortuna waterfall the next day but I’ll go into more detail on that later.
The sun was starting to set and it was finally time for the last activity of the day: natural hotsprings! We walked back to our starting point, where we were crammed onto a tiny mini bus. Some people didn’t even have seats and were just pressed against the side – #latinamericaproblems.
Alice tried to take a sneaky photo of the overcrowded bus – mainly to put on the blog for you guys to get a gist of how bad it was – but she left her flash on causing her to have to jerk her phone out of sight and suddenly it wasn’t so sneaky anymore and you’re just gonna have to use your imagination to visualise how claustrophobic it was.
It was just a short drive to the hotsprings and on the way we stopped to see one of the iconic Costa Rican frogs. The guides brought the frogs up to the windows of the bus for us to see. Unfortunately, Alice was also in charge of this picture-taking task and it went terribly, yet again. Too much flash and way too blurry but just in case you want to see her efforts….
Eventually, we arrived and we were herded off the bus with nothing but our swimwear and flip flops. I left my Go Pro behind because I thought it would be too dark to take pictures but I majorly regretted that when we got to the springs and they were candlelit and magical!
Oh well, I’ll try to help you guys create a good enough mental image. The hotsprings in Arenal are heated directly from the volcano and they are situated near the centre of town. A lot of hotels and luxury establishments have bought parts of them and charge extortionate entry prices, albeit with a much more glamourous package of spa treatments and drinks. However, there’s one section of the hotsprings that is free to members of the public and our guides were there with drinks and mudmasks to make us feel like we were getting the first-class experience!
We were also given plenty of time to just sit and relax in the volcanic water (it’s meant to be great for your skin). The current was surprisingly strong though and Alice screamed in horror as she watched her flip flop come off her foot and float downstream. At first, we all thought that there was about to be a second flip flop funeral for the 3 empanadas but luckily someone further down the springs caught hold of it and saved the day!
After an hour or so we went back to the bus and returned to the centre of town. The three of us were absolutely shattered when we arrived back at Mayol Lodge and, despite being covered in a mixture of sweat, sunscreen, bug spray, mud and hotspring water, none of us could be bothered to shower (I was even this close to sleeping in my swimming costume…)
Our exhaustion helped us to get through another HUMID night in the hostel with a bit more ease and the next day we were up and ready to begin another adventure.
Seeing as the volcano trip set us back about $50, we had been hunting around for free activities to do on our last day. Everyone you ask in town will tell you to head to Catarata Fortuna (the waterfall) so that’s what we did, but we soon discovered it was far from free. It costs money to get a taxi there and back plus there is an entrance fee of $16 – not cheap!
Luckily, we had a great day and we weren’t too bitter about spending the money. That said, I probably wouldn’t reccommend it as a day trip for people on a strict budget.
Another heads up – there’s a ton of stairs down to the waterfall which, under normal circumstances, wouldn’t be an issue. However, if you happen to have spent 6 hours the day before hiking around a volcano then you might find this to be a bit of an ordeal….
After some limping and a few ‘ow’s later, we reached the waterfall and climbed right in. The water was ice cold – that’s not an understatement ❄️ – so we spent most of our time lounging around by the edge.
We asked a guy to take a picture of us and ended up being directed into a full blown photoshoot. He told us to tilt our heads and look into the distance but none of us really knew what that meant – his creative vision just wasn’t being achieved. Eventually, he gave up on us and handed the Go Pro back. It turned out pretty artsy but I think it’s fair to say that a modelling career isn’t on the cards for any of us.
As well as the waterfall, there is a little stream to play in/sunbathe beside, a few walking trails, some ziplines and a restaurant – so, if you wanted to make a full day out of your $16 then you could. We left after half a day so that we could go back to the town, enjoy a yummy last supper and start packing for our journey to Nicaragua…
Time to cross yet another border. Here goes nothin’!
👋🇨🇷 —–> 📍🇳🇮