I spent my first night in Costa Rica at a nondescript but perfectly adequate Marriott conveniently near the airport. The free shuttle provided was welcoming and provided peace of mind for my first steps into Central America.
After that first night (and an accidental foray into a Costa Rican Black Friday sales event at Walmart), I was ready to explore, so I scheduled an easy transfer on a shuttle bus through Interbus (schedules and prices here: they pick you up and drop you off at your respective hotel locations, no mucking around with taxis), and I was on my way to La Fortuna – home of Arenal volcano!
Upon check-in to La Fortuna’s Hotel Bromelias in the “city” center, I was ridiculously pleased with what $30 is worth!
A private room with air conditioning, my own bathroom, a balcony, a pretty pool, and an included breakfast. Costa Rica, expensive? I don’t think so! (unfortunately that naive assumption was short lived)
I promptly booked a volcanic tour of the infamous Arenal, and began to get ridiculously excited to see my first ever volcano!
But, unfortunately, I didn’t.
What went wrong on my Arenal Volcano hike?
and even wild turkeys
Nothing – I went on the Arenal Volcano hike as advertised. And yes, it was totally awesome and I learned a lot. I was instantly impressed with the professionalism, timeliness (tourism people are on TIME in Costa Rica!), and knowledge of the guides.
BUT the tour only goes a short way up the still-active Arenal volcano, for the safety of tourists. Before the restrictions were put in place, almost 30 tourists died over the years from exposure to volcanic gases and even falling from the rim.
Now, on cloudy days, the peak is totally out of sight. I wouldn’t have known I was hiking on a volcano if it wasn’t in the name of the tour I booked.
Do I regret booking the tour and paying $60+ for the experience?
Not at all!
I got to experience my first glimpses of Costa Rican wildlife, including a pack of coatis and their babies on the side of the road, which the guide so graciously stopped the van to let us jump out and take pictures.
Why did the Koati cross the road? To get to the other side… as far as possible away from annoying tourists getting up in his biz taking photos
I also learned a lot about the damage that Arenal volcano had caused during its active period. In 1968, over 70 people died when the once-dormant Arenal volcano became active again, and laterally exploded, and Tabacon and Pueblo Nuevo villages were inflicted with hot gases. The next year a hot ash-cloud surge killed 8 people. Following these tragedies, the government cleared many villagers out of the danger zone, providing them with funds for rebuilding elsewhere, and flooded the entire area to create the largest man-made lake in Central America, and a major hydroelectric power producer for the country.
(you can see the man-made lake in the background)
Visiting Arenal Volcano provides a dramatic view of the devastation of a volcanic eruption, but also an optimistic perspective.
Already, a secondary forest has sprung up after the hot gases killed the primary forest.
this orchid, a common sight in the secondary forest, blooms for only 1 day a year
Lava has formed jagged rocks, creating a very alien landscape, now punctuated by flowers and grasses.
The resiliency of the forest is remarkable – a lesson in optimism for all who visit,
The Necessary Details
The Half Day Arenal Volcano hike can be organized by your hotel, or booked on Viator here (you can also drive by yourself but you’d miss out on valuable information)
Wear non-slip, comfortable shoes (I love my Vibrams for this sort of hike!) as you’ll be hiking over pokey rocks, and quick dry clothing for the frequent rain
Staying in the La Fortuna city center (like at Hotel Bromelias) is cheap and convenient, and most of the arranged tours provide transportation.
Looking for more adventures in La Fortuna? Check here