La Fortuna (The Fortune) is a small city in Alajuela province of Costa Rica attracting hordes of tourists with its many natural attractions and activities: volcano hikes, crater lagoons, waterfalls, hot springs, whitewater rafting, hanging bridges, zip-lines, kayaking, caverns, and others. But the main attraction is Arenal Volcano- an active andesitic stratovolcano whose perfect cone towers over the town just 10 km to the west- one of the top 10 most active volcanoes in the world until 2010, when it stopped erupting lava and is now dormant.
We take the bus to La Fortuna with the idea to spend there a couple of days, but we end up staying longer, as we just fell in love with the entire place and all the FREE activities it provides, besides the many very expensive ones, which we skipped.
We get a room in a super nice hotel- Las Palmas, and after a short negotiation, we pay $25 per day (instead of $40) for a private room on the second floor, with a balcony, with nice hot water showers right in the center of the city, next to the supermarket, complete with a friendly cat who comes to visit us in the room every evening.
The city itself is the most charming, clean and tranquil little town where blond young backpackers coming from Europe make up more than half the population, and every house is a hostel or a restaurant.
Immediately, we begin exploring. The first place we visit, is “El Poso” (The Pool) – a natural pool under a bridge just outside of town. It’s a 15 minute walk on the main road towards la Fortuna Cascades. Way before the cascades, which are a popular but expensive site, there is a bridge, and right before the bridge a small path leads us to the free-of-charge alternative. El Poso on La Fortuna River is popular with the local kids who come here in the afternoon and perfect the art of jumping in the river, or just chill in the water, or sit on the rocks and smoke marijuana. We join them, only for the jumping-in-the-river and chill-in-the-water part, as we don’t enjoy smoking anything…
There is a rope hanging over the river and Ivo and Maya play Tarzan. It’s scary the first time when Maya takes the rope and swings high and then lets go and drops in the river below from about ten meters with a splash, but after the fifth time it just gets more and more fun, and Maya doesn’t want to leave the place.
The next day, we take the bus heading to the hot springs not far from town, and tell the driver to stop at the FREE thermal springs (Las aguas termales gratis). There are two resorts built around the hot volcanic springs with specially made pools and manicured gardens, which are probably very beautiful and super nice- we don’t know, as we didn’t visit those. Instead, the bus driver leaves us near a small path in the forest on the right side of the road and after a short walk we get to the river. It’s the same hot-water river coming from the same volcanic springs like the ones of the resorts, only this one is with free public access and there are no special pools and gardens and restaurants- just the river, completely natural and HOT! And there is no one but us in this awesome river-Jacuzzi!
Hiking to Lake Arenal Dam
After about an hour we are all nicely soaked and marinated, ready to go to the Arenal Volcano Park, which is further down the same road. We walk on the paved street for about an hour and then a couple of tourists from the USA with a rental car pick us up and bring us to the park’s entrance, which is to the left. But instead of going in the park, which is I-don’t-know-how-much per person, we take another black road through the forest opposite the park (to the right), which leads us to the big lagoon lake- Lake Arenal Dam, about five kilometers away.
On the way we spot a sleepy coati, a crested guan (a turkey-like bird), parrots and monkeys. It’s a nice shady walk with some very rewarding views of the great lake. And is free of charge.
The dirt road comes out on the main road just before the bridge. There we meet Wilson Sackett for the first time- a young fellow from the USA biking from Costa Rica to Nicaragua, who has some problem with his bike and Ivo tries to help him. Later, we bump into Wilson again on the streets of a small town in Nicaragua, and AGAIN on Ometepe Island! I don’t know who is following who, but meeting the same guy in three different locations in two different countries within four weeks is quite a strange coincidence, isn’t it!
Hiking Cerro Chato
On the third day of our stay in La Fortuna, we hike to Cerro Chato, which is a small volcano next to Arenal Volcano with a beautiful green crater lake at the top. Visitors are supposed to go to the park’s office and pay the entrance fee (I think it is $16 per person) before taking to the trail. There are some waterfalls also within the park and it is not clear to us where to pay for the hike only. We head for the trailhead figuring there will be someone to collect the fee at the beginning, but there is no one. No one stops us, so we end up climbing Cerro Chato for free. The trail is in terrible state of neglect, extremely muddy and steep, and super challenging. There are some ancient wooden steps of which about 60-70% are completely destroyed and it looks like for many years no one has fixed any of them. Zero maintenance. We expected a short easy hike, but it ends up a super difficult, tiring, steep trek on poorly maintained trail.
It takes about four hours to climb to the top, often on all fours, and another hour to descend down to the crater lake- an eerie place of clouds and dark trees, where a bunch of other tourists enjoy an afternoon dip in the volcanic cold waters.
Hitchhiking With Mad Scientists
On the way back, we take a different easier but longer rout (the only alternative) that leads us, past pine and eucalyptus forests, to a private resort very far away from La Fortuna.
Luckily, we hitch a ride back to town with a couple of young college professors from the USA on vacation- one researching reptiles, the other specializing in parasites in frogs, who immediately identify the huge snake that terrified us earlier as “a harmless tiger rat snake”, just by hearing our confused descriptions.
Also, they almost kill us. The car suddenly breaks and stops in a cloud of dust on the dirt road, and both professors jump out of it with the speed of light and no apparent reason. Before we realize what is going on, the girl is across the road grabbing a small green innocent lizard, who has no chances of escaping such a sudden, skillful, ninja attack. The scientists, then, happily identify the little fellow, take some pictures and release him unharmed and confused. We are amazed and become these guys, whose names we don’t remember, biggest fens. We love it when people are so passionate about animals and nature and the work they do! Thank you for the ride, guys, hope you are reading this and giggling!
Thus, we spend three unforgettable days and not much dollars in la Fortuna, Costa Rica, enjoying rivers, volcanoes, cascades and hot springs. For those who are planning to visit- there is a lot more to do around this beautiful town, especially if you are willing to pay the entrance fees, so plan to spend at least 3-4 days and a bunch of dollars. There are the Venado Caverns, the spectacular hanging bridges, the hot-water spa resorts, one of the best and longest zip-lines, a few waterfalls, butterfly gardens, and more.
Or just ask around for the free options. Enjoy!
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