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My wife and I traveled to La Fortuna, Costa Rica for our 11th wedding anniversary. It was an exhilirating, exhausting, amazing trip. We ziplined, rappelled, rode horses, went white-water rafting, hiked into volcanoes, swam in thermal springs, and visited the wildlife of the Caño Negro river. We packed a lot of activities into five days.
We arrived at the San Jose airport after two flights from the United States, and found our name on a posterboard at the airport held by Ronaldo, who quickly took us to our van, which would then shuttle us to the Lavas del Arenal hotel.
We stretched our legs a bit after being on the planes for most of the morning.
The ride from San Jose to La Fortuna was much longer than either of us were expecting. It’s only 70 miles or so on the map, but it turned into a few hours– the main highway there was very curvy and hilly, so it normally takes about two hours. In our case, we were delayed a bit longer because the radiator on our first van blew, so we were stranded on the road a bit longer, waiting for the next van to come by and pick us up. While we were waiting, we noticed a restaurant across the street and walked over to have lunch. It turned out to be a great Italian-themed place that had wood-fired pizza, and we had the place to ourselves.
The pizza was excellent.
First morning in La Fortuna
Our first morning we had fresh watermelon, pineapple, and papaya for breakfast.
Washed it down with excellent coffee, and then had some eggs, rice & beans, and tortillas.
We then hopped in another van and drove the 10 minutes into town.
Zip lining, rappelling, horse back riding
Our first full day there, we had an intinerary of ziplining, rappelling, and horseback riding. Ziplining was great– all of the lines were very high, long, and fast. You go pretty fast and slow yourself down with a thick leather glove-like grip. I think there were 12 different lines we went on.
Halfway through, we stopped to rappel.
There was a huge waterfall next to where we went rappelling – La Fortuna waterfall in Alajuela Province.
I want to say it’s like 300 feet down but honestly don’t remember. Once you get down to the bottom, the only way back up is a fireman’s ladder. Pretty tiring to get back up!
After we finished our zip lines, we met and talked with some Maleku people about their village and customs. They showed us some of the art they made from carving and painting balsa wood. Afterward, it was time to ride the horses back down toward the main camp site.
Trouble in Paradise
I had never been on a horse, and was a little hesitant– after I swung up and onto the horse, I felt okay, and my horse didn’t object too much.
I can’t say the same for Amy, unfortunately. The second she got on her horse, he reared up, lost his balance, and they both crashed backwards through a barbed wire fence, snapping it, and lacerated the back of Amy’s leg in the process. Our guide got the horse up and off of Amy, and after a few seconds of shock, she realized she didn’t break any bones, but had a pretty nasty gash, which was scary. I hopped off my horse and with the aid of a first-aid kit that looked like it had been put together in the 1980s, she was able to stop the bleeding. Having no other way out of the remote village, she literally got back on the horse (a different one this time) and we made our way down to the camp, where they gave us a ride into town, gave the doctor some cash, and he stitched her up.
Pretty adventurous first day! After some dinner, we headed home and got some sleep.
White water rafting
The next day was white water rafting. We headed down to the Rio Balsa, which has classes from 3-5 for white water. We met our guide Frank, and were in a raft with another American couple from Las Vegas. The water was high and fast, from all of the recent rains.
Our guide Frank would get airborne on some of the rapids.
I found a random guy’s video who rafted down it last year and this was pretty much our experience, but it had rained a lot so the river was higher and faster:
When they do the “high five” with their paddles, they all say “Pura vida!” which is Costa Rica’s saying, kind of like “hakuna matata”. It means “pure life” literally, but it kinda means “life is great”, “take it easy”, “it’s all good”, etc.
None of us in our boat were thrown out (except for Frank), and we did not have our raft flip, so that was a good day.
Arenal / Cerro Chato volcano hike
The third day was a volcano hike– we didn’t have much information about it other than the one sentence on our itinerary that said “2 volcanoes in one day, cerro chato, thermal hot springs visit”. What actually happened is we had a very intense hike– by this time my legs, arms, and abs were already pretty sore from rappelling, zip lining, ladder climbing, paddling, and using my legs to keep me from flying out of the raft, so I was already pretty worn out. I had to dig very, very deep to finish this day.
[…] it is considered a difficult hike and only recommended for hikers of good physical condition.
That would have been useful information previous to our visit.
We climbed the entirety of the Chato Volcano- about 3.5 hours of steady hiking uphill, climbing over huge tree roots, bouldering up rocks, keeping alert the whole time so you don’t grab for a snake instead of a root (we didn’t see any snakes) or accidentally put your hand down on a nest of bullet ants (some in our group saw some, but I didn’t. It is the world’s most painful insect sting, by the way).
We finally got to the top, then we hiked down the inside of the volcano, and then around the rim of the lake inside it. We set up for lunch there and we all just ate and caught our breath. The water was clear and cold– there were some little fish and lizards in there but not much else.
After that, we climbed back up the rim, then another 2.5 hours or so down the volcano. A little easier than up, but still pretty tiring.
Then we hiked just regular flat trails for another hour and a half or so, looking at some birds, and we stopped at a waterfall.
We ended that day by driving to a thermal springs river– we all got in and it was probably around 100 degrees or so– very nice for aching muscles.
Our last day, we had a tour of the Caño Negro river, where we saw sloths, howler monkeys, a ton of different birds, iguanas, and caiman.
Had a nice lunch out there- yuca, plantains, steak, and a tomato salad. Very relaxing day compared to the previous one!
At the end of each day, Amy end I would take a cab in to the town of La Fortuna (our hotel was in the countryside, probably took about 10 minutes of driving to get there) and walk around the town square, pick out a place to eat, sightsee, and buy some knicknacks for the kids. We had fresh fruit and coffee every morning at the hotel for breakfast, usually accompanied by rice & beans and eggs.
Our trip comes to an end
No one at our hotel spoke English. I picked up a little before the trip and learned enough to get us around town, find a bathroom (¿Dónde está el baño?), ask how much something was, and tell the cab driver where to take us home. It definitely inspired us to learn Spanish. It would have been super useful to have known it a little better.
The people there are amazingly nice and very gracious, and we are super glad we chose to go there.
There are more pictures I didn’t include on this page that you can check out here.