Soak It Up!
La Fortuna, Costa Rica
An early morning bus ride from San Jose meant that we would be in La Fortuna before 11AM and could spend the day exploring the area. Our first move would be to ditch our bags at our hostel and tee up a scooter rental. 20/20 hindsight, this is without a doubt the best way to see the area. You need some mode of transport to make your most of your time here, and this is as economical as it gets. Costa Rica is not like other Central American countries in that the public transport network is almost non existent. This is a relatively wealthy country, so most people have their own vehicles, which makes backpacking travel difficult as transport is difficult to come by. The scooter allowed us to checkout the area at our pace. A little taste of freedom, if you will - always checking bus schedules can get tiring.
We immediately scooted up to the natural river hot springs, to soak off the long bus ride. The hot spring flows into a river, effectively warming the river up to bath water temperature. It's bizarre when you first step onto the banks of the river and you feel the hot humid air on your skin. This is an experience I've never had... Normally before I jump into any water body in Canada I have to mentally prepare for the bone chilling cold that I will have to endure, and have a game plan in place to reach a spot I can get out of the water ASAP. However, to experience this river, no such mental preparation is required! A beautiful spot in the jungle, we trudged up river to find a private pool to float in. The fact that this experience is free makes it that much sweeter. You should relish that this experience doesn’t cost you anything, because everything else in La Fortuna area is going to hammer your wallet. It was a rainy day, so we were happy to burn a few hours lounging in the river. If it wasn’t for Rose eventually dragging me out, I would likely still be soaking in it today. If you know me, you know that I am a sucker for long showers, and this is pretty much the ultimate bathing experience.
If you’re not into navigating muddy paths, to find your way into this natural hot spring - which really isn’t very difficult - there are lots of places that offer massage and hot spring use in pay-per-day offering. Reading online, I think some of these places are quite nice, but we never checked them out.
In order to get to La Fortuna, from San Jose, you are going to have to endure a windy bus ride. Hot tip: if you're prone to motion sickness, pick seats as close to the front of the bus as possible. My inner equilibrium seems to enjoy tormenting me with motion sickness on bus rides, and just bus rides. I'm good in most other motion sickness inducing situations, but there is something about buses. In contrast, Rose will fall asleep nearly immediately and will remain that way until we reach our destination. Why can’t I do this?! After washing away the miserable bus ride, in the hotspring, we jumped back onto the scooter and headed to the Arenal Observatory - the place the we rented the scooter from recommended this spot as they thought the volcano view was better and was overall a better bang-for-your-buck compared to other viewing locations. The view of Arenal Volcano and Arenal Lake was spectacular. Unfortunately the volcano is no longer actively erupting, but the volcano itself is still something to marvel at. The Arenal Observatory is a beautiful area to walk around, and they have an excitingly rickety scaffold tower that you can walk up and take in the scenery from above the canopy. With the clouds finally parting we could see the volcano and spent the rest of the day walking through the observatory as the late afternoon sun dropped down the horizon and the golden light framed the lush forest.
La Fortuna is a tourist town. Everything about it and the surrounding area is designed to soak up as many tourist dollars as possible. As you can imagine, it is annoying being dinged at every turn, and could certainly use some streamlining by operators in the area. There are no deals here, it’s not an area to spend more than a day or two in. The restaurants are expensive and geared to tourists, but there are Sodas that you can hunt out, which will feed you for considerably less, and the food is still delicious.
It should be mentioned that we also checked out a natural area called Bogarin, because it had rave reviews online. Suspiciously positive reviews, looking back. Honestly for the money, this place is a bit of a joke. It is way over priced to begin with, and if you want a guide to point out wildlife you are basically looking at spending $75 USD for two people to walk two kilometers of poorly kept pathway. We walked through the place because of the online reviews, cost us $30 USD, and saw two sloths, which were WAY up in a tree. Don’t get me wrong, sloths are pretty dang cool, but for bang-for-your-buck this place ranks near the bottom. Honestly save your money for a better experience at a national park.
From La Fortuna we made, what I now think might have been a hasty decision to head to Manuel Antonio, and skip Monte Verde. Looking back, I would’ve probably taken the $30 USD bus-boat-bus transport to Monte Verde and spent a day checking it out. However, at the time I think we were both feeling a bit of wallet fatigue, and were looking to get to an area where we would get more for our dollar. Honestly speaking, we weren’t completely stoked with Costa Rica at this point. Everything was nice, but we had seen more impressive Volcanoes for far less money in other parts of Central America. We were feeling like Costa Rica might be a bit too hyped. Also, the Canadian dollar is trading at a significant discount to the American dollar right now (November 2018) and the prices in La Fortuna are poor value. Everything here panders to Americans, so as a Canadian you’re going to feel squeezed (keep in mind that we are trying to keep to a budget for a six month adventure, so if this is your annual two week tropical get away you likely won’t be as price conscious as we are). As I had said, we weren’t completely stoked with Costa Rica at this point, but we were about to fall hard... Really hard...
If Budget Was No Concern:
- White Water Raft the Pacaure River - Recommended by Nat Geo
- Canyon Tour
- Go to Monte Verde
- Rent a 4x4 and Explore
**Big shout out to the Nevokshonoff’s for the Costa Rica travel tips!**