La Fortuna, Costa Rica
After two incredible weeks in China, I completely switched gears and headed down to Costa Rica for one adventurous week in the rainforest. It was a whirlwind of a trip, each day jam-packed with new activities and long drives through the mountains and valleys to different cities on the western half.
With exactly seven days, we made sure to plan our week in such a way that would allow us to see as many different parts of the country as possible while doing the most popular activities. Because it was prime hurricane season, we decided not to venture to the Caribbean side and instead drove along the west coast, staying in La Fortuna/Arenal, Monteverde and Jaco. By the week's end, we zip-lined twice, relaxed in hot springs twice, hiked three times, rappelled off of waterfalls, jumped into a waterfall, and learned how to surf.
Everything we saw and everyone we met contributed so much to our understanding of "pura vida," the beautiful Costa Rican way of life that celebrates all the country has to offer. Overall it was such an amazing week, one that left us bruised, tired and loving life.
La Fortuna | Arenal
After arriving in San Jose early Sunday morning, we picked up our rental car (highly recommend getting a 4x4 - you'll never know what you're driving into in Costa Rica) and stayed at a B&B close to the airport in Alajuela for a few hours until the sun came out. We chose not to stay in San Jose as most of the blogs we researched recommended getting out of the city as soon as possible to optimize our time in more worthwhile cities.
We debated driving straight from the airport to La Fortuna, as many travelers had done, but our flight landed at 2am, and as we quickly learned, Costa Rican roads are pitch black from about 6pm when the sun sets to about 5am when the sun rises. So driving was planned around daylight hours when you can clearly see the unpaved roads and sharp turns on narrow cliff-sides. Also, the scenery is absolutely gorgeous wherever you are, so the thought of spending daylight hours in a vehicle didn't necessarily take away from the overall excitement.
In the morning, after a quick stop in Wal-Mart for a car charger and road trip snacks (Ranchitos!), we made our way to La Fortuna. But before we even arrived to our hostel, we stopped at Sky Trek in Arenal for our first zip-lining tour. Zip-lining is extremely popular in Costa Rica, so we were very excited to start our vacation this way. The Sky Trek lines had us high above the trees, occasionally getting pelted by the rain. There were seven lines in the tour, where the longest was 2,493 feet and the highest was 656 feet, and because it started raining during our tour, we ended up traveling very fast on the slick lines.
It was the first time I had gone zip-lining, so I was slightly scared to turn my head and look around, but it was a such a thrilling experience and I absolutely loved it! Thankfully, I had my GoPro to capture the moment. (Depending on the company, you may or may not be allowed to have the GoPro in hand or on the wrist, so be prepared with a head strap or the cash to rent one.)
After zip-lining, we drove about an hour to our hostel, the Arenal Backpackers Resort. This was definitely one of the nicer hostels I have stayed in with a prime location and gorgeous views of the Volcán Arenal.
La Fortuna was super safe, but also very touristy in the area we stayed in. After settling in, we knew that we would be spending more money than we expected to. Most places - restaurants and boutiques - priced everything in USD so even with an exchange rate of 1 USD to 570 Colones, nothing was particularly cheap.
A lot of our meals in La Fortuna also ending up costing us $10-20 per person for, in my opinion, Tex-Mex type food at restaurants along the street of our hostel. So after we got a bit more acclimated to the area, we started looking for sodas, or local canteens, for traditional Costa Rican food priced a lot cheaper.
On our second day, we took another tour in Arenal for waterfall rappelling/canyoning with Pure Trek. Waterfalls are definitely something that comes to mind when I think of Costa Rica, and one of my biggest wishes during this trip was to jump off of waterfalls. While there are extreme tours available where you can do just that, some of us were uneasy with the heights, so the canyoning tour was a perfect compromise.
Canyoning felt exactly like rock-climbing in gym class, except you weren't climbing up, you were rappelling down waterfalls. The tour guides were super friendly, and with all the harnesses, it felt extremely safe. The only thing to keep in mind is the speed at which the tour group moves - this was definitely not a tour where you can take your sweet time to enjoy the sights, but nonetheless it was very enjoyable.
After getting back to our hostel around noon (the early morning trip was definitely a good idea, because we still had most of the day to do other things), we drove to Arenal National Park for a hike. The Arenal volcano is still considered active (though activity has slowed since 2010), but there are many trails available to hike in the national park allowing you to walk on volcanic rock and get closer views of the peak.
That night, we spent a few hours in the Baldi Hot Springs resort. There are so many natural hot springs in the area, and while a few are free, Baldi provides a reasonably priced option for public use of the resort hot springs and spa amenities. It was the most relaxing night of the entire week. For two hours we wandered the resort grounds hopping from pools at various degrees of hot. If we didn't have to go get dinner, we would have definitely stayed longer.
The third day, we left La Fortuna for the next leg of our trip, but on our way we stopped at Tenorio Volcano National Park for our second hike to Rio Celeste. This was one hike that came up frequently during our research and was highly recommended provided we had enough time. The national park is about 2 hours from La Fortuna (you NEED a 4x4) and the hike is about 1.5 hours. If there is any possibility of going, go. It's not something you see everyday.
The hike itself was easier, at least I think so, to the one in Arenal, and the destination was so much cooler. The river, Rio Celeste, is known for its magical blue color, created by the combination of natural elements and mie scattering. Though you can't go in this water, because the proportion of elements irritate the skin, it was amazing to see the magic of science. There is no turquoise river quite like it. It was stunningly beautiful and a perfect end to our stay in La Fortuna.
From there, we drove another 2-3 hours to our next stop - Monteverde.