Central America, Costa Rica, Nature, Photography, Travel

Volcanoes & Snakes (Arenal, Costa Rica)

June 24, 2009

Two days ago we arrived in Costa Rica for our first visit here ever and to celebrate our 10th anniversary.

A very nice young man came to pick us up at the airport to take us to La Fortuna.  At first glance, everything reminded Erick of Puerto Rico. Our driver, Norman, stopped at a local restaurant for us to eat lunch and it was delicious.  It was raining pretty hard for the whole drive.  We had a slight delay when we came upon an accident between a big truck and a tour bus on a curvy mountain road, but they finally moved on.

Nayara Arenal Hotel & Gardens

When we arrived to the Nayara Arenal, we were absolutely blown away by how nice the grounds are and how luxurious and beautiful our room is.   The volcano view was amazing, but cloudy so we couldn’t see all of it.  While checking in, they brought us hot rags to clean our hands and a cocktail of fresh juices.

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Then they took us to our room in a little golf cart, and stopped along the way to show us 2 baby hummingbirds in a nest near our room, which we had never seen before.

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The hotel is even better than I expected and more luxurious.  The place is just beautiful and no detail overlooked.

Yesterday morning when we woke up (at 5 am), the view was incredible –the skies had completely cleared and soon the sun came out.  We feel very fortunate to have seen the volcano so clearly, as it can be cloudy entirely for weeks.

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We sat on our deck just taking it all in while hummingbirds fluttered around us.

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Then I took the best shower of my life in our outdoor shower where you can see the sky and are surrounded by plants and flowers and stand on a teak floor.  Heavenly.

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We left the hotel at 7:45 am for a full-day tour with Jacamar to include the hanging bridges, the Fortuna waterfall, time in the town of La Fortuna on your own, then a volcano hike, a visit to the Tabacon Hot Springs and dinner.

Arenal Hanging Bridges (Puentes Colgantes)

The hanging bridges hike was probably my favorite of the whole day and I never expected to see so much wildlife here.  Our guide, Antenor, was so nice and knowledgeable and I just can’t say enough good things about him.  Without him, we wouldn’t have seen anything.   The trail consists of 8 regular bridges and 6 hanging bridges.  I wasn’t expecting to be “afraid”, and wasn’t, but it was a little disconcerting walking across them.  It was hard to walk sometimes and very difficult to take pictures while on the bridges.  Between all the bridges, you are walking on a trail through the forest.

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Here’s a rundown of what we saw:

  • Rufous Motmot
  • Bluejeans frog (poison dart frog)
  • Monkeys
  • A two-toed sloth
  • An anteater (way up high in the canopy and hard to see)
  • 2 different Eyelash Pit Vipers (very poisonous) – I spotted the second one!
  • A Golden Orb Spider
  • Black Vulture
  • Leaf-cutter Ants

It was an easy trail that was mostly flat and about 2 miles, I think.

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La Fortuna Waterfall (La Catarata de Fortuna)

Next up was the Fortuna Waterfall.  You start the trail looking down on the waterfall and then hike down.  I took 2 pictures and then the downpour started.  So, we had to put all cameras away and concentrate on not falling down a very uneven and slippery step path.  About halfway down, a very colorful snake “jumped” out near me and scared the crap out of me.  Our guide came rushing past the others and said it was a very aggressive coral snake.  I hate that I couldn’t take pictures.  When we got to the bottom, the sound was overwhelming to hear how powerful the waterfall was.  Erick decided to to swim in the frigid waters, while I very carefully extracted the video camera to keep it out of the rain.

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The way back up was ridiculously steep and exhausting (if you are out of shape like me).  But we managed to get back up without passing out.

Arenal Volcano National Park

Next we had lunch and later continued the tour with a visit to the Arenal Volcano National Park, at which point it was raining pretty hard and the volcano was completely invisible.  I was very skeptical about even going due to the conditions.  This was a very flat path on volcanic sand that was easy, until the end where you actually climb volcanic rocks.  It’s easy to lose your footing and I almost took a tumble.  Once we got to this part, which is the closest you’re allowed to get to the volcano, it stopped raining for a bit and the clouds cleared so we could see most of the volcano.  You hear what sounds like thunder, but it’s the rocks falling.  They are falling all day, but it only appears red at night.  We only saw one little red explosion on the side of the volcano.  It was very humbling to be standing that close and hear the sounds and see the rocks and smoke.  Also, from this point, on the opposite side of the volcano, you can see a beautiful view of Lake Arenal.  It was definitely worth it!

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Tabacon Hot Springs

Finally, we ended the night with a trip the the Tabacon Hot Springs.  They were very beautiful, but a little weird for me since it was night and you can’t see where you’re walking and there are big rocks.  So, we found the heated pool and swim-up bar and enjoyed a mojito and a virgen pina colada.

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Afterward, we had dinner with two very nice couples from Spain who were both on their honeymoon.  Nobody could believe we have been married for ten years.  (We may be out of shape, but evidently we have something of a youthful glow.) Ha!

It was an intense day, but worth it since we are only here for one full day.  I wouldn’t change a thing, but I know we couldn’t have such a jam-packed day like that every day here.  I am quite looking forward to the spa at our next hotel.

View all of the photos.

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