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Travel Costa Rica
By: Zdenko Kahlina
Arenal-Fortuna… The Absolute Destination In Costa Rica!
In Costa Rica you can find a big number of places to visit, those are usually divided by tourist regions; among the most popular are Monteverde, Manuel Antonio and La Fortuna. This time let´s focus on La Fortuna – Arenal area, because this is where our group decided to go.
‘Zdenko’s Corner’ group of four ladies and me travelled to La Fortuna from Ocotal, in Guanacaste province. We traveled with our rent-a-car so we had a freedom of movement and were able to stop whenever we could see something interesting on the road. The total distance was about 180 km, which was covered in more than four hours, due to our frequent stops for site seeing.
We traveled on the main highway (#1) from Liberia to Canas. This section of highway is under the construction but we didn’t have any delays. They are adding lanes so the original highway is intact and in good shape. It’s just that they stop traffic now and again to let dump trucks come and go. The distance between Liberia and Canas is about 50 kilometers. At Canas we made a left turn onto the road #142 that goes via Tilaran (23 km) around Arenal lake and all the way to La Fortuna (another 73 km).
Llanos de Cortes waterfall
Our first stop was at the Llanos de Cortes waterfall, just off of the highway #1 some 20 km south of Liberia. This little place was an unexpected treasure and the highlight of our trip that day! There were some young girls sitting at the entrance waiting to take donations to allow you in, as this is a private property. After going through the entrance we were on very bumpy grovel road for next kilometer or so. At the parking lot by the waterfall site, another guy was asking for a dollar to watch the car. I was warned beforehand to be very careful here and not to leave any valuables in the car, when going down to the waterfall. But how do you do this, when our entire luggage was with us in the car. To be safe I stayed by the car, while the rest of the group went down for a swim. Waterfall was very close in the valley down the path through the forest. Walk down this path was easy and it took only 5 minutes. Once down there you can immediately see a beautiful waterfall.
This is literally an oasis from a movie or postcard. You can get right under the falls and it’s very pretty. My friends went for a swim and were screaming out of joy!! The water was really clear and warm. The hike back up took my breath away as I had to jump over some big rocks. All in all, we spent about one hour there.
Tilarán, lunch break
After leaving the main highway at Canas, we were on local paved road (#142), which was going over the rolling hills and shortly afterwords we were approaching small town of Tilaran, so we decided to stop here for a short lunch break.
If you want to get a real taste of Tico life, be sure to stop for a while in this great town. Tilaran is a very pretty town with wide, clean streets. It is a good place to stay to take in the tourist sites around the lake. It is a typical Latino community, with many of the businesses built around the town square, which of course has a place for soccer! Traditional gazebo marks the main square in town and the Catholic Church on the other side. There are different stores, such as Casa de Plastico (House of Plastic), a bank, a pharmacy, and there were many restaurants and shops surrounding the square, with many more off the side streets. This is where we parked our car and went into the closes eatery. It was a Taco place called ‘Taqueria Las Lenitas’, with a slow service, but good food. Everyone was very friendly, and while often overlooked, this town is worth a stop.
Next to the restaurant was a (surprise, surprise!) good bicycle store which had some professional cycling gear on sale and our friend Ljiljana took this opportunity and got a cheap pink jersey as a souvenir from Costa Rica.
The Tilarán area is cattle country and there are many picturesque working cattle and dairy farms in the vicinity of the town. The opportunities for exploring the local country gravel roads are limitless, either on foot or by car. Wind farms are within easy walking distance, as is the Continental Divide. The largest hydroelectric production facility in Central America is near Tilarán, and several geo-thermal projects are in the vicinity of the dormant volcanos some miles to the north.
La Fortuna (Arenal)
After lunch we left Tilarán and continued on road #142 towards Arenal Lake. The Arenal volcano National Park and Tabacón was a bit more than an hour over the picturesque road that follows the north side of the lake. The great beaches of Pacific Ocean we left in the morning were by now about an hour and a half behind.
Sections of the stretch of road between Tilaran and La Fortuna are mountainous and curvy, however the road conditions for the route are decent overall. This route also provides travelers with a scenic view of Lake Arenal. The road follows the shore of Lake Arenal and lake was just a few minutes away on our right, but to drive around the lake was about 70 kilometers before we would reach outskirts of La Fortuna. The cloud forest at Monte Verde is just over an hour away by car; several hot springs less than an hour. We made another stop at Tom’s Pan German bakery in Nuevo Arenal, but we didn’t purchase anything there as the prices were really high! Pretty expensive place to snack!
As we were getting closer to La Fortuna, we could clearly get better look at the Arenal volcano. The volcano ranks right up there as one of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen. It easily dominates the area at 1,600 meters and the clouds cooperated a little so we could actually see it. The first good view was when I was driving over the dam that formed Laguna de Arenal, which is what I drove around for the better part of the last two hours. Why they built a dam so close to a volcano that’s been active almost daily for the last 40 years seemed odd but whatever. When it did erupt in 1968, after being dormant for over 400 years, it destroyed 3 villages and killed 80 people. Now it’s one of the 10 most active volcanoes in the world. Lava doesn’t spew out of it all the time but there’s usually something going on.
Usually you can see the lava flowing down several times a day. Standing at the bottom of the volcano, hearing the volcano rumble and observing the glowing stones flying out of the crater is an unforgettable experience. At the time we were there we saw none of it!!! Bad luck or what!!?
Even though Arenal Volcano has been resting since 2010, this town hasn’t lost its charm neither the increasing number of tourists that visit it every year. This beautiful region gives to its visitors an unforgettable experience. The Arenal volcano is the biggest but not the only attraction of the town.
La Fortuna is an area of 225 square kilometers and a population of around 5,000 people. Because of this La Fortuna has become a very popular and touristy town that gives to its visitors amazing views of the active volcano, with a big range of accommodations of many types fitting all preferences. Another highlight of the area is the natural hot springs located in some of the most popular resorts, which usually comes with different options on spa services.
There are also other tourist attractions close to the area, for example La Fortuna Waterfall, a breathtaking waterfall surrounded by beautiful nature, the Arenal Lake and the well-known adventure tours, like white water rafting, horseback riding, canopy tours, hanging bridges, bungee jumping and canyoneering, among others.
The luxury resorts and hot springs are an important part of the popularity of the area, many tourists enjoy relaxing and resting on these hotels while they enjoy the stunning views of the volcano. Some of the numerous hotels in La Fortuna offer their clients rooms with view of the volcano, in addition to private trails to viewpoints.
La Fortuna activities map available at www.crmaps.com
Hotel Villa Fortuna
We booked our stay for next two nights in a hotel Villa Fortuna, small budget B&B in La Fortuna town. This hotel is located on the main road at the east side of La Fortuna town and just minutes away from the volcano and Lake Arenal. The property is about ten minute walk to the town square. Just a block away from the hotel is a big supermarket, where you can find everything you need. After a long day of sightseeing and driving from Ocotal, my friends and I stopped at this oasis of peace and quietness.
New property owners Wdilvia and Anthony have done an excellent job bringing the property up to date. The rooms are normal size with vaulted ceilings finished with local wood. The room where we stayed in had one single bed, and a double bed. The beds were very comfortable, the best so far in Costa Rica. The bathroom was very clean but little outdated. Plumbing needed to be fixed for next guests, but for us it was O.K. Each room has its own private porch. The grounds were well manicured with impressive selection of mature plantings. An added bonus is a gazebo with a kitchen for entertaining where we had breakfast in the morning. Behind the gazebo was a beautiful pool. Breakfast was available in the morning for additional cost of $5 per person, with coffee, and tea service. Wi-Fi was available only at certain places (gazebo and the office). All in all, this place was well worth the money!
Termalitas del Arenal
As I already mentioned before, further attractions in this region are hot thermal springs. The water is heated by the sulfurous river of the Arenal volcano. There are many thermal springs in La Fortuna, at some it is possible to observe the volcano from the water. But (there is always that but!), many of them charge an arm and a leg to use them. We asked for advice at our B&B, and Wdilvia (isn’t this an interesting name?) happily obliged with the information only locals know.
She recommended small unknown ‘Termalitas del Arenal’ hot springs, just across from the much bigger and more expensive hot springs at all inclusive hotel Baldy.
This was the best $6 bucks I have ever spent. The landscaping was beautiful and the bonus was a great view of the Arenal volcano. There were some workers working on a parking lot and we were the only ones who decided to take a dip at these springs. Well more like a soak than a dip since we spent at least two hours in them. I am so glad we didn’t go to the high-end touristy springs where they charge you $35 USD per person. It was absolutely perfect especially after a morning spent viewing other hot springs in the area.
Tour attractions in La Fortuna
The selection of tours offered in La Fortuna is one of the biggest in Costa Rica. You can choose between canopy tours, whitewater rafting on the Sarapiqui River, fishing on Lake Arenal, horseback rides into nature and much more. We chose Desafio Adventure tours for the Sarapiqui River rafting adventure, but this adventure deserves a separate blog…
Once in La Fortuna you should also visit the waterfalls of La Fortuna. The nicest way to get there is on horseback. The last part of this stretch is a trail that leads to the bottom of the waterfalls and a place to swim. The trail is only accessible on foot.
Costa Rica’s motto is ‘Pura Vida’, or pure life, and the town of La Fortuna exemplifies this expression in every form. From its eco-friendly lodges to locally grown produce to handmade crafts, La Fortuna is an adventurous, nature-filled vacation spot that is fun for all ages. Welcoming tour guides and helpful locals make it a family-friendly location, while zip-lining and erupting volcanoes make it ideal for thrill-seekers. Bring your camera and your rain poncho and get ready for howling monkeys, flowing lava and the time of your life.
So, Hasta Luego until next time, mi amigos!!
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