San Jose to La Fortuna/Arenal

World Travel San Jose to La Fortuna/Arenal, Costa Rica

22. April: Our alarm clock doesn't go off this morning at 6:30, it seems that my dropping it broke the alarm mechanism, even though the clock itself was still running and showing the time. We somehow 'automatically' get up anyway, talk about having built-in alarm biological clocks within us!

We've repacked our bags and decided to leave at least half of our stuff at Hannelore's so we can travel light. We would be returning to Madeleine's place in about five days and we're planning to pick up everything again when we're back. Hannelore said we could just leave everything at her place and she would take care of it that it would be transported to Madeleine's by the time we're back. The luggage is heavy and I'm not sure she'll be able to carry it, so I offer her that we'll come and pick it up, but she's stubborn and insists on her transporting it. I just have to lug the bags into a small corner in her bedroom. When I do so, a swarm of mosquitoes are disturbed are fly around. It's strange that she doesn't mind having so many mosquitoes in her room.

We have breakfast at 7:00, and we catch the bus to San Jose city centre. From there, we catch a taxi to the bus terminal from where the bus leaves to Fortuna. This isn't easy, it seems the taxi drivers don't know where the terminal is. It's also possible that they pretend to do so because they're not interested in such a short ride, since it eventually costs about a dollar.

The bus is there, we luckily get some seats right in front and we start at about 8:40, at a very slow pace. We stop quite often to load and unload passengers. It's Sunday and many passengers are all dressed up, especially the girls. It's a very interesting trip seeing the people and the landscape, the road is partially winding in the hills and we make slow progress.

Volcan Arenal, the world's 2nd most active volcano, with peak in clouds from Fortuna Lava Rocks rolling down volcano. Of course not allowed to climb
Volcan Arenal, the world's 2nd most active volcano, with peak in clouds from Fortuna
Lava Rocks rolling down volcano. Of course not allowed to climb

We arrive at La Fortuna which is the base of Volcan Arenal at around 13:00. The Volcano could be seen for quite a while near the end of the trip. The sky was overcast with dark clouds and now it's just started to rain, so we quickly reclaim our packs from the bus and run for shelter under the roof of the bus stop just at the road. It soon stops raining and we set off to find a place to stay first so we can rid ourselves of our luggage. La Fortuna is a small little town so it's easy to just walk around and look for a hotel on foot. Here the hotels are called 'Cabinas' and we decide to stay at 'Cabinas las Tinajas' after checking out two or three others, the room is 6000ñ per night, is big enough, has a fan and is nice and clean. We set out to have lunch (at the restaurant of a Cabinas we had just checked out) and then look for a tour of Arenal to do in the afternoon. 'Sunset Tours' offers a guided tour in English for 25$ which includes transport to the other side of the volcano, a one hour hike through the jungle to the base of old lava rocks, free drinks and a visit to Tabacon Hot Springs at the end. This sounds good so we book the trip. The top of the volcano is in clouds and the man says there might be a chance of it getting free in the afternoon, but one never knows.

The transport is in an air-conditioned mini bus (great to beat the heat since it's become quite warm again after the rain!), we have about ten other tourist passengers, the guide speaks intelligible English with an American accent and has some interesting things to say. We drive to the west base of the volcano and get our first taste of bumpy rocky Costa Rican roads when we leave the main road. I was concerned it's affect on the suspension of our bus, but at the end of our Costa Rican trip I would know that such roads are quite common in the country and the people are used to them.

'Leaf cutter ants' carrying leaves to their nest Ferns which close when touched
'Leaf cutter ants' carrying leaves to their nest
Ferns which close when touched

We walk across a small stream (which is already a challenge for quite a few of our passengers to cross while staying dry!) and then enter the forest. The guide starts his explanations, we find some small guavas and he tells us about the strange life of the 'leaf cutter ants' when we see some crossing our path. These ants cut off small pieces of a special leaf and transport them back to their anthill. The pieces can be enormous in relation to the size of the ants! They add saliva to the leaves which causes a special fungus to grow on them. The ants actually feed on that fungus!

Jungle canopy Bright Jungle flowers
Jungle canopy
Bright Jungle flowers

We hike through the forest till we reach a large clearing which is at the base of the volcano. There are lava rocks to be seen all around. Arenal's geological interior is such that it spews large rocks and does not have lava flows common to other volcanoes. You can see such rocks rolling down the volcano from a distance, although not from this vantage point. Opposite to the lake have a beautiful elevated sunset view of Lake Arenal (whose hydroelectric plant provides a large part of Costa Rican electricity) and of the surrounding forest.

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diary drawing showing the two craters (and the position of the active one) of Arenal, location of la Fortuna, and the tour we did (arrow from la Fortuna) to the forest and onward to the base of the volcano with the lava rocks
Jungle growth Tree crossing jungle path
Jungle growth
Tree crossing jungle path
Semitransparent leaves A natural whip-like vine
Semitransparent leaves
A natural whip-like vine

The top of the volcano has been  covered in clouds the whole day. This seems to happen frequently and it is rare that the top of Arenal can be seen. One stands a better chance in the rainy season, when the clouds clear up after a bout of intense showers. We go back the same path we came from and by the time we're back in the bus it is getting dark.

Old Lava rocks of Volcan Arenal Jungle Orchid
Old Lava rocks of Volcan Arenal
Jungle Orchid

We have another drink (this time I took a beer, before our hike it was a coke) and we drive to the hot springs in Tabacon. The hot springs are hosed in a rather posh looking 'resort', which charges 17$ entry and another 17$ for a buffet dinner! We decide to try a place just across the street (sunset tours had told us about it) and they charge (just!) 7$ entry, so we split from our tour group and arrange to meet them again at a fixed time for the return trip to La Fortuna. There are not even towels or lockers to be had for this price and the "hot" springs is just a flow of lukewarm water through an artificially constructed cascading stream-like structure. There is some steam rising from the water and the mild electric lighting makes the whole setup look quite nice. We change and get into the water but it is not very satisfying, the water is just not hot enough and somehow I had been expecting to see a night view of the volcano spitting red glowing rocks into the dark night air! None of that was to be seen, although some tourists which Annewien had asked about whether the "cheap" springs were any good had said that only the expensive resort had a view to the volcano.

Well, so we decided to sneak into the expensive resort, and tell the ticket man at the entrance that we'd just like to take a quick look. This seems to be ok, so we go in. There are a lot more people here than in the cheap place (which was quite empty), there are water cascades with people underneath and a large restaurant zone. But there is no view of the volcano. A waiter tells us that you can only see something if there are no clouds and since the top of the volcano was cloudy, well, no view! In La Fortuna itself the dormant side of Arenal is seen, the active side is to the Northwest of the volcano. It has a dormant crater and a second crater at that side which is active.

Back in Fortuna we head straight to our room, Annewien has a headache from the heat and we're in bed after a shower and don't wake up till next morning. It had been a strenuous day after all!

Continue to 23.4 Arenal