La Fortuna, the gateway to north-central Costa Rica’s famously active Arenal Volcano, offers visitors a unique opportunity to explore the heart of Costa Rica.
The town is centered around a strong tourism industry and yet maintains the ambiance of a typical Costa Rican town. The La Fortuna area has more than 100 hotels, ranging from the large, all-inclusive resorts to small, personalized bed-and-breakfasts. Hot springs, impressive waterfalls, dormant and active volcanoes, immense underground caverns, Lake Arenal and endless hectares of tropical forest all await visitors. Towering over it all is the immense Arenal Volcano with its perfect conical shape, a majestic sight on clear days.
The area offers lots to do besides volcano-gazing. The Tico Times recently took a whirlwind tour of several La Fortuna area attractions. Highlights follow:
Arenal Eco Zoo. A 20-minute boat ride across the dark blue waters of Lake Arenal brings tourists to the El Castillo community, a close-knit group of restaurants, lodges and tourist attractions and home to the Arenal Eco Zoo, where visitors may be welcomed by the sight of a massive python coiled on a large table.
Victor Quesada, director of the zoo, introduces visitors to a wide variety of poisonous snakes, beautiful lime-green frogs and elegant spiders. The facility is home to more than 70 snake species, ranging from massive and calm to tiny and poisonous varieties. Turtles, alligators and crocodiles are also on display, as are more than 30 species of frogs, many of them poisonous, and a fascinating display of spiders and insects. The zoo also organizes naturalist trips and tours into the surrounding jungle.
Hours are 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. For more information, visit www.arenalecozoo.com.
Canyoneering Adventure. A canyoneering adventure with Desafío Adventure Company is a truly remarkable experience. Imagine making your way down a narrow riverbed through thick, mist-shrouded forest. A steady current of water runs beneath your feet as you kick your way down the face of a massive cliff – under the expert supervision of a Desafío guide, of course.
Adventurers should expect to get thoroughly soaked during the excursion. The friendly guides all speak English and contribute to the experience by showing tour participants special ways to soak their friends. The tour concludes with participants rappelling off a 67-meter waterfall down to the riverbed below. A hearty lunch follows at the Desafío canyoneering lodge.
The trips start at 7:30 a.m., 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. and cost $90 per person including transport, gear, guide and lunch. For more information, visit www.desafiocostarica.com.
Hike to Cerro Chato Lake. Floating in the emerald-green waters of the Cerro Chato crater lake, it is hard to remember the concerns of everyday life. Waves of mist roll in and out, briefly obscuring and then revealing a 360-degree panorama of beautiful, lush rain forest. Located just off the southeast flank of Arenal Volcano, the much older Chato Volcano is the perfect destination for a day hike, and is one of many tours offered by the Red Lava Tourist Service Center in La Fortuna.
The hike is not for the faint of heart. Manfred León García, a naturalist guide for Red Lava, leads the way through beautiful countryside, pointing out a plethora of insects, birds and plants unique to Costa Rica. He occasionally bends over to pick up small shiny rocks, remnants from volcanic explosions that occurred thousands of years ago. Breathing lightly, García smiles at the tired group of hikers clustered around him at the base of the forest-swathed volcano.
“Now the hike gets hard,” he says in fluent English.
The trail gradually becomes narrower and steeper as hikers make their way onward. García constantly checks to make sure everyone stays together. He says the forest is brimming with wildlife: howler monkeys, anteaters, wild pigs and smaller animals like bullet ants, frogs and insects.
The descent to the lake is the most hazardous part of the trip, but well worth it. With a great deal of patience, García leads his hikers down for a swim in the green waters before safely guiding them back.
This hike is actually a shorter version of a trip that takes guests to the Arenal Observatory Lodge. The observatory was established by the Smithsonian Institution to monitor the activity of Arenal Volcano. On an active day, guests might get a glimpse of hot volcanic rocks rolling down the side of the mountain. The full tour concludes with a visit to the naturally heated waters of the Tabacón River.
The price of the full trip is $80 per person. For more information, www.redlava touristservicecenter.com.
From San José, take the Inter-American Highway west to San Ramón. Exit the highway and drive through San Ramón to a dead end, where you will turn left. At the next traffic light (San Ramón hospital), turn right. Continue on this road out of town and through the scenic hillsides to the small town of Bajo Rodríguez. Take the road to the right and continue to the town of Santa Clara, where you will turn left at the intersection of the soccer field. Continue to El Tanque and then La Fortuna. The drive is about three hours.
The La Fortuna/Arenal Volcano area has a vast array of lodging options. On this trip, The Tico Times stayed at Hotel Tacotal (www.tacotal.com), which offers comfortable accommodations, tourist services, a conference center, beautiful gardens and a heated pool with a wet bar. Rooms come equipped with two double beds, air conditioning, cable television and a small patio with a view of the volcano. The hotel is 10 km west of La Fortuna. Rooms cost $100 per night, double occupancy.