Costa Rica - La Fortuna

Trip Start Feb 05, 2008
Trip End Apr 24, 2008

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Where I stayed
Hotel Carmela

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Saturday, March 15, 2008

Hola Charlotte Here:

Arriving in La Fortuna was our first introduction to the Costa Rica we had hoped for. La Fortuna is a small town lying in the shadow of the towering Arenal Volcano surrounded by lush hills and cloud forests. The Arenal Volcano is the only volcano in Costa Rica which has been constantly active since it woke up after 400 years with a huge eruption in 1968. The volcano produces huge ash columns, explosions and glowing red lava almost every day and is considered one of the ten most active volcanoes in the world. What better place to spend the first week in Costa Rica!

On our first night there we went hiking on the side of the volcano...the daily eruptions cause lava flow on only one side of the volcano, so the other side is covered in lush vegetation and secondary forest. It was a surreal experience to walk through the dense forrest to the sound of howler monkeys (for those of you whoīve never heard a howler monkey - they are little monkeys but sound like lions!), parrots and frogs...and the occassional rumble from the volcano. As the sun was setting we made our way back to the car, and drove to a view point on the active side of the volcano which provided a perfect (yet safe!) spot to view the molten lava roll down the steep side of the volcano. The best time to see the lava is at night, when the red, molten rocks are clearly visible as they get splurged out of the top of the volcano. On our trip so far weīve seen and climbed our share of volcanos, but to see an active volcano spit out huge molten boulders is something completely different!

On our second day in La Fortuna we went on a tour to Caņo Negro Wildlife Refuge which is a reserve completely off the beaten track, close to the border of Nicaragua. Due to the small number of visitors and the inaccessibility (the reserve is accessed by dirt road after which you board a boat and glide slowly down the river) it also happens to be one of the best places in Costa Rica to spot birds and other wildlife. The drive there is in itself beautiful, as you pass through pineapple and coffee plantations with a wealth of birds and parrots perched on the branches of the "living fences" that surround the fields. Living fences are popular all over Central America and are made by cutting fresh branches from trees and sticking them in the ground where they take roots, and hence work as fence poles with branches and leaves growing from them!
As we were gliding along the river we saw crocodiles (the small cayman variety), hundreds of birds (egrets, parrots etc), three different kinds of monkeys (howler, spider and capuchins) and a very lazy, hanging sloth. Gliding along the river was a perfect way to spot the animals in their natural habitat whilst listening only to the jungle sounds!

The day that Iīd been fearing for years also came around while we were in La Fortuna. My 30th birthday. However, Iīve spent so much time getting depressed about turning 30, that when it finally came around it wasnīt so bad...I had actually gotten used to the idea! Ian, however, was the main reason that I had a fantastic day...he woke me up with freshly brewed coffee, and my birthday present waiting on the bedside table. I got a beautiful necklace with a stunning diamond - canīt believe heīd been carrying it in his backpack all the way through Central America! What an amazing boyfriend. It was the perfect present, and I canīt wait to wear it when we return to the UK - unfortunately itīs not safe to flaunt around jewellery in this part of the World, so it will have to wait!

After a massive fried breakfast (calories on your birthday donīt count!) we hiked up to a stunning 70m tall waterfall in the middle of the jungle. It was a fairly easy hike, and at the bottom of the fall we went swimming in the deep plunge pool - the gushing water created such a strong current that it was impossible to swim close to where the water was hitting the surface of the pool. It was a beautiful and romantic setting, and a great start to the day!

Seeing it was my birthday we had decided to splash out, and hence spent the afternoon and evening at the Tabacon Hot Springs. Itīs a 5 star resort with 12 geothermically heated natural pools embedded in a primary rain forest with exotic gardens and trails. The pools are at the bottom of the Arenal volcano, and range in temperature between 27C and 42C - all heated by magma deep in the Earthīs core! After having lazed about for a few hours we had sunset cocktails in the bar located in the resortīs biggest pool. It was quite an amazing experience to sit in a hot natural pool, cocktail in hand, one of the Worldīs most ative volcanoes looming in the background while the sun was setting. All worries about my birthday were long forgotten! The evening was perfectly finished off with a wonderful meal of sushi sitting on a balcony overlooking the beautifully lit resort. Ahhh what a day!

On the last day in La Fortuna we did a strenous hike to the Cerro Chato crater lake in the inactive cone perched on the side of the active Arenal Volcano. The hike started at the base of the cone walking through beautiful fields up to the tree line. Once we hit the tree line the vegetation changed completely, and turnt into thick, dense cloud forest...the trail became muddy and the branches and vines were dripping with precipitation due to the high humidity. It was a tough 1.5hr steep climb to the top of the ridge, and then an equally steep descent to get to the bottom of the crater. The view of the crater lake was worth all the effort though, and as we sat at the side of the lake the clouds rolled in so that we couldnīt see more than a few metres ahead of us. However, the clouds would dissappear as quickly as they rolled in, and this allowed clear views across the mirror flat lake. At the lake we met a very nice American couple from Nashville (yep, she was a country singer!), Tennessee, and we decided to head back together. The descent was definitely much easier than the ascent, not at least helped along with some great conversation, and the promise of a cold beer at their hotel at the bottom of the volcano! One beer turned into two while sitting on their porch chatting, overlooking the valley below and glancing up the steep cone weīd just conquored. I know weīve said it a few times on this blog...but that was one of the best beers weīd ever tasted!

At the end we spent nearly six whole days in La Fortuna, the longest weīve stayed in one place during the whole trip. Itīs an amazing place, however, and there is so much to do in the area that it never felt like too long. We were sad to leave but were also excited about what was coming next...Monteverde, a beautiful town in the middle of the cloud forest on the other side of Lake Arenal. More about that next.
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