Friday, November 28, 2014

Costa Rica Part II: La Fortuna and the 2 Volcano Hike

Hello happy travelers!

So even in our first few days of traveling, we made a point of learning each others' traveling style and learning from our experiences. 

Tips we picked up:
  • Book the first night in the hotel, but if you're staying for a few days, don't be afraid to search for a better option if you're not happy!
  • Double check your reservations and scheduled pickups, and especially check in a day or two in advance just to make sure. 

We flew Spirit Air- it's billed as the "leading Ultra Low Cost Carrier in the United States, the Caribbean, the Bahamas and Latin America." It was lost cost, and that's about it. In fact, unlike any other airline, the price was higher with a carry-on! (But yes, the price was still lower than other flights at the time.) 

Next year we will start investing in frequent flyer miles, per advice from a trusted blogger, Chris Guillebeau, and his Upgrade Unlocked, Unconventional Guide to travel hacking. But that's another story. 

How we felt when we finally arrived!
The flight took a LOT longer than expected, due to a fuel spill after boarding that required de-boarding and re-boarding another plane.  Then once we were in the air, the plane hit a bird, and had to land again. Before we could land, we had to circle around a few times because we had too much fuel to land... So we de-boarded again, and re-boarding the initial plane... OMG. At least we weren't delayed to our connecting flight, because we would have had a 5 hour layover in Fort Lauderdale. The layover was only 1 hour, woo hoo! But it's funny how time passes differently when your expectations are... managed... differently...! 

La Fortuna

Welcome to La Fortuna!
Getting there: We took a local bus from the San Jose airport to the bus terminal in Alajuela, just a 10 minute drive, and from there took another local bus to San Carlos (aka Quesada) and transferred there to another bus to La Fortuna. It took about 5 hours. Not the most time efficient way, but pretty economical. It was around $10 per person. Another option would have been to take a shuttle for $50 per person. The reason we had to transfer so many times was because we arrived just slightly too late for the direct bus to La Fortuna which would have been faster, with no changing buses and no stopping every 100m for passengers. 

Arriving: We had a hotel reserved called La Fortuna Hostel Resort. I used to book, which was easy to use. We did not like the place. The people running it were not nice, except for one guy, and there was a general depressed feeling about it. We paid for the rest of our stay, 4 nights, when we got there, so we stayed, but the lesson I think is just to stay the first night and see if we like it. I should also mention that we were traveling on a budget, so we were looking for guesthouse/hostel type accommodations that had a kitchen, and we were willing to sacrifice some comfort for price. Our budget was initially $20-25 per night, but over the trip slowly rose to $35-40, with inclusion of a kitchen or continental breakfast. We paid about $25/night for this place and it had a kitchen. Note: The time period that we are describing, Oct-Nov is the end of rainy season, and considered low season for traveling. This meant that we had our pick of rooms and hotels were willing to bargain with us, since there weren't many other travelers during this time. Prices will be higher and options will be less for those traveling during high season.

Activities: We did not do zip lining, canyoneering, horseback riding, or the suspension bridges. We had already done these things before, and agreed that we would be better off investing our resources in our list of "must-do" activities and not just randomly do stuff because it's the advertised thing to do. Must-do activities for Costa Rica included whitewater rafting (Akemi), and relaxing on the beach (Oz). And hot springs! (Both of us!)

Wybe and Sonya at Red Lava helped us with our itinerary
Oz, Sonya, and me

So what we did do was the Two Volcano Hike with Lagoon Swimming and Hot River! This was AWESOME! Wybe and Sonya helped us choose our other activities too, which included this hike, the Baldi Hot Springs the following day, the Jeep-Boat-Jeep "tour" that was our transportation to Monteverde, and our accommodations in Monteverde.

The hike goes up the side of the dormant Cerro Chato volcano and down into the crater, which is now filled with water and is a beautiful blue, that you can swim in! Then you hike around and up the other side, and down, and across to the Arenal Observatory for views of Volcan Arenal. (FYI, it is not necessary to go with a guide or tour group, but it was really nice having that group experience, meeting people, and having a guide who knows the area. In this case, I found it totally worth it!)

The hike started out sunny and beautiful, with Andres, our guide, two other couples (from Canada and France) and a guy from Slovenia. Andres was studying to be a biologist and told us he gets school credit for leading these hikes. He told us lots about the local flora and fauna.

Then it started to rain. The rain was awesome. It was pouring, thundering, and powerful. The trail became a river. We kept going, up and up. The gnarled roots of the rainforest trees were like little secret passageways to hobbit holes. Our shoes were soaked. We loved it! What more adventure than rain in the rainforest! And best of all, NO LEECHES!

We had lunch at the side of the lagoon, still in the pouring rain.  The packed lunch that was provided by Red Lava Tours was delicious- choose the chicken.

Note: Bring a poncho!

As for shoes, we noticed a lot of people with fancy waterproof hiking shoes. I suppose they would be perfect if it were not for the river of pouring rain we hiked through on the way up- maybe gaiters would have helped? We brought old tennis shoes that we then abandoned when we saw that due to the constant humidity they were not drying out and just getting smellier and nastier. We used Keens for the rest of the trip, which were perfect, since we didn't do any more hiking like this- all other hikes were relatively mellow, even in Manuel Antonio. 

We loved this EPIC hiking adventure!
The crew at the side of the lagoon, after slogging through the pouring rain/river down into the crater. We did swim after all, despite the rain! (Bonus: It helped wash the mud off!)

Foggy waterfall

Cute Coati
We drove from the Arenal Observatory (which was quite anticlimactic since it was almost dark by the time we got there and too cloudy to see anything, plus we were WORN OUT from the hike!) to the hot river. It was dark, raining again, and cold! So it was with some trepidation that we parked by the side of the road, stripped down to our bikinis and swimming trunks, and walked down to the river. Once there, we immediately hunkered down to warm up in this amazing hot (well, warm, not burning hot) river. Other tour groups joined us and the guides made a few batches of jungle juice, and applied volcanic mud masks to those of us who wanted... Too bad my camera isn't waterproof! All in all, it was an exhausting, adventurous, epic, memorable day.
Rad Rana Frog

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