It’s known as the adventure capital of Costa Rica but with limited time how do you choose what to do while you stay in this picturesque town at the base of the infamously active Arenal Volcano?
This week, here are 4 amazing things you can do while in La Fortuna. Each one a step up from the last on an adventure scale.
Visit a Hot Spring Spa
Being so close to an active Volcano, hot springs are abundant around town. You won’t fail to notice the plethora of resorts built up around them. Each one has its own unique selling points. You could be here for 2 weeks and still not visit them all.
Pay once and stay all day or just come for the evening like I did. Facilities and attractions will very depending on each resort but with plenty of competition for your tourist dollar, whichever resort you choose you won’t be disappointed with this most Costa Rican of ways to relax from a hard day of adventuring around the surrounding countryside.
Trek to the Arenal a Volcano Lookout
It’s your first day in the area. You’ve scoped out the restaurants and bars in town but what to do first. How about a little exercise on one of the cheaper tours in town.
The Arenal Volcano has been constantly erupting since 29th July 1968 when 3 craters burst open. Crater A was active from 1968 until 1973 and was responsible for decimating 2 small towns and killing 87 people along with it when it unleashed a devastating 12km long pyroclastic flow.
By day you can make out smoke and blocks of cinder erupt from the top of the Volcano. Because of this constant activity it is impossible to get too close to the Volcano. The explosive emissions make it far too dangerous, but on days when the Volcano is being a good Volcano, there is a path that leads up to a ridge on the very edge of the 1968 original lava flow that gives a fantastic panoramic view of the Volcano, the surrounding countryside and Lake Arenal, the largest lake in Costa Rica, in the far distance.
You can drive yourself and hike the short, non-demanding 60 minute trail but taking a park ranger on one of the organised tours will give you a far more in depth knowledge of the flora and fauna of the surrounding forest as well as the history of the Volcano.
Which ever way you choose to do it you should add it to your itinerary while in town. You’ll be sorry if you don’t.
Not for those with a fear of the dark, bats, creepy crawlies or tight and confined flooded spaces, the Venado Caves, 90 minutes north is a hidden gem in the unspoilt Northern Lowlands of Costa Rica.
Formed some 15-20 million years ago by tectonic forces and an underground river, the 2,700 meter long Venado Caves are a must for any budding adventure enthusiast.
In your 90 minute tour of the caves by professional guide (with all safety equipment provided) you will have the chance to witness an underground river and stunning waterfall, come face to face with some of the smaller inhabitants of the caves such as monochrome frogs, fish, spiders and crickets.
Cold dark spaces are a favourite daytime hangout of bats and the caves are home to thousands of them. They are all around you, just look up with your headlamp in the bigger chambers and you will see them flying around using their echo-location.
These being limestone caves, you will also see massive structures of stalagmites and stalactites that have taken thousands of years to grow to the size they are today. You may even be asked to switch off your headlamp and sit in silence for a minute or two. Sitting in a puddle of water in the pitch black in absolute silence for 90 seconds was one of the more surreal experiences of all the wonderful things I did while in Costa Rica.
The caves are not your usual type of tour and I am so glad I did them. The memories will stay with me for a lifetime. And it’s not everyday your nose starts twitching at the smell of the bat guano you’re walking in! Unforgettable.
Top of this list is a morning (or afternoon, you can choose) of throwing yourself down waterfalls. You need to be moderately fit, this is an active pursuit after all. Kids are welcome and no previous experience is necessary. By the end you will be repelling like a pro!
Canyoning is the art of tracing a rivers path, usually in the river so this isn’t one for those with a fear of water. Make no mistake; you will get drenched doing this so wear lightweight clothing that you won’t mind getting both wet and filthy. Don’t wear a white t-shirt like I did!
The tour starts with an obligatory safety briefing about using ropes to repel safely down and an introduction to your safety gear and guides.
Introduction over, the first waterfall is just an earshot away. This being the first of four waterfalls you will eventually repel over the next 3 hours is the training one. ‘Trial by fire’ is a saying and it’s applicable here because the first waterfall is a slightly gut wrenching 59 ft (18m) high.
Strapping yourself onto the rope from that platform high up for your first drop is a truly exhilarating and gut wrenching emotion. Walking down the waterfall without getting snagged on your rope is harder than it looks but once at the bottom a feeling of achievement is overpowering and you want more.
Not one to disappoint, 3 more waterfalls await, each progressively higher than the last, culminating in a scream inducing 200ft high zip line descent over the final falls. You used to be able walk down these but erosion by water over the years has now made this too dangerous but the zip line is a fitting finale to this most adventurous of activities.
No matter what your personal taste for adventure is you will find plenty to do in La Fortuna and around Arenal. Your only problem will be trying to fit it all in.