Discovering Hiking in Arenal, Costa Rica

This month I’ve been on a bit of a travel binge (I know — how very unlike me!), but now I’m back home and ready to report. First on the agenda: United Airlines’ planes are kind of gross. I made the horrendous mistake of visiting the “lavatories” with my shoes off, and my feet may never feel clean ever again.  I recognize that common sense should have told me better, but I was mid-way through a five hour flight and obviously a bit discombobulated.

More importantly, this dirty-bathroomed plane was carrying me to Costa Rica for a week of adventure and rain sun with J.  We spread our 8 days across three popular Costa Rican destinations, so to ensure that I cover each in adequate detail, I’ll discuss each separately (so look out for future blog posts….I knowwww how exciting!).

Arenal Volcano -- far more impressive when not shrouded by clouds

Arenal Volcano — far more impressive when not shrouded by clouds

Our three destinations were Arenal Volcano/La Fortuna, Monteverde, and Manuel Antonio National Park. Costa Rica is a great baby step into Central and South America. It’s super easy to travel around and almost everyone speaks English. Basically, the infrastructure for tourism is very advanced.  The downside of the built up tourism industry in Costa Rica is that it’s not as cheap as you might expect.  That being said, it still such an amazing place to visit.

The first stop on our Costa Rican tour was Arenal, the largest volcano in Costa Rica.  This mountainous area is about a two and a half hour drive from San Jose (side note: the drive is foggy all the time–do not attempt at night). We stayed at the highest recommended hotel in the area: the Tabacon Hotel and Hot Springs Spa. The hotel is rated as 5-star and it is really nice, BUT the major selling point of this hotel is their phenomenal natural hot springs spa.

Tabacon Natural Hot Springs

Tabacon Natural Hot Springs

J navigating the Tabacon Hot Springs

J navigating the Tabacon Hot Springs

In the hot springs at Tabacon

In the hot springs at Tabacon

You don’t have to stay at the Tabacon to visit the hot springs, but it’s $185 for a day pass, so it’s worth just paying to stay at the hotel to gain access. Plus, hotel guests get added perks like access to Shangra-La, a bar at the top of the Hot Springs area.

Enjoying some wine at Shangra-La, Tabacon

Enjoying some wine at Shangra-La, Tabacon

Beyond the hot springs, there are so many things to do in the jungle surrounding the Arenal volcano. Our first day, we decided to set off on our own little hike.  Just near Tabacon is a great little hiking trail called El Silencio (about a five minute drive past the hot springs at Tabacon, there’s a sign on the left).  You can walk through on your own up to the look out point for the volcano.  We saw lots of monkeys and ants (yep…) on our hike without a guide.

Beginning our hike to the Arenal lookout-point

Beginning our hike to the Arenal lookout-point

Big tree along the trail

Big tree along the trail

Jungle Selfie along our hike

Jungle Selfie along our hike

Made it to the top! Only for the volcano to be shrouded by clouds as usual

Made it to the top! Only for the volcano to be shrouded by clouds as usual

Despite not really being able to see the volcano itself because of all the clouds, it’s still a great hike and perfect introduction to the Costa Rican jungle.

In Arenal National Park, I also recommend hitting up the Hanging Bridges. It’s another hike (I know, I’m not a hiker either, but c’est la vie in Costa Rica!), but this time you go over these really cool suspended bridges over and through the trees.  We saw so many different animals (including some I still have not been able to identify–raccoon squirrel ferret?). Everyone recommends getting a guide, but we did ok on our own.  You just have to take the trails slowly, and keep a look out.

Hanging Bridges

Hanging Bridges

J on the hanging bridges

J on the hanging bridges

Monkey in the trees

Monkey in the trees

Up in the trees on a hanging bridge

Up in the trees on a hanging bridge

Last but not least, I must recommend Desafio Canyoneering. Desafio is a very established nationwide adventure company in Costa Rica, so we used them.  Basically it involves a bit of hiking, a bit of rappelling, and a bit of walking through the canyons and streams.  You do get very very wet, which I (and my mascara) did not expect, so my pictures were not very flattering.  The guides and the experience were excellent, though. Perfect excursion for our adventure in Costa Rica.

Before the first rappel while canyoneering

Before the first rappel while canyoneering

Rappelling down a waterfall

Rappelling down a waterfall

After getting very very wet in the stream canyoneering

After getting very very wet in the stream canyoneering

We only stayed in the Arenal for four days, but we packed a lot in.  It’s definitely an adventure based place to visit with lots of outdoor activities, but Tabacon also has a phenomenal spa for a more relaxed day, if that’s what you’re looking for. I was definitely ready for a bit of down time as we headed out to our next stop, Monteverde. Luckily, that’s just what we got when we finally got there — there were just a lot of bumps along the way….stay tuned.

 

Keep traveling!

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