James and I landed at San José airport in the middle of a torrential rain storm, greeted by a swarm of taxi drivers only too willing to take us to our next destination. After being suspended between time zones for 11 hours, my body surprised to find it was only 5pm instead of 12am, I was feeling dazed and confused so we had to pull aside to figure out exactly what we were meant to do next.
Before long we were sailing down a motorway towards our hotel for the night, watching 4X4s charge through the rivers of water running down the street. The taxi driver confirmed it was the start of the rainy season and I had fully prepared for this, but I still had those early holiday butterflies. Will it be as amazing as I’d imagined? Will it be warm and sunny when we eventually reach the beach? Will I see a sloth or a monkey?
As the day quickly dipped into the night, we tried to stay awake for as long as possible by distracting ourselves with food and a few local beers, before eventually giving in and slipping into sleep.
Jet lag is a great natural alarm clock and the next day we were bright-eyed and eager to hop into the shuttle that was taking us to the mountains. The next three hours were spent with my face glued to the glass, as if I was heading to Jurrasic Park and searching for the first sight of a dinosaur. (A thought that I couldn’t shake off after James mentioned the book was set in Costa Rica.)
Arenal was the first stop of our holiday. It’s well-known for the spectacular active volcano that looks over the town of La Fortuna. The volcano has been asleep since 2010, so sadly there’s no lava to be seen but when you can see it in its full glory, it’s epic. It’s also surrounded by lush rainforests, natural hot springs and abundant wildlife, so there’s loads of other things to see and do there.
We were keen to start exploring as soon as we arrived, so we ditched our backpacks at the hotel.
And got in a taxi to La Fortuna Waterfalls.
We could hear the thundering water before we could fully see it.
500 steps down and we were right in front of it.
There’s something epic and jaw dropping about the power of nature that you can quickly grasp from a waterfall. There’s also something strangely soothing about it too.
You can usually swim quite near to the waterfall but due to the recent rainfall it was too dangerous. So we swam just around the corner, which was equally stunning.
The upside of travelling to Costa Rica in the low season is that there are far fewer people around well-known spots like this. We took plenty of photos and then made the epic climb back up before returning to our hotel for the night.
Damp from throwing our clothes over our swimwear, we were eager to get back and jump into our hotel’s hot springs. It wasn’t natural like the ones you can pay to visit, but I’m sure it had the same effect. It was the best place to go at the end of the day, so so relaxing and was fun to get into when the heavens opened.
The next day was our main activity in Arenal and I woke feeling anxious, hopping down waterfalls on a rope (officially called rappelling) and racing around river rapids isn’t something I do often.
The feeling held right up until I got distracted by a family of monkeys swinging in the distance, then returned as I perched on the edge of a 90ft waterfall.
And as I ziplined out in front of 60ft waterfall to be dropped to the ground.
I was surprised to decide that rappelling was epic. It gets the adrenaline pumping and the scenery is stunning. You don’t have to be super fit to do it, but you have to be OK with heights.
After five drops of varying heights, we were taken straight to the Balsa River for our next activity, white water rafting.
I started to feel more confident at this point. In fact, I remember being more anxious at Lee Valley than I was in the middle of Costa Rica! The lush surroundings probably helped.
We didn’t buy the official photos so these are just some snapshots using an old waterproof camera as we gently rolled down the river before rushing through rapids. It was during one of these parts that we had our first sloth sighting!
I quickly realised they were going to be pretty hard to see up close, given how high they like to climb and how long they like to sleep up there (17 hours apparently!) But that was one of the great things about these activities, lots of adrenaline but you’re right in the middle of nature too.
The tour guide was fun and friendly, he also made me feel confident that he knew what he was doing (much more so than in Montenegro!) and kept our spirits high with frequent “PURA VIDA!” high fives with our paddles. He even got the truck on the way back from the river to stop so I could get this clear shot of the volcano (it had been covered by clouds up until this point).
After the rafting we were taken to a local farm for lunch, where we were served a Costa Rican dish that is known as a ‘casado’.
Slow cooked and mildly spiced meat with rice, refried beans, potatoes and salad. We had this a couple of times in Costa Rica but this one was my favourite. They also showed us how they made coffee in Costa Rica and I had my first fresh cup, which I was very excited about.
(There is so much more of this to come! 🙂 )
Our last day was a bit more relaxed with a gentle volcano hike through the rainforest.
The sheer size of it is immense. As the guide talked about the difference between rainforests and jungles I was taken back to geography lessons and I couldn’t quite believe I was in the middle of it all.
I thought we might see a bit more wildlife on the hike but I’m guessing the nearby volcano has something to do with that! We did save a tiny turtle though!
We also saw a few different birds (for which Costa Rica is well-known), before getting a pretty great view of Costa Rica’s largest lake, aptly named Lake Arenal.
And a cloudy view of the volcano.
But on our final morning, I walked out of our hotel room to sit in the rocking chair on our porch and get stuck into my book. I couldn’t believe that after days of cloudy views I finally got this epic view.
Then we packed up our belongings and got ready for the next part of our stay in the mountains. Monteverde!
_ _ _ _
How we got there: British Airways now do a direct flight to Costa Rica starting at £550 return. Interbus was a great and affordable way to travel around Costa Rica. They had small buses so few stops, collected us from our hotels, arrived on time, and stopped for refreshments.
Where we stayed: Park Inn by Radisson, exactly what you’d expect from a hotel chain, decent room for an overnight stay in the capital but a bit far out of town to explore the city. Volcano Lodge & Springs. I was really impressed by this hotel for just £50pn (in low season). The price included a pretty good buffet breakfast, great view of the Arenal Volcano and the hot springs were lovely. The only downside was that it was a 10 minute drive out of town so we had to get a taxi to go out for dinner.
Where we ate: Soda Viquez, good local food and pretty cheap. Our hotel, tasty food from a mid-priced menu with a bit of a random mix of Costa Rican and other cuisines.
Activities: La Fortuna Waterfall, rappelling & white water rafting, Arenal Volcano National Park hike (organised through our hotel, but I think you can also do it on your own with a fee at the National Park entrance).
Have you been to Costa Rica or done any exciting activities on holiday?
Look out more Costa Rican adventures over the next few weeks, mixed in with a few London ones of course 🙂