I decided to head to La Fortuna, which is about 3 hours by bus from Alajuela (the San Jose airport). Costa Rican time is definitely different from the states. My bus was scheduled to arrive at 9:10am and it didn't show up until closer to 10:00am. Traveling on the bus was not the most comfortable since the bus was packed and I had my 45L backpack sitting on my lap the whole time. All of the locals were very helpful and kind trying to help me out and letting me know where I needed to get off and how far away we were still. The drive was beautiful, it was cool driving through all of the smaller towns and just seeing so many smaller farms with big gardens and lots of cows wandering around the hillsides.
La Fortuna is pretty popular for their spas and hot springs, but they'll all fairly pricey. To save a little money, my first night in La Fortuna I went to this free hot springs with two awesome girls I met at my hostel. We took a taxi there around 6:30pm (which by the way is pretty much night time since we are around the equator), once the taxi driver dropped us off we had to walk down this random road and we were kinda confused at first but we finally saw some lights flickering in the distance. It was a really unique experience. There was an upper area that was hotter water, and mostly occupied by locals. We went down to the larger pool that was just below a short waterfall. If I ever went back to this place I would definitely go during the day. Luckily I had brought a headlamp but when we turned it off it was crazy how dark it got. There were so many sounds that you could hear and without light to see all of our other senses were even more attuned. It was pouring rain, the waterfall was rushing and all of the animals were making their own noises. It felt somewhat eerie at times but it was also really neat to be somewhat off the beaten path in an area that is so touristy.
The next day I did the touristy option and went whitewater rafting on the Balsa river. Woke up early in the morning to see if there was any availability and it ended up working out great! I was one of three women on the whole trip of about 20 people. To explain how much it rains here, when we went to pick up part of our group we got to this road where a good portion of it had been washed out and they had to get out of their car in order to meet us. Pretty crazy.
The river trip was great, though I was with a group of guys who decided to tell our guide that they wanted to go big. Which in turn meant that our guide then decided to take us through the biggest parts of the river. I swam once and some people swam as many as three times, but everyone ended up safe and sound. After the river trip we had a delicious lunch where we enjoyed true Costa Rican coffee made fresh in a unique coffee making contraption. That evening I did end up going to one of the hot spring resorts, Baldi, which was a mix between Disney Land, Vegas and a water park and in my opinion. There were slides, a sauna, swim up bars and all of the pools were lit with brightly colored lights. It was a pretty funny place, but I'm glad that I ended up going!
I think my favorite day in La Fortuna was my last. I went hiking with two wonderful sisters from the Netherlands. We decided to hike this trail called Cerro Chato which leads up to a lagoon in the crater of an inactive volcano. Arenal is the active volcano that is close to La Fortuna, and is right next to Cerro Chato – apparently at least. Since it has been so rainy the Arenal has not been seen for more than three weeks and that day was no exception. We ended up running into a tour and one of the people in the group was one of the guys that had been on the whitewater rafting trip the day before and we were able to tag along for free. It was pretty lucky that we did because the day would not have been nearly as wonderful if we had tried to do everything by ourselves. The trail ended up being very challenging and it became so steep in some parts that we were basically rock climbing, but with roots and dirt. It was great! Our guide, Eric, took us down to the lagoon and we were able to get into the water which was pretty neat. Eric told us lots of information about the flora and fauna that we were seeing, throughout the whole trip we saw a male white nosed coati, a few frogs and an ocelot! After hiking up and back down the volcano we walked over hanging bridges to reach a large waterfall and at the end of everything we were shuttled to the free hot springs that I had gone to the first night. I must say that I was a bit skeptical to go back, but it was MUCH better with a large group of people and many more lights. We were given mud masks and everyone relaxed in the bubbling water, soaking their tired hiking muscles. Eric even showed a few of us the small cave that is underneath the waterfall – it was really awesome. The total cost of our wonderful adventure only ended up being 5,000 colones (about $10) per person as opposed to the $60 sticker price.
I took a shuttle this morning from La Fortuna to Manuel Antonio and I am looking forward to seeing what will come next!
The lagoon at the top of the Cerro Chato hike