8 Days of Pura Vida (Part 1)

Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.

Ibn Battuta

In my earlier post, Pura Vida, I talked about general travel information from my trip to Costa Rica. In my next couple of posts, I will break down the trip by location and talk about what I did, what I saw, what I ate, and what my favorite parts were. I will give some advice on what I would have done differently, what I’m glad I brought with me, and what I wish I had time to do. I’ve already plugged mytanfeet.com but I will say it again: they are seriously the go to site for everything and anything Costa Rica. They live there, and I was a tourist for eight days, so I highly recommend using their site to plan your trip. I’m usually good for the “what not to do” and the amusing shit. They, however, give you valuable information there and here you get my craziness.

I spent a total of eight days in Costa Rica, and as I said in part one, planning isn’t my strong suit. The ‘what and when’ was a day by day, often minute by minute decision. Day one consisted primarily of the flight into San Jose, and the drive to La Fortuna. The drive was scenic, all paved (a rarity in the country), and pretty easy compared to the drives I did the rest of the week. I had chosen an Airbnb just outside of town, in a local neighborhood. As with every place I stayed, it was spotless and equipped perfectly for what I needed. There was a shared pool where I stayed that was a little chilly, but felt great after hiking in the heat. 

My first view of Arenal Volcano as I drove into La Fortuna

Here are some of the spots I hit in La Fortuna, and a little about each: 

Downtown. I recommend taking the time to walk around a bit, meet some shop owners, and wander the garden at the center of town. Everyone was friendly, and the locals made good suggestions. Soda Restaurante Tico Organic made a delicious breakfast that had fruit so fresh that my melon hating self was eating and enjoying fresh watermelon.

La Fortuna WaterFall. This is a must! Save the money and do this without a guide. I went alone, and was perfectly content and do not feel that I missed out on anything. The water was chilly, but it is one of the few waterfalls where you can get in the water near the base and swim. Follow the water down and around the corner for a more relaxing soak, and to watch the fish swim. I took water and a light lunch, which I recommend doing. You can enjoy the scenery while you eat, but be prepared for the shit ton of steps you have to climb back up when you are ready to leave. 

Sloth’s Territory. If you know me, you know how obsessed I am with sloths. A few miles outside of La Fortuna is a small, family owned and operated farm. The owner’s son, Jason, also happened to be my Airbnb host. The family will hike with you around their farm and help you spot the wildlife that lives there. My guide was a wealth of information about Costa Rican wildlife and made some great recommendations about where to go and what to do. We spotted several two and three toed sloths, a Rufous motmot, a poisonous blue jean dart frog, a large and a creepy snake (“no worries” he said, “she’s a nice snake”…sorry but there is no such thing as a nice snake in my book). We also saw numerous ‘jesus christ’ lizards. You know… the cute little guys that stand up and run across the water on two legs and make you go JESUS CHRIST. At the end of the hike they served cold water and a big plate of fresh fruit on their patio.

Restaurante La Rana Roja (Red Frog). This was an easy walk from where I stayed. I went with whole tilapia that was recommended by the staff and, just like the atmosphere and the service, the food was great. This is where staying outside of downtown pays…you get to experience the local places.

Red Frog Coffee Roaster. Okay sit down, this is going to take a while! I can’t say enough about this place. The typical breakfast is a must while you are in Costa Rica: scrambled eggs, tortillas, rice and beans, a wedge of some delicious cheese, fresh tomatoes, pico, and fried plantains. At Red Frog, their typical breakfast is the best, and they serve it with a side of “tico sauce”. I don’t know what the sauce is, but it was delicious enough that I probably would have bathed in it. That wasn’t even the best part though. If you refer back to my part one post, you’ll hear about my history with coffee. This is the place that fully made me flip. While I was eating, I watched as one of the staff there roasted coffee beans, ground fresh beans, and made each cup of coffee fresh, using a pour over. I was initially concerned about the lack of flavored creamer, but guys, this was the BEST cup of coffee I have ever had!! They sell their coffee beans there in the restaurant, and the gentleman there was very knowledgeable and helpful in selecting the roast he thought I would like most. You can be sure that I have several bags in my kitchen currently, along with a brand new pour over system. This place is an absolute must when you go to La Fortuna! 

Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park. There are a ton of guided things you can do in Costa Rica, but having a guide at all of them is cost prohibitive. While I’m normally pretty independent in my adventures, this is one place that I recommend booking a guided tour. The place is large and the rainforest growth is thick, so without trained eyes and ears (and an entire network of guides that communicate through WhatsApp about where things are currently being spotted), you will probably miss most of what you are there to see. Our guide, Julio, was entertaining and incredibly knowledgeable. He was the one who taught me my most important lesson in Costa Rica: don’t touch…anything!! Seriously, friends, just keep your arms and feet inside the vehicle (your personal space bubble) at ALL times. Grabbing trees, plants, leaves, and even those nice concrete handrails that look like wood, in Costa Rica can have consequences way worse than what your mother ever threatened. We saw first hand how tarantulas and snakes can be hanging out inside a large flower, on the other side of a handrail, or on a tree at hand level, and you don’t even see them. They are there looking for bugs, frogs, etc, but if you grab them, they aren’t going to be pleased. One of these snakes was an eyelash pit viper. It wasn’t much larger than a pencil, but their bite can cause massive tissue necrosis, leading to loss of a limb, and even death. Let me say it again for those who weren’t paying attention the first time: don’t touch or grab anything!! I’m a giant sissy about snakes and I really like all of my limbs, so I took this advice seriously during my entire trip. 

During the walk at the hanging bridge park, we saw a variety of birds, bats, dart frogs, a cool, yellow snail, several eyelash vipers, giant butterflies, a pair of owls, a couple of sloths, and a male howler monkey. Julio did a great impression of female and baby howler monkeys, as well as a male howler impression. This would prove valuable later in my trip, preventing me from all out panic in the middle of the night when I heard one. Having a guided hike early in your trip will help you to know where to look for critters on your future hikes, and they do a great job at Mistico. The hanging bridges are pretty and the views are nice all over the park. The cost of the tour was completely worth it, and one I would recommend. 

Arenal Volcano National Park.  After the guided tour at Mistico, I felt comfortable doing the volcano park unguided. Entry into the park wasn’t that expensive, and there was lots of parking available. It rained a good part of that hike, so climbing up the lava flow trail was a little slippery, but take the time to hike this leg of the trail. It was by far my favorite hike! The view of Arenal Volcano and Lake Arenal, even if it was largely covered in fog, is completely worth some slipping, sliding, ankle twisting, and climbing up and across the lava rock. I hiked the rest of the trail at about the same pace as a few other people, and we pointed out whatever we saw to the rest. We spotted two different types of toucans, various other birds, and a ton of monkeys. At one point, the monkeys started to surround us and come lower into the trees near us. I joked that they were surrounding us to stage an attack, which brought a round of nervous laughter, which followed with, “oh shit, that’s not funny, they might be,” looks. We decided not to chance it and moved on shortly after. Make sure to take the loop to see the Kapok tree while you are there. 

I wrapped up La Fortuna after hours of hiking in the volcano park, and set out for Bijagua. My intent was to drive there, and hit the Rio Celeste Waterfall trails first thing in the morning. If you’ve read how this blog started, you already know that it was a lovely restaurant, Moya’s Place, in Nuevo Arenal, and their delicious sangria that made changeofnoplans official! Stay tuned (and follow) for my next post to hear more about my time in Costa Rica. If you have specific questions, please don’t hesitate to ask. I am happy to share information to give you as amazing an experience in Costa Rica as I had.

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