LA FORTUNA: A World Away
My next mission was to connect with nature and the mountains so the obvious choice was head NW towards La Fortuna. Undeterred from my experience in the city I made way towards Terminal 7-10 and booked the first bus ticket out of there! Don’t bother with taking a shuttle or arranging private accommodations because it’s a DIRECT bus to La Fortuna. The best part is that it only cost $5-7 for a one way ticket! Sit back and enjoy the scenery as your bus chucks through windy mountain tops and big city buildings disappear in the background.
The higher into the mountains you go you’ll start noticing how much the visibility decreases dramatically. It can go from clear blue skies near the base all the way to feeling like you’re driving through clouds in one mountain pass.
Never have I been to a place as heavenly green and lush than La Fortuna. From the rain forests, to the active Arenal volcano, and all the way to their epic waterfalls green ruled it all. If nature is your thing then this is THE place for you! Promptly after putting my bags down at Arenal Container Hostel I made like a bee and buzzed right out of there to explore the city.
The town itself is quite small and you can briskly walk from one end to the other in about 15 minutes. Along the way you can find your typical souvenir shops and a plethora of sodas (mom and pop food joints) serving all types of local favorites. The first thing I noticed was that the people here were certainly happier with smiles chinning ear to ear.
I zoomed past all of without batting an eye to hit up the Bogarin Wildlife Trail in my search for a sloth in the wild! To gain access to the trail you’ll have to fork over $10, not entirely crazy, but worth the walk amongst the trees. I am sad to report that on this occasion I could not locate the guest of honor. Tour guides are on the premise if you choose to enlist their eyes in your search for wildlife. Hindsight this would’ve probably been worth it, but just getting lost by yourself can sometime present its own adventures. Better luck next time.
On my short list of must-do when I came to Costa Rica was to hike the Rio Celeste trail. My hostel made it easy as pie to sign up through them and took care of all the arrangements. The next morning my ride was waiting for me before my coffee had even cooled. The drive was only about an hour each way so plan for at least a half day trip.
Before setting off our tour guide asked each of us what animals we wanted to see. In utter defeat I quickly thought about the sloth that eluded me a day earlier. I shouted “three-toe sloth!” before the poor girl sitting in front of me was even finished. They informed us if they spot any of our requests they would pull over immediately and immediately they did! The first stop made we saw a few toucans with their colorful beaks in full display flying tree to tree. On another further up the road I finally got to see the three toe sloth I have been searching for. He was a ways away plopped right on the top of a tree but with the help of binoculars he came right into view. I can now add a tick mark next to that checkbox!
Once we stepped foot into the national park I was really taken aback but just HOW MUCH GREEN I was engulfed in. It really made me appreciate nature in a way I haven’t before. Maybe the act of actually BEING in a rain forest triggered the emotion. The hike itself, about five miles, was very easy but the humidity in the air could be troublesome for few. Our guide brought us to a section of the national park where you can see the point in which the two rivers converged. But they remained separated due to the chemicals one of the flow received from the volcano. Do note the strong flatulence-like smell in the air is not due to people breaking wind but all the sulfur that emanates from the river. Along the way to see the infamous blue waterfall our guide pointed out a few of the many animals that lived in the park. Of course some of them had to be poisonous snakes that we run into!
You wouldn’t have guessed it, but just as we were closing in on the fall the heavens opened up! Thunderous torrential rain started to flood the trail in the blink of an eye. Go figure we were in a rain forest after all. I wished I had brought a poncho instead of a dinky umbrella, but it’s all part of the experience. The rain here is more of a warm summer rain than that of a cool spring or fall one so being caught out wasn’t a total wash. Besides how often will you get to be in a rain forest while it rains again?
Since the weather was overcast and the rain was not letting up our guide informed us that the color of the water wouldn’t be the teal or blue as expected. The reasoning for this was due entirely to the weather conditions so plan your trip on clearer days. The sun plays a big role in reflecting the water in such a way that our eyes pick up those distinct hues from the chemicals in the water. Regardless, that didn’t bother me much since I was in awe as I made my way down the steps towards the base of the waterfall. Drenched from head to toe, I could hardly keep my eyes set in one spot for too long. I took it all in, the majestic sight, sounds of the water crashing against the rocks, and the warm mist that sprayed hitting my cheeks.
Before long it time to head back down the trail that has turned into a running river to the caravan. Nothing says a good hike done then a celebratory adult beverage in the nice warm setting of a heated car seat. On these tours not only are the guides knowledgeable, but they also go out of their way to provide you with a lasting experience. I would highly add this hike to your list of must-do when you visit this green paradise.
If you wanted to visit a waterfall in the La Fortuna area then you should check out the aptly named La Fortuna Waterfall. This particular body of water was only about four kilometers away from my hostel tucked away in the mountain side. I grabbed one of the bikes on the premise and started to make my way. I want to note that Fernanda, whom works at the hostel, asked me if I had done this before (in my mind I thought ‘ride a bicycle?’) and said yes nonchalantly. Later I found out she what she really meant by if I had done this before – ride four kilometers UP the side of a mountain. No Fernanda this I have not! I will never scoff at her again! After a grueling 40 minute bike ride soaked in my own sweat I made it to the top to be one of the FEW people there. If you’re physically fit I would suggest the bike ride all day every day, but if you’re not then take a quick taxi!
After purchasing my entrance ticket I walked towards this out stretched deck and was greeted with a VERY BREATHTAKING view. I was so enchanted by what I was seeing and hearing I couldn’t take it all in fast enough. My eyes were moving rapid fire in my skull as if they were in deep REM sleep. Scanning up, down, left, right, and every possible angle one can imagine just to soak it all in. This moment reiterated all the reasons why I am traveling solo. To think if I hadn’t just said ‘fuck it’ and go alone I might not have been able to see what was in front of me. The feeling of having a place nearly all to yourself is quite amazing when you beat the rush there. That bike ride proving itself worth it in the end.
The girl at the ticket counter said getting to the base of the waterfall was only a few hundred steps. I had no choice but to take her word, the last time I didn’t believe someone here I was riding a mountain bike up an actual freaking mountain. The path was very easy to traverse with all its man made steps so getting to the very bottom only took a hop and a skip. You can swim at this park, but not where the actual waterfall is so pack a pair of trunks and a towel if you fancy a morning dip.
The closer you got the louder the thundering of the water crashing against the rocks became, it was nature’s music. I turned the corner and there it was in front of me: La Fortuna Waterfall. There was only another couple there, but other than that a barren wasteland when it comes to tourists, just my type. A few videos and photos taken later I just stood there as I did the day before at Rio Celeste, just enjoying. The moment was to be cherished by simply looking and appreciating.
I will note that after ten or fifteen minutes flocks of families came through. Each member of the clan wanting that perfect photo in front of the waterfall. It seemed that they spent the entirety of their stay doing just that; snapping photos with their backs to it, never once really looking at it. I won’t knock people on how they choose to enjoy their time in the presence of such sights, but I really felt that being there, really being there, was lost among some of them. I took it as my cue to leave.
To kill some time I thought it best to get in touch with my hoon side so I booked an afternoon on some ATVs. On time seems to be the thing down here in Costa Rica because as soon as I dropped off the mountain bike there was a car waiting to bring me to my ATV outing. Now that is some on time transit!
The terrain in the Arenal location was perfect for this kind of outdoor activity as 25 others and myself thought same. A quick breakdown of the machines do and don’t we mounted our steeds. Not soon after the convoy set off were we asked to stop immediately. I look back and kid you not as I saw an ATV and its riders in the mud banks! I don’t even think they took off to be honest!
Word of advice here is to wear something you don’t mind throwing away because if you want to have real good time then you’re going to get a fair share of mud thrown on you. I cant begin to tell you how much fun I had just gassing up and down the hills, evading all the cows as if they’re land mines, dodging deep mud pits and avoiding all splashes of brown water. Everyone else that afternoon came out unscathed by the mixture of dirt, mud and ahh cow poo aside from me. I walked away look like a petri dish by the end of it all. From the smile that adorned my face ear to ear you could tell I didn’t care about getting a little dirty.
Back at my hostel and relieved of my dirty clothes and all the mud in my ears I thought it best to lounge about in the hammock. The last few days after leaving the city have been a god send of relaxation, exploration and self reflection. I swayed around as I listened to the rain fall on the rooftop of the shipping containers and encountered this epiphany; IT’S OK TO NOT HAVE ANYTHING TO DO.
“In past situations I would have felt really guilty about not utilizing my time on vacation to fill my itinerary to the brim with activities. But here, deep int the rain forest of a Latin country, I kept swaying without a care. Laying on a hammock outside my hostel room on this warm spring evening with a breeze carrying the sweet scent of barbecued meat from next door past my nostrils while watching Netflix. I always thought you needed to do stuff on vacation or adventure. I would always feel guilty if I didn’t take full advantage of being at a certain place. But I didn’t feel guilty here, not one bit.”
Something clicked on my last night in La Fortuna that made me realllllly slow things down. I was speaking to some of my fellow travelers, even grabbing dinner and drinks with a few of them, making new friends all the while. This second stop really made a big difference in how I viewed my first endeavor into solo traveling. I was really enjoying myself, the hostel mates and everything happening around me. The mood was uplifted and spirits sky high had me looking forward to closing out this trip.