A Round Trip In The Highlands of Costa Rica

In Costa Rica, Travel Guides
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From Heredia to Lake Arenal and Back

While living in Heredia and attending Spanish lessons I met Andreas from Switzerland and Selena from Germany. One day we decided to travel together during ‚Semana Santa‘ , which the week around Easter is called in Costa Rica. We rented a car with 4WD (what is really important on these roads) and packed our things. On Wednesday at 10 am we were waiting at the church of Santa Barbara for our car. At 10:30 we could start our journey. We planned to drive up to the Arenal Volcano and Arenal Lake area.

Lake Arenal

On The Way – From Heredia To La Fortuna

First stop is Sarchí, a town where the famos oxcarts are produced. Sarchí is Costa Rica’s artistic center, you will find colorful oxcarts and furniture in almost every shop. There is also a very beautiful church to admire and a park to sit down and relax. In front of the church the biggest oxcart of the world is waiting for you to take a picture. It’s on Guiness World Records since 2002 and UNESCO world heritage since 2005. Everything in town is decorated with painted ornaments, even park benches or trashcans. This gives the area an artistic flair. After lunch we visited a nice souvenir shop near the park where we bought some tiny handmade oxcarts from wood.

Oxcart Trashcan

Next stop is Zarcero, where the garden artist Evangelisto Blanco designed animals and faces out of the woods 45 years ago. I recommend a walk through the paths of cypresses! Located 1,736 meters above the sea level, Zarcero provides a welcome fresh breeze after an exhausting drive of another hour. It was a bit difficult to find the way without any signs on the road, I guess we’ve seen only 2 or 3 on the whole trip. But every now and then we stopped to ask someone and finally we arrived at our destination La Fortuna. The town is home of 16,000 people and provides everything you need as a tourist: banks, coffeeshops, cyber cafes, gas stations, supermarkets, restaurants, bars and well-priced hotels.

Church of Zarcero Garden Art Path of Cypress

Visiting The Waterfall Of La Fortuna

Our cabin in La Fortuna is located in the middle of nowhere. First we stepped inside, we were a little bit in shock, as there was only one dim light in the kitchen, a wooden dining table and three mats on the floor that served as a bed. We looked at each other and no one said a word. But it turned out to be not as bad as we first thought. We went for a walk through town and bought some food at the local supermarket. Before going to ‚bed‘ I took a shower, it was so cold that I was wide awake again. I could barely sleep at night because of the mosquitoes and the cock that started yelling at 4 am. During breakfast, which consisted of muesli with fruits, we made plans for the day. We agreed on going to the Catarata La Fortuna, a waterfall near the city. There was so much traffic, but finally we made it through. We had to take more than 200 stairs down to the waterfall that rushed 70 meters into the depth. But it was totally worth the effort as we could see the powerful water jet and take a relaxing bath in the natural pool. It felt so good to jump into the cold and fresh water after this exhausting hike in the sun. At noon we ate a delicious ‚Casado‘, a typical costa-rican plate with rice, beans, vegetables, salad and fish.

Catarata La Fortuna

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Next Stop: Arenal Volcano

Then we drove to the Arenal 1968 National Park, a private reserve with two hiking trails up the volcano. There are two trails that lead into different directions, the ‚Trail Forest‘ with a length of 4.7 kilometers and the ‘Trail Lava Flow’ with 4 kilometers. We went for the longer one and passed a deep jungle before climbing up the cliff. After about 10 minutes of walking it started to rain, no, to pour water from the sky. Suddenly we were surrounded by dark clouds, thunder and a cool breeze. We waited under a shelter until it passed, and then the sun shined bright again as if there never was a storm. We wandered over rough tree roots and bumpy volcano stones as we made our way up to the peak of Arenal Volcano. The Arenal Volcano measures 1,670 meters at its peak and is among the most active volcanoes in the world. It last erupted in 1968, as the name of the park already implies. Now ‚Our Majesty‘ – how it is called lovingly by the locals – is in an passive stage, which does not mean it is inactive. Smothers and smoke still blow out from time to time.

Arenal  Lava Field Hiking Trails

We saw loads of ants and birds during our hike over old lava flows, but sadly no other (bigger) animals. The climb was strenuous and sweaty, but the view from the top was spectacular. We could see miles over the landscape and the lake. The sun began to set and gave everything a gorgeous warm light. We sat on the rocks on top of the volcano for an hour and absorbed the view and the silence. Then we started our descent and came down to a small lagoon, called ‚Duck Lake‘, which was dunked into a shiny and luminous light.

Duck Lake

Relaxing In The Hot Springs

To allow our tired body some rest, we headed out to the hots springs – ‚Balnearios’ -originated from the folding of the volcanic rocks. There is for example the ‚Balneario Tabacón’, which belongs to the luxury hotel ‚Tabacón’, the ‚Baldi Hot Springs’ or the ‚Eco Termales’ to visit. We went to the ‚Termalitas del Arenal‘, where people still were packed like sardines. Because of the holidays everyone was traveling and enjoying his or her free time. But we found a little space in one of the pools and gloried in the warm water, as it started to become cold outside. The volcano supplies the pools with hot water (about 45 degrees Celsius) and healthy minerals, the spring brings always fresh water. Prices vary from 60$ (Tabacón) to 10$ (Eco Termales, Termalitas).

After this long and eventful day we were glad to fall onto our mattress-bed.

The Cabin in the Woods Sleeping Room

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