Since my 5-day itinerary in Costa Rica included sites north of San José, I thought it’d be a good idea to go volcano hunting.
It’s funny. Many people travel to Costa Rica for the notoriously glorious beaches. Not me. I’m rarely fascinated by beaches. Don’t get me wrong, there are few things more relaxing than burying your feet in the sand listening to the waves and diving into a solid piece of literature. But to go out of my way when traveling to get to beaches? Nah….
Coming from South Florida, I’m spoiled with living 10 minutes away from gorgeous beaches that I can visit year-long. What I don’t have access to; however, is mountains. And volcanoes are even more rare.
So, naturally this was on my list instead.
Getting to La Fortuna from Santa Elena
I had started my Costa Rica exploration in the Monteverde cloud forest and decided to keep venturing to La Fortuna, the town closest to Volcano Arenal. As I was traveling by local transportation there are only two ways to get to Arenal from the town of Santa Elena (closest to the cloud forest). Either you take a bus around Laguna Arenal which can take up to 12 hours. Or, you take the option of catching a jeep, then boat across the lake, then onto another jeep to get to the city. As the latter was much quicker yet still affordable, this is what I opted for.
Some things I learned about this journey:
- The jeep-boat-jeep option does not include a Jeep at all. Instead, you’re picked up in an old six-seat minibus instead.
- Bring snacks. As per Latin American standards the bus will stop at a small shop for lunch, but the options are very limited. Being a vegetarian on the go, I made sure to stock up on plenty of fruits and nuts beforehand.
- The driver will drop you off at your hostel in La Fortuna (to have time to make Cerro Chato, ask to be dropped off at the nearest hostel by this site and leave your luggage there)
- Arenal is not always possible to climb. Check ahead of time to make sure weather allows for it.
- There are thermal pools in La Fortuna: As an avid hiker with limited time, I decided to explore Cherro Chato instead, which is supposed to (in good weather) give you views of both Volcán Arenal and a crater lake at the top.
La Fortuna is a bit livelier than Santa Elena (sure, that’s not saying much). But what that also means is that there is an even greater number of tourists. One of the main attractions of the town is the hot springs. As time didn’t allow for it and I was getting somewhat fed up by the overwhelming tourist-to-locals ratio, I was not too interested in checking these out.
The hike to Cerro Chato
The hike up is a steep climb, you’ll definitely feel the aftermath of it in your calves the next day. The total hike is supposed to take about five hours but I managed to do it in two (granted, having long legs always helps). Being in the midst of the cloud forest with only a few other hikers on the trail, there is a constant mist all around, which makes it tricky to take photos. The top is supposed to give you a great view of the crater lake but it was too foggy for me to see it. On the plus side though, I was able to find plenty of vines that proved perfect for some Tarzan-swing fun.
The trip back to San Jose/ Alajuela
To get back to San Jose/ Alajuela you catch a bus to Ciudad Quesada, the last one leaves around 17:00 from La Fortuna. Well in Ciudad Quesada you will likely just hang around the terminal as there little to do there, before hopping on the bus toward San Jose/ Alajuela.
“Cool story, bro. But how much did it cost?”
Jeep-boat-jeep transport: $25
Cerro Chato entrance: $10 (no student discount unfortunately)
Hostel – Cerro Chato taxi: $2 ($1 per person)
Cerro Chato- city center taxi: $4 ($2 per person)
Arenal – Ciudad Quesada bus: $3
Ciudad Quesada – Alajuela bus: $4
Alajuela Cala Inn Hotel (breakfast included but no kitchen, one night): $12
Grand total: $62