The Ultimate Central Costa Rica Road Trip

The Ultimate Central Costa Rica Road Trip
Day 3 – Arenal Volcano National Park

Despite sleeping outside in a tent, surprisingly, the bed was pretty comfy. But, we were still tired from traveling. We rubbed out our sleepy eyes and began to pack our backpacks for our adventure to The Arenal Volcano National Park. The national park was just 20 minutes outside of La Fortuna Costa Rica. We paid the $15 per person entry fee and ended up being the second car in the parking lot. Awesome! I love getting to places earlier to beat the crowds. The weather was a bit overcast and the sun wasn’t shining but we were glad we weren’t going to be sweating through our shirts. The hike began with a rather flat path surrounded by two story high grass, bamboo and brush. As the brush grew higher and higher and our surroundings become more and more dense, we were soon near the base of the Arenal Volcano.

Pro Tip: Bring proper hiking shoes or sturdy sneakers, a camera, binoculars and plenty of water. A light jacket like this one really helps when it starts to rain.

If you’re coming to Arenal Volcano National Park, don’t go off the path, just don’t. While it’ tempting to venture, you really dont know what kind of poisonous plants or venomous snakes you’ll run into. Like this guy!

Eyelash Pit Viper at The Arenal Volcano National Park
Eyelash Pit Viper at The Arenal Volcano National Park

No joke I tell you, our little yellow friend was only five feet from the walking path. Using my Panasonic G85 and my trusty 45-150mm zoom lens made this picture no problem. Moral of the story, a good reason to stay on the path, certainly. Keep your eyes out!

As rain showers came and went, we kept making our way up and down the volcano path while being on the lookout for plants, flowers and wildlife. I was really hoping to see some monkeys and sloths as I heard they are very popular throughout Costa Rica. There were so many different types of plants and flowers to see. While we didn’t hire a guide because of extra costs, there was still plenty to look at without one.

What is it like to walk through a jungle? I would say the smell of fresh rain really does it for me, it really transforms your feelings in a positive way. The sound of the air, no joke, living plants and the home to thousands of different types of species make it all an incredible experience. The bouts of rainfall were refreshing and didn’t cut down our experience at all. If it were rainy season my answer would be different. I would not want to be in the jungle when its pouring rain for hours on end. No thanks!

We made our way through the dense jungle to the famous lava rock formations. We heard there was a lookout point where we could see the volcano. And while it’s not active right now we were told we could see it. The only thing that was disappointing is that we couldn’t see the cone of the volcano. There was too much cloud cover and the fog was thick.

Arenal Volcano in COsta Rica on a cloudy and misty morning
Arenal Volcano, National Park Arenal, Costa Rica.

Back down the short hike to see the lava rock, we were back on the path where we spotted some Coatis. What are Coatis? Coatis are mammals that are apart of the raccoon family and are only found in Central and South America. I’ve seen them in Tulum Mexico and now here too!

The hike here is not strenuous and all the paths are very gradual. We wore running shoes, shorts and a light jacket to keep dry. We brought our backpacks to hold some snacks, water and camera gear. If I had to bet, I would say it would be OK to bring your kids or elders. Just take your time, watch where you’re walking and take it easy.

As the path twisted and turned, we came to our favorite part of the entire adventure,
El Ceibo. El Ceibo is a 400 year old Ceiba tree at the base of the Volcano Arenal National Park in Costa Rica. You will not believe your eyes if you ever see this tree in person, it is absolutely humongous. It’s so big that it looks fake. It’s roots are two stories high and it’s trunk is about as big as an oil tanker truck, maybe bigger!

Ceiba Tree, Arenal Volcano National Park. March 2019
Ceiba Tree, Arenal Volcano National Park. March 2019

After we finished admiring the Ceiba tree, we had ourselves a few energy bars and some refreshing H2o. The day was still young so we continued to the next trail head that took us back to the entrance. We hoped in the car and headed to the other area of the National Park, the peninsula portion. The fee that is charged at the entrance also granted us access to this area as well. It was a short 10 minute drive over a very bumpy and rocky road. I would not recommend the trip unless you have a 4×4 vehicle or plan on driving very, very, slow.

The peninsula sector had paved paths to walk on, unlike the volcano sector. This hike was not really a hike per say, but a good walk. There was still plenty to see and some of the lookout viewpoints were fantastic. However, I would prefer to be getting lost in the jungle instead. This area was a little too built up for my taste and I couldn’t appreciate the area as much as I would’ve liked to. We did get to see two beautiful Tuscan’s, they were stunning. We also found the lookout tower to be neat, getting great views of Arenal Lake (El Lago). Our time here was a quick 45min and really, that’s all you need. I could see spending about two hours here if you really stopped to take everything in slowly. But, we had somewhere to be!

Alberto’s Horses in La Fortuna! That’s right, we were going to be horseback riding along the jungle tree line, through small villages and across the farmland of central Costa Rica. If you’ve been reading the blog for a while you may see that horseback riding has become a trend on our adventures. The last time we went horseback riding was on the beaches of Santorini Greece.

Read: Santorini & Mykonos – The Greek Islands

We arrived at Alberto’s Horses just in time for a quick lunch. First off, let me tell you, this is not your typical tourist attraction. This was an authentic, local and genuine experience. Starting off with a traditional Costa Rican lunch. Grilled BBQ chicken, rice, beans and fried plantations. Alberto’s wife cooked the entire meal herself, from scratch. Muy bein! Our stomachs full and our eyes set on the horizon, we rode through the back gate of Alberto’s farm and into the jungle.

Wild Horses, Costa Rica. March 2019
Wild Horses, Costa Rica. March 2019

I always seem to get the clumsy horse, lucky me I guess! My horse did not want to trot or canter. She also didn’t want to go down this muddy decline section off the trail that went into the river. She took some finesse from me to encourage her to go but finally she went and we were alright. I ended up being towards the back of the pack and Amanda more towards the front but oh well, that’s just how it goes.

As we we trotted through the water I could only think how amazing the scenery looked. But seriously, make sure to watch the video of the horseback riding adventure. You may just want to go for a ride yourself. I wont spoil all the details here but we covered a lot of ground. Our turn-around destination was the La Fortuna waterfall.

La Fortuna Waterfall. March 2019
The La Fortuna Waterfall Costa Rica. March 2019

The picture above was taken from the lookout point as you pass the entrance of the park. There is a $15 to get in and was included in the price of Alberto’s Horseback Riding. Well worth the entrance fee but get ready to feel the pain the next day. Approximately 500 stairs await you and your journey to the bottom. Going down was easier than going up but your legs and lungs really feel it on the way back up. Totally worth the workout when you get down to the bottom. The roar of the falls awaits and you can jump into the fresh water at the base of the waterfall. Careful though, the volcanic rocks are sharp and jetted, I’d highly recommend some water shoes. We took a brief moment to stop and take everything in; the waterfall, the towering trees, the people and the beautiful surrounding.

Pro Tip: If you want to seemingly have the place to yourself, get there right when the park opens at 8am or right before it closes.

Just around the bend, the waterfall lead to the La Fortuna river filled with moss, flowers and the smells only a jungle could deliver. We stopped to take some photos but it proved to be difficult with so many people around. It’s just not the same with a family of 5 in the background of your photo.

Young woman on the rocks of La Fortuna Waterfall
La Fortuna Waterfall. March 2019

It was time to head back up the 400+ stairs and be on our way to get back to our horses. Our horses look well rested and had a chance to get a quick snack before our journey back. We happened to notice that our next hotel accommodation was on the road we were trekking down, Tifakara Lodge & Birding Oasis.

We ended up going back the same way we came, but just before we reached the farm there was an accident. The rider in front of me fell off her horse! No bueno! Luckily the horse and her were stopped but she landed hard on a few rocks just before entering the river. The sound of her body hitting the rock made me cringe. She was definitely in pain and I knew it right away. I yelled for help and Alberto and his son came rushing.

They were able to assist her to her feet and corral the horse too. She was pretty shaken up but it didn’t seem like she had any broken bones, which was good. I felt terrible for her but an adventure such as this one, you never know what could happen. I hope she had travel insurance, I highly recommend World Nomads! World Nomads is an industry leader in affordable travel insurance, whether its a weekend or a month long journey. They’ve got you covered, literally.

Read: Alberto’s Horse Riding in Costa Rica Review

Now that we knew exactly where we were going for our next night stay, we headed over there in the car to check-in and freshen up before dinner. The boutique hotel looked beautifully lit at night, we couldn’t wait for the next morning to check it out. For dinner, we went to Que Rico off the main road of La Fortuna. The bustling Italian dining area was open concept and the weather was perfect so all the windows and doors were open. Open air dining at its finest.

Amanda was looking muy bueno in her dress and I couldn’t be happier to enjoy a perfect date night with her. We enjoyed a couple of cocktails while waiting for our three course dinner. We highly recommend the Mariachi De Pollo pizza. It was so good! If you’ve got room for dessert, try the triple brownie with vanilla ice cream. Feeling the effects of our food comma, we headed back to Tifakara and spent the last hour or so relaxing while enjoying the sounds of nature.

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