Written by Nikali Luke.
After landing and clearing a very loose customs we were greeted by our agent who was expecting us. We grabbed our bags and were on our way. About 3 hours of very twisty, turny, and bumpy roads with, narrow bridges and steep inclines we arrived at La Fortuna/Arenal. Our driver quickly pointed out the impressive volcano. We were so lucky to get an unobstructed view; what an impressive sight to see. Our driver was extremely friendly and eager to suggest activities that he considers a must when visiting Costa Rica.
We arrived at the Arenal Springs Hotel on April 27th, 2011. The staff greeted us with a cool drink and towel which were much needed after a long day of traveling. We explored the grounds, chatted with their on-site tour operator, Edward, and made reservations for dinner (which weren’t really needed). The villas were adequate and the bathroom was very large with an open air shower with a rock wall. We spent the rest of the evening on the porch where we soaked in the nature and excellent views of the volcano. We witnessed plumes of smoke coming from the top and you could see where one side didn’t have vegetation growing due to eruptions. Our porch was surrounded by flowering bushes which attracted numerous hummingbirds, Nora’s favorite. We had sea bass and chicken tacos for dinner at the resort which was fabulous. All the food options were reasonably priced and included tip and tax. The sunset around 6:30pm and after a long day, we were asleep by 8pm.
Breakfast the next morning was a real treat. It was an above average buffet with eggs to order, fresh tortillas, and fresh squeezed juice. After breakfast we hit the ground running with a trip to Sky Trek, which is the biggest and fastest zip line in Costa Rica. Gliding at 460 feet with speeds up to 55 mph; it was truly amazing. Some of the lines were longer, while others were faster, but all were thrilling. The staff couldn’t have been nicer. They were patient, jovial and willing to take pictures using our own camera. It is an experience we will never forget. Back at the hotel, we spent the afternoon in the pool. We figured out that the pool was actually a hot spring as it was feed by the volcano. Being in the pool/hot spring was relaxing, but when you want to cool off from the hot CR sun, getting into a 100 degree pool just isn’t the most refreshing! Later in the afternoon we walked down to a nature reserve. Interesting start because the person at the front desk didn’t speak English, but there happen to be another person there that helped us get through it. We ended up meeting our tour guide Christian, who spoke excellent English and couldn’t have been more in love with nature. He was full of information and enjoyed sharing everything he knew. We went through their frog display and learned more about frogs than we ever thought was possible. We visited the snake exhibit, the crocodiles and toured of the grounds. We weren’t sure if this was going to be a good use of our time, but it ended up being a memorable experience and a great way to end our day.
The next day we arranged for a driver to take us to La Fortuna waterfall. You started with a great view overlooking the 200 foot waterfall and then the hike began. It only took us about 15 minutes to hike down, but as normal with Costa Rica the path was twisted, turny and bumpy. Once at the bottom I swam in the lagoon where the waterfall landed. The power was impressive, but due to the force of the water, I was not able to get close; this made Nora very happy. The hike back up was a little more difficult and we had to take a couple breaks along the way, but being surrounded by the green vegetation was breathtaking.
The next day we headed to Manuel Antonio. It took us about 4.5 hours and the highlight of the trip was stopping at the crocodile bridge outside of Jaco. There were about 15 crocodiles lying in the middle of the river on a piece of land sunning themselves. Seeing them in the wild is so different from on TV or at a zoo. They were impressive!
We arrived at La Mansion and checked in. The view from our hotel room was amazing. We overlooked some jungle and portions of Manuel Antonio Park. That night we took a cab into Quepos to check out the town. You can tell this town survives without impact from tourists. We found a little mom-pop locally owned restaurant, which served very cold beers and typical Costa Rican cuisine (lots of chicken, rice, beans, plantains and corn tortillas).
The next day we had breakfast at the hotel, which was menu service, but since breakfast was included so you could order whatever you wanted. Throughout our stay, we eat everything on the menu. After breakfast we were picked up for a day tour of Manuel Antonio Park. Blue Iguana was our tour company and they did a great job. Andre was our guide and has a love of nature and of Costa Rica. He was happy to share stories and was like a kid in a candy store when he spotted something in the jungle. We saw toucans, two and three toed sloths, frogs, monkeys, lizards, rare birds, bats, and even white tailed deer. The three toed sloth was awake and moving around so we got some great pictures and spotted a couple Jesus Christ Lizards. The red backed squirrel monkeys were jumping from tree to tree and the white faced monkeys were all over the beach area. After the tour we spent the day at the white sand beach inside the park. After lounging on the beach for a few hours we hiked back to town and had an early dinner at a surfer hangout.
The next day was a “relaxing day” as we spent the entire day in the pool reading and doing nothing. That night we had our best dining experience of the trip at a restaurant named, Aqua Azul. We sat up at the bar and were able to watch the entire kitchen staff work their magic. Every single item we saw them make looked delicious. Our ahi tuna & chicken fajitas were excellent and the staff went out of their way to ensure we had a great time. All the ingredients were fresh and everything was made to order.
The next day we went on a catamaran sunset cruise. We started at 2pm with a boat ride where we stopped and watched some dolphins jumping and swimming around. At one point they were swimming right next to the boat, which was amazing to see. We did some snorkeling and then they cooked a fresh fish dinner for us. We finished by watching the sunset before heading back to the dock.
Our final morning in Manuel Antonio we woke up early, and hiked down to a private beach. It took us about 20 minutes and was interesting to feel so isolated. We were hoping to see a few monkeys, but regardless it was a great start to our day. We were pleased to hear that the trip to our final hotel Alma del Pacifico was only 40 minutes. The hotel was in Esterillos which is about 20 minutes outside Jaco. The hotel was in the middle of no where! Our room was the most impressive room we have ever had. It was big, had a patio that looked out to the ocean, and had a shower that was pretty much outside. This hotel was very small and intimate. They believe it’s the perfect hotel to end your vacation and they are right. We must comment on the staff at this hotel as they were so accommodating, caring, and sweet. They seemed to truly care about our experience and wanted us to be happy.
The next day we spent the morning and afternoon in the pool and on the beach. That evening we went into Jaco and watch the surfers and had a drink on the beach. We did some shopping and then had dinner at a little mom and pop restaurant called Pili Pili. You know the menu changes often when the menus were chalkboards! We had Red Snapper and filet mignon, which was done perfectly and tasted superb. After dinner we found a little casino and spent about 2.5 hours trying out luck. Walked out $60 in the hole but well worth it… drinks were on the house while you gambled!
For our final day we took a walk on the beach, laid around the pool, and had dinner on our patio. It was a perfect end to an amazing 10 days.
The day of our departure we woke up at 5am and walked the beach one last time. We were the only people on the beach for as far as we could see in both directions… two times in one vacation we had a private beach!
We would recommend CR to anyone who loves a little adventure and can handle some heat. It combines action, wildlife, views and relaxation all into one amazing yet small country. The people were the kindest of anywhere we have traveled in the world!