Vacation in La Fortuna de San Carlos/Arenal, Costa Rica

I’ve been a little busy with my students and a little sick, and that’s why I haven’t posted in a few days. But luckily Sharon is still writing:

Many travelers plan their vacation during the holidays when they look for a warm, dry climate to escape the harsh winters at home. What better destination than Costa Rica, a country of incredible natural beauty and a diversity of things to enjoy while on holiday. Various locations here were chosen for scenes in Jurassic Park, Blue Butterfly, and this year’s TV season of the Bachelor. From waterfalls and rainforests to sunny beaches, volcanoes, and dramatic landscapes, there’s a lot to be said for visiting Costa Rica.

Tourists can find adventure, romance, relaxation, and seclusion in the small towns and villages. The town of La Fortuna in Alajuela province about 4 miles from the Arenal Volcano is one such place, a popular vacation destination offering travelers a variety of things to do. This area is known for exotic flowers and plants, butterflies and wildlife, and tropical plantations of papaya, oranges, and coffee.

Places to See/Things to Do:

The main attraction is the Arenal Volcano, rising over 5,000′ and still active. When the clouds lift, you may be able to photograph some of these spectacular eruptions in vivid color as reminders of the destructive potential of this majestic volcano. Explore Arenal National Park along old forest and lava trails, which vary in distance and difficulty, and experience the amazing diversity of ecosystems. Park rangers can advise you on trail conditions. Hours: 8am-7pm. Admission: $10. Visitor center, & museum (under construction.) Guided trail walks available.

Take a boat ride across Lake Arenal, or enjoy wind surfing and other water sports. Anglers will find fishing for local rainbow bass or guapote is an ideal way to relax.

Hikers, bird watchers, and nature lovers will enjoy walking to La Fortuna waterfall through the rainforest, home to a variety of wildlife and the endangered Quetzals of Central America. Bring your camera and binoculars, a picnic lunch, and take a dip in the pool below the 230′ falls. Entrance fee: $8. A guided morning horseback tour, about 3 to 4 hours, leaves at 8:30am. Cost: $50+ p/p.

Plan a day trip to Nuevo Arenal, the small picturesque village at the base of the volcano about 45 minutes’ drive from La Fortuna. Visit the botanical gardens and butterfly farm, and shop for souvenirs and gift bottles of Costa Rica’s specialty Don Braulio coffee liqueur. Stay for dinner at the Gingerbread Restaurant, owner and manager Chef Eyal Ben-Menachem. Considered one of the best in Costa Rica, it is recommended for international fusion cuisine, fresh seafood, a variety of domestic and imported wines and beer, and rich desserts.

Hours: Tues-Sat, 5-9pm. Reservations required.

Tours: A number available – may be the best option for exploring the area while on vacation. (Ph: 1-877-656-2465 for information, or @ Hours: 7am-6pm, Mon-Fri. 7am-1pm, Sat.)

Where to Stay:

The very expensive Springs Resort has won some amazing media awards including best in luxury, best relaxation/spa in Central & South America, and Traveler’s Choice for 2011. Fabulous guest rooms and suites have private terraces, hammocks, Jacuzzi, satellite TV, stereo surround sound, and wet bar. Your dining choices are Las Ventanas (the Windows), buffet at Tres Cascadas (Three Waterfalls), Ginger Sushi, or the Treetop Grill. There are 3 bars, a game lounge, and a 14,000 sq ft full-service spa. Recently, the Springs added Club Rio to their amenities where guests can enjoy a range of outdoor activities on the Arenal River nearby, hiking and nature trails, and the Wildlife Preserve. They also offer a 2-day visitors pass, which includes the hot springs and pools, all 4 restaurants and bars, and a guided tour of the preserve. Cost: $40 p/p (Adults & children under 3). No advance reservations required.

Transportation to resort: 4-person van from San Jose airport, about 3 hours, $150 p/p. From La Fortuna regional airport to resort, about ½ hour, contact resort concierge Johnny Castillo. Cost: $85 p/p.

Rates: Rooms: $385, 2-bedroom suites from $625.

The upscale Hotel Royal Corin offers luxurious rooms and suites, natural hot springs pools, restaurant, spa, and bars. Guests have a wonderful view of the volcano while enjoying the modern interior décor throughout the hotel.

Rates: $235-$329 (Suites feature large Jacuzzi and mini-bar.)

El Silencio del Campo in the mountains received many positive reviews for location near Arenal National Park ($5 taxi ride from town), guest services, and amenities. Each of the 20 villa type accommodations is surrounded by gardens and features a terrace with mountain or garden view, cable TV, and Internet access. Ideal for couples or families, the hotel has 3 pools, onsite restaurant, laundry facilities, spa, and airport shuttle service.

Avg Rates: $159-$175 per night (incl bkfst).

For budget minded travelers and backpackers, Pepito’s Place is a good choice. This small hostel has a friendly staff, comfortable adjoining double rooms with private bath, and the convenience of using their kitchen. You can purchase fresh fruits and vegetables next door, prepare some of your own meals, and save money. A jeep/boat tour to Monteverde can be arranged for around $17. Rates: $20 p/p.

(Note: Many visitors to the Lake Arenal area like the low cost of living and often return to live abroad for a while or retire and invest in lake view property. Vacation homes available for rent come with every modern amenity and are a great choice of accommodation at affordable rates.)

Where to Eat:

Don Rufino’s on the main street is known for good food and drinks, a popular place to hang out with the locals and other travelers. Extensive menu of appetizers, pastas, seafood, and steak. Try their special pollo de la abuela (grandma’s chicken), baked chicken wrapped in banana leaves.

Hours: 7am-11pm. Bar usually open until 2am. Prices: $5-$28.

The downtown Lava Lounge is recommended for real American food with a southwestern influence, as well as local (Tico) specialties, from cheeseburgers, quesadillas, and ceviche to arroz con pollo and brownies for dessert. Open-air rustic atmosphere. Hours: 12Noon-12MN. Prices: $7-$10

La Fortuna grill is a small kiosk off the main square that sells pork kebabs on a stick, with or without a tortilla. Delicious snack – $1.50.

Getting Around: Costa Rica is a small country about half the size of New York, and most cities are within 3 to 4 hours or less from each other. Bus transportation is excellent, especially in the dry season. Domestic flights offer convenient transportation to La Fortuna and other cities. Taxis and car rentals available.

Getting There: International flights to either of the 2 main airports, Daniel Oduber for destinations in the northwestern part of the country, and San Juantamaria in San Jose the capital, frequently used by travelers.

Sharon L Slayton

See also: Montezuma travel story

Filed Under: Travel ideas

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  1. […] so much to see and do in Costa Rica, it’s well worth having a plan in place before you arrive. 5 days may just be a short break, […]

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