Day 2: Exploring Arenal: Hiking and Hot Springs
We woke up early and literally screamed when we opened the curtains to see the sun rising over the volcano outside of our hotel room. It was truly magical!
After breakfast at the hotel, we drove 10 minutes to the entrance of Arenal Volcano National Park. We were the first in line to enter the park ($15 fee to enter), and having the trails to ourselves was amazing. We parked in the (empty) parking lot and started with the El Ceibo trail. This was a short trail (.75 miles) that took us past some of the largest and oldest trees in Costa Rica! It really shouldn’t be missed!
PRO TIP: There are lots of guided tours available in all of Costa Rica. We opted to find our own way in Arenal, which wasn’t too difficult, but spotting wildlife is MUCH easier with a guide (which we used later in Monteverde and Manuel Antonio).
Then we ventured onto the Lava Flow trail, another easy hike with beautiful views of the volcano and lake below.
PRO TIP: If you can’t see the top of the Volcano, wait 15 minutes. The clouds change quickly!
Next, we drove down the road to Arenal 1968. This area costs $15 to enter, but has bathrooms, picnic tables to eat, and well maintained trails. There are several self-guided (and guided) hike options to choose from, but all have great views of the volcano. We saw cows, monkeys, a pineapple farm, lava fields and all types of interesting birds.
After our hike, we decided to venture to Rio Celeste, a beautiful blue waterfall about 2 hours away driving from Arenal. This led to the most horrifying experience of the entire trip. We ended up getting quite lost and driving over a tiny wooden bridge with no sides!
PRO TIP: There is NOT great cell service in Costa Rica. Bring a printed map with you!
On the other side of this bridge was a “No trespassing sign”, so we had to do it twice! Anyway, this detour postponed our expected arrival at the waterfall and we were not allowed in to see it.
PRO TIP: They limit the amount of people who can get into Rio Celeste each day (as of 2019, the limit is 1000 people). We arrived at 2:15pm and were not let in, so make sure to get there early!
Fortunately, nearby there is a river in which the locals were swimming. The water looked very blue, so we explored the area and relaxed by the water for a little bit.
We made the two hour drive back to La Fortuna, stopped at Pizza Ranch to pick up some pizza, and watched the sunset over Lake Arenal back at our hotel.
To finish the night, we wanted to relax in some hot springs. There are many different options, both paid and nonpaid, but Tabacon Resort was close to our hotel, had good reviews, and prides itself on it’s sustainability efforts (which we like to support). We opted for the Night Pass: Entrance with Dinner.
PRO TIP: It is highly recommended you book your hot springs in advance. You will also have to choose a dinner time, so plan accordingly. Note that parking can be difficult (all on the side of the road) so factor in extra time for your arrival.
We arrived at the hot springs, put our belongings in the lockers, and walked around to find a suitable spring that wasn’t too crowded. There were lots of windy paths through what felt like a jungle, and the water temperature was just right. It was like our own little paradise. There were plenty of open spots where we weren’t surrounded by other tourists, so we picked one and relaxed by ourselves for quite some time.
We had dinner at the Hot Springs but I’m not sure I’d recommend it if you have another option. It was buffet style dinner, and admittedly it wasn’t the best. Some of the food tasted luke warm or old, but it was suitable for just a quick break between hot springs. The rest of the night was spent checking out different springs, relaxing and then eventually getting back to the hotel for some rest.
Day 3: La Fortuna Waterfall, Coffee and Chocolate Tour, Hanging Bridges, and Getting to Monteverde
We woke up early as it was another long day ahead of us. We packed our bags and checked out of the hotel, as we’d be driving to Monteverde later in the day.
We started off with a trip to nearby La Fortuna Waterfall. After paying the entrance fee of $18, we took the 500 steps down to the base of the waterfall. There were some people swimming there, but with our limited time schedule, we passed. 500 steps back up (with some rest stops) and it was over. To be honest, I’d probably skip this stop if we had to do it again. Maybe if we had more time to explore and relax, it would have been worth it.
Next, we headed to downtown La Fortuna and booked a chocolate and coffee tour with Don Juan Tours. After a quick souvenir stop in La Fortuna, we headed to the meeting place for the tour and got started.
This tour was a lot of fun! We learned all about the process of how chocolate and coffee are made, and even got to make our own (not as tasty) chocolate ourselves to take home (and throw out) later! Even as a non-coffee drinker, I had a good time on this tour and learned a lot, so I’d highly recommend it. After the tour, we returned to their gift shop and bought some coffee beans and chocolate to bring home to our families.
Next, we decided to check out Mistico Hanging Bridges, a short drive in the direction of Monteverde. Entrance fees were $26 and did not include a tour guide, but we wanted to save our tour guide money for Monteverde and Manuel Antonio, so we did without. However, during our walk, we ended up walking next to some employees that just happened to be walking near us, and they pointed out several cool birds along the way. Of course, if you want to see all of the wildlife, be sure to hire a guide.
The main attraction of this park was of course, the hanging bridges. There were lots of them (~20) and I thought it would be terrifying, but the bridges felt secure and well-maintained. On some of them, employees make sure that you only go on one at a time, but for the most part, you can cross as you please. Some had very good views of Arenal Volcano, and all overlooked beautiful jungles below.
After grabbing lunch at the attached restaurant (which was delicious!), we said goodbye to Arenal Volcano and headed towards Monteverde.
The drive to Monteverde was not an easy one. It took approximately 4 hours on unpaved roads, winding back and forth, the road typically just slightly larger than one lane wide. We saw lots of farmland and cows, some houses, and not much else until we arrived in the town of Monteverde.
In Monteverde, we opted for an Airbnb just outside of downtown (click here to save up to $55 on your first booking!). After getting lost several times, we finally found our way and checked in. As we were quite hungry and ready for dinner, we drove to downtown Monteverde and went to Tree House Restaurant. This awesome restaurant is built around a giant ficus tree! Not only that, but the food and drinks were delicious, and there was local live music. Don’t miss a stop at this restaurant!
After dinner, we walked around the corner to Bar Amigos, which had a DJ and open dance floor. The crowd was a bit young on the dance floor, but there were people of all ages around and we had a fun time mingling with other travelers before heading back to our Airbnb for the night.