November 23, 2017

Touring through La Fortuna, Costa Rica

Costa Rica is very diverse and has an abundance of opportunities to experience. I chose to experience lots of adventures, including hiking, cultural activities, and immersing myself in the rainforest, all to come back with a sense of the richness Costa Rica has to offer. I chose La Foruna/Arenal area and Manual Antonio.

A journey worth a thousand words—that is what this was. It wasn’t just about the destination; it was about the journey (as they say). I had an intent for this trip: experience what I’m passionate about, with a purpose. I traveled alone, yes, alone…something most people won’t take the opportunity to do. Sometimes, I think about the concept of being alone. Are you really alone? You might not have a constant companion to talk to, experience adventures with, or indulge in delicious meals with, but what you do have is the constant presence of your thoughts, your ability to fully immerse yourself in the experience, and the opportunity to do everything you want to do. I always believe that if you can’t be happy on your own, your happiness with another can become co-dependent. The greatest rewards can be experienced while traveling alone. I find greater opportunities to meet others, to spark new conversations, to feel a sense a peacefulness in my downtime and then freedom in the adventures I engage in. With all of this being said, get out of your comfort zone. Don’t wait to find others to travel with. If you have a place you wish to go, make the plan, book the flight, and go explore.

Costa Rica is very diverse and has an abundance of opportunities to experience. I chose to experience lots of adventures, including hiking, cultural activities, and immersing myself in the rainforest, all to come back with a sense of the richness Costa Rica has to offer. I chose La Foruna/Arenal area and Manual Antonio.

First destination: La Foruna/Arenal 

After arriving at San Jose Airport, I still had a ways to go before reaching my final destination. Renting a car through Alamo, I had the option to drive to La Fortuna and then drop off the car there, since I intended to fly to my next destination. The scenic drive to La Fortuna took three hours. The trip was well worth it, as not only did I experience seeing parts of Costa Rica, I also had a car to use while in La Fortuna, which I thought was very useful.

One of my first stops as I entered into La Fortuna area, was to deliver some goods I brought along in my travel. I was so happy to stumble upon an organization that is supported by several hotels in Costa Rica. The program is called Pack for a Purpose. The organization’s mission is to positively impact communities around the world by assisting travelers who want to make meaningful contributions to the destinations they visit. This is achieved by visitors using extra space in their luggage to pack in items kids in local communities need. On Pack for a Purpose’s website, you can find hotels in the area you are traveling to, and the items most needed for kids in that area. It’s a simple task with a big impact. Luckily, I could drop off items I brought at Arenal Kioro Suites & Spa, near my hotel.

Tabacon Hot Springs and Spa Resort has received notable praise for its dedication to environmentally-friendly practices and its conscious efforts to instill these practices in their guests by promoting awareness and education. They have proudly been credited with Five Leaves, the highest rating in the Certification for Sustainable Tourism (CST). With luxurious accommodation and the beauty of a rainforest surrounding the resort, staying here was an absolute pleasure.

Finally, I arrived at Tabacon Hot Springs and Spa Resort, where I stayed for three nights. Tabacon is a five-star resort and hot springs located in Costa Rica at the base of the majestic Arenal Volcano, in the heart of the tropical rainforest of La Fortuna. Situated just 15 minutes from downtown La Fortuna, it boasts beautifully landscaped gardens; the most elegantly designed hot spring, which feed swimming and soaking pools; and a full-service eco-spa (call me crazy, but I missed the opportunity to experience the spa).

Thank you to Tabacon and Terranova Costa Rica for arranging my stay in the Rainforest Suite, a spacious room that seamlessly blends indoor luxury with an outdoor terrace. Amenities include a very inviting and quite large two-person Jacuzzi tub, a dual sink, and a rainfall shower.

Tabacon Resort lobby

Tabacon Resort pool and swim up bar

Upon arriving, I didn’t waste any time. I was determined to accomplish and see all I intended to. I set down my bags and made my way to La Fortuna Falls, only a 15-minute drive away. When I entered, I was instantly blessed with the beauty of La Fortuna Falls. From a balcony, I could look straight ahead and see the falls in all their glory. From there, I followed a staircase carved into the hillside, which had about 471 steps and took around 15 minutes to walk down. I arrived right at the base of the waterfall. An extra perk is that you can swim at your own risk in this waterfall pool. Take advantage of the beauty. Capture it.

Arriving back at the hotel, I couldn’t wait another minute to indulge in the hot springs. Walking in, I was astonished at the beauty. Thankfully, if you stay at the resort, not only can you walk into the hot springs wearing the hotel’s robe, you will also have unlimited access to the hot springs. Outside guests must pay a day fee, which is $94 for adults during peak season. I indulged in the hot springs every night I was there, so staying here became even more of a blessing and reward. You can’t miss this!

Dining at Tabacon was nothing short of amazing. Since one of their hotel restaurants was being remodeled, dining was at Ave del Paraíso. The restaurant is located in the hot springs area, which is where the buffet breakfast, lunch, and dinner are all served. Sitting overlooking the pool on a calm night, I was able to take in the moment and the place.

I ordered the most delicious meal, and the array of tastes were hypnotizing.

Sea bass with herb crust | Corvina con costra de hierbas

200 g. sea bass filet, mashed potatoes, cherry tomato confit with thyme, asparagus, olives, mixed mushrooms, papaya hash and citrus powder

Enjoying an early morning brew. Fresh coffee americano from Britt

Breakfast buffet complimentary are Tabacon with stay

This day was one of my most anticipated. I was going to see with my own eyes the most picturesque waterfall: the iconic Rio Celeste (Blue River) Waterfall, known for its iridescent turquoise coloration. I was determined to arrive before the crowds, so with a 1.5-hour drive ahead of me, I left quite early to arrive at 8am, when the National Park opened.

Rio Celeste is located in the Tenorio Volcano National Park, which is in the northern highlands of Costa Rica. I recommend taking a 4WD vehicle to get there. The roads become very rocky, and before I attempted putting it in 4WD as I was going down a hill, I did lose some traction and drifted to the side. So again, I recommend using a 4WD vehicle, regardless of what some sites may say.

I arrived and was the second person to enter. The entrance fee is $12 for adults and $5 for children. I was astonished by the peacefulness and greenery of the rainforest. The sounds of the rainforest were tranquilizing.

The hike through the rainforest to reach the waterfall took a quick 30 minutes. I followed the path down the enchanting stairway, and then looked out at this precious gem that truly took my breath away. Rio Celeste Waterfall is the most breathtaking natural wonder. Unfortunately, you cannot swim here, but gazing at the beauty alone was enough for me.

According to legend, when God finished painting the sky, he dipped his paint brush in Rio Celeste.

From the waterfall, I continued on the hike. At this point, the humidity kicked in as I trekked onward through the rainforest. The hike covers some irregular terrain, and is mostly at an incline.

The second point to take a moment to embrace is Poza Azul, which is a beautiful pool of blue water. At this point, I noticed the smell, the chemical reaction between sulfur and calcium carbonate.

I then reached an elevated platform, the Tenorio lookout point, which offers a beautiful view of the rainforest straight ahead.

Continuing on, I passed over a hanging river of the brightest blue water I have possibly ever seen. (No photo enhancement needed)

Next, I reached the most interesting part of the hike, Tenideros. Although it ends here, take a moment to gaze upon this…

This is the end of the trail, at which the two rivers converge and the chemical reaction occurs. The Rio Buena Vista (Good View River) and the Quebrada Agria (Sour Creek) are both transparent rivers, but at the point of convergence, which is called El Teñidero (The Dyer), the water appears opaque and florescent blue. It explains on a plaque there why the difference in color appears. It is quite a natural phenomenon and well worth seeing with your own eyes.

There are five points of interest on this trail: the waterfall, a lookout point, the blue lagoon, the thermal spring bubbles, and the point where the two rivers meet. It is well worth experiencing the whole hike, which should take about 1.5 hours to complete.

After completing the magical Rio Celeste hike, I headed back to La Fortuna to have a fulfilling lunch at a popular restaurant in the downtown area called Lava Lounge Bar & Grill. I heard great reviews on the spot and as well loved that they had healthy (vegetarian) options as well.

I decided from there to continue adventuring. I stopped at Ecoglide Arenal Park, which is only five minutes from Tabacon. Ecoglide is a canopy tour of zip lining and a Tarzan swing. Which they have the longest and tallest cables in La Fortuna, Costa Rica. With 13 cables and 15 platforms, you will be fully immersed in the rainforest, strapped in and ready for adventure.

The best part is Cable 12: the longest zip line in which you will travel 45 seconds, all while overlooking the rainforest.

The most anticipated part was the Tarzan swing. Before I knew it, I was being fastened to the cable to hang from. With no hesitation, I sat down and the guide let go of me. It was the most freeing feeling to literally fly through the rainforest…and so high up.

I started the next day bright and early. This day was my most adventurous, and I looked forward to it. The activity I was going to do was considered the most extreme thing you can do in Costa Rica, so of course I added it to my must-do list.

I was picked up from my hotel by Desafio, the only tour company in Costa Rica that offers a canyoning and waterfall jumping tour. We then headed deep down in the Costa Rican jungle, where Desafio would take us on a wild, adrenaline-pumping, multisport expedition. Our guides David and Luis were highly experienced and prepped us for what we were going to do. We got harnessed and helmeted up, and ventured on a short hike out to our first part of the wild adventure.

The best part started off with a heart-pumping rappel down an impressive 140-foot tropical waterfall.

We then dropped into a large, deep pool and swam to rocks bordering the pool. Continuing on, we waded through the water and get to the second point, where we had the opportunity to do flips off a low ledge into the water. A fun little extra excitement to try.

The next adventure was to continue on through the rainforest and river to then reach the first jump, which was 10 feet up. After that, we went through what they call the washing machine (I’ll leave this one as a surprise, because it was for me). Then we climbed a 15-foot waterfall and rappelled down another one, jumped off a 32-foot cliff, did the technical jump of 10 feet, swung off the Tarzan swing, and continued through the rainforest to complete the experience.

This adventure was by far the most riveting part of my trip. It may not be for everyone, but let me just say: DO IT! Don’t let fear stop you. Live your adventure. Step out of your comfort zone.

Thank you to Desafio for this heart-pumping adventure and for not only making it fun but challenging as well.

I decided to see another side of what keeps Costa Rica financially thriving outside of tourism: coffee production. Coffee export revenues have built the country and continue to help maintain its economy. Sun-grown coffee plantations are an economically driving force in Costa Rica. The country is dependent upon income received from coffee exports, which 90% of their business.

I’m a huge coffee drinker, so it seemed like a good idea to learn more about what I’m actually drinking and the process behind it.

I visited North Fields Coffee plantation in La Fortuna and was so lucky to get a private tour from Allan, who has been in the coffee business since a he was a kid. The wealth of knowledge I gained about a coffee bean was enlightening. The process to simply create a delicious cup of joe is incredible.

Touring the property, I was taught the history and process of coffee production in Costa Rica from beginning to end. There are eight regions in Costa Rica that produce coffee. Since La Fortuna rains year round, the rain speeds up production. Generally, a coffee bean plant will spend between two to four years in production. Since coffee plants take so long to produce anything, to gain income in the meantime,  growers will plant black and red beans around the coffee plants, as they grow much faster. Also, beans are a huge source of food in Costa Rica.

All coffee beans (known as peas) from the plants in Costa Rica are handpicked. Once picked, they are separated by size, since the smaller the pea, the faster it burns. The first yield of peas are chosen for their quality, and the second yield is used for bigger corporation exports.

One interesting fact I learned was that many coffee plantations will hire families from Nicaragua to work on the plantations. Since income is very low in Nicaragua, not only does this help the whole family earn money, it also allows the children to attend the excellent schools in Costa Rica while their parents are working. Generally, families will come from December to January to pick the peas, then they will return to their country. Pickers are paid for the weight of each basket they fill, typically earning $2-$3 per basket. Most adults can pick between five and twenty baskets each day.

What an informative tour! I was so thankful to have learned not only more about what helps Costa Rica thrive, but also more about what I drink on a daily basis. Thank you, North Fields, for your time, and your passion for your coffee plantation.

I highly suggest taking the opportunity to visit a coffee plantation in Costa Rica. It’s a fascinating experience. 

One incredible thing that Tabacon Resort gives you an oppurtuinty to do — quite a simple task to as well, is to Plant A Tree.

Staying at the hotel you have the privilege of participating in their ongoing program of PLANT A TREE to minimize the carbon footprint of guests and employees. More than 3000 trees have been planted thus far. Over 50% of the more than 872 acres total land owned by the company is under protection as secondary rainforest.

Here I am planting an almond tree, which will grow here for 3 months before being transferred to continue growing into an additional forest of trees. Thank you Tabacon Resort for the honor and thank you for continuing your conscious efforts in helping our environment flourish

Last, but not least to complete my exploration and experiance in La Fortuna/ Arenal area was touring the Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park

The location and views surrounding the park are astonishing. Driving up to and in the park you will get unobstructed views of Arenal Volcano. I must admit though I entered park without a tour guide, which you can easily do, although I saw not one species inside the park. Having a tour guide, with their trained eye and experience they will spot it all. So unless you are just looking for a peaceful, beautiful walk through the Mistico Hanging bridges, I recommend a tour guide to fully experience the species and presence of the park .

Now off to my next destination…Manuel Antonio.