Last weekend we took a trip out to the Arenal Volcano, about a 5 hour bus ride away. We got up at the crack of dawn and took a 6 a.m. bus and arrived in perfect weather. We had planned a couple activities in advance, but figured we’d wing it once we got there (didn’t even bother booking the hostel in advance). Right beside the bus stop was a tourism company, and we stopped to quickly ask for directions to our hostel. Somehow, we ended up being talked into booking everything with the lady at the desk, and wound up with an action-packed weekend planned. We then headed off to the hostel, which was a 10 minute walk away. While we were walking, we got our first look at the volcano, which was SO COOL. The top was covered with fog but you could see the base and most of the middle. It was so close. Apparently the volcano hasn’t been active in a few years, but to think that just a few years ago this town was right at the base of an active volcano is pretty cool. You weren’t allowed to hike up the volcano, in case it suddenly threw some hot lava on you, but you can hike all around it, which sadly we could not fit into our 26 hour trip.
We had researched the hostel in advance and knew that it was considered a ‘resort hostel’. We were excited to see what this meant, but when we got there the front desk guy seemed unimpressed that we didn’t have a reservation. Luckily, we managed to score the very last two beds in the entire hostel, which was surprising because it’s the off season right now. Unfortunately, they were in different rooms. Christina and I looked at each other, shrugged, and each shelled out 15 bucks for these precious bunk beds.
This hostel was gorgeous. There was a huge lawn area with 10 or 12 hammocks, a pool, deck chairs, a mini restaurant, a cool lounge area, and air-conditioning in the bedrooms (a definite luxury), and super gorgeous reception desk men. There was even an area where tents were set up, so people could camp. I still haven’t figured out why these existed and cost $25 per person…
Overall, an awesome hostel. We sat by the pool for an hour and waited for the tourism company (Red Lava) to pick us up and take us to our first activity: a combination zip-lining, rappelling, and horseback riding adventure. Both of us were really excited—myself especially because I hadn’t done any of the activities before. We threw on our running shoes, leggings and comfy tops and slathered ourselves in SPF 30. We waited eagerly outside the hostel for about 15 minutes before slinking back inside and asking the hazel-eyed hostel man to call the company and remind them to pick us up. Apparently they replied that they were already on their way, despite the fact that we were only a 2 minute drive away. Classic Costa Rican time.
We were eventually picked up and realized that we were the only ones on this tour. We chatted in awkward Spanish with our driver as he drove us about 20 minutes up into the rainforest. He parked at this little shed on top of a hill that had the most gorgeous view of a valley and river. A blonde lady greeted us (she was inexplicably wearing scrubs) and had us sign our lives away with some scary forms, and her colleague (who looked no more than 18) strapped us in to the harnesses. We got a 2 minute zip lining crash course from the blonde lady in broken English, of which I heard almost nothing. Christina, having done zip lining before, calmly let the lady attach her to the cable and was pushed down into the rain forest (the 18 year old child had already zoomed off ahead of us). The lady turned to me, strapped me in, whispered ‘don’t die’, which probably was exactly what she meant and not the result of broken English, and pushed me. I flew along the cable, too panicked to look at the gorgeous rainforest around me, and tried to remember what she had said about braking and when I was supposed to do it. As I neared the end of the cable, I could see the boy holding his hand up in a ‘stop’ gesture but I couldn’t remember what to do and essentially just crashed into him as my method of braking.
Eventually I got the hang of it and was able to appreciate the gorgeous surroundings. The rain held out and we got to fly along the cables without a cumbersome group slowing us down. The ‘instructors’ were clearly pros, although every time I asked what something was for, the blonde lady would ominously whisper ‘it’s to kill you with’. So that was reassuring. At one point the blonde lady flipped my harness and strapped my on facing down, and without telling me what we were doing, pushed us off the platform with me in a Superman position and her behind me supporting my legs. It was really neat, but that would never ever happen in Canada without me agreeing to it. The boy took Christina’s camera and hooked it onto his helmet so he could take pictures for us, which was super cool.
After the last cable, we came to a platform at the edge of the cliff for rappelling. We didn’t even get a crash course in this activity, and the blonde lady just tied herself in and rappelled down 40 feet in two fluid jumps. I started to panic and was convinced I would die, which Christina promptly made fun of me for and told me that I shouldn’t be scared of this considering I had gone skydiving. The two didn’t seem related though, and she did not succeed in calming me down. I forgot that there would be a person at the bottom that could stop you from falling, and was convinced that all that stood between me plummeting to my death was a tiny carabiner. Christina calmly began to rappel, while I watched and anxiously called out ‘Is it easy?’ and ‘Is it still easy??’. Too quickly, it was my turn. The boy tried to correct my hand positions and this just panicked me even more but he pretty much was like ‘ok go!’ and sent me off. I shamefully rappelled down an inch at a time, until the blonde instructor at the bottom got bored and started swinging me out from the rock for fun while Christina laughed. I took the hint and sped up.
”that’s the face of genuine fear”
The last activity was horseback riding. We hiked back up the 40 feet as a man with three horses rode up. He was immediately outgoing and flamboyant and quickly got us up into the saddles. He instructed us to sit with our asses forward and our backs kind of hunched over—a not so flattering position. He then spent a few awkward minutes getting us to simulate riding the horse by sliding our butts back and forth in the saddle, and telling us to just go with the horse’s movements. Finally, he jumped into his saddle and whistled to the horses to go, without actually telling us how to control the horses or what to do besides slide our butts back and forth. He immediately got the horses to trot, and then gallop, which was absolutely terrifying and I am ashamed to admit I shrieked a couple times. He showed us how to get our horses to go faster and slow down, but my horse did not care at all and did whatever it wanted, which usually included veering off the trail to much on some grass and stare into the distance. If I wanted him to trot, he would lazily walk, and if I wanted him to slow down he would go faster. The horse man immediately fell in love with Christina and took her ahead to show her some extra helpful tips, while I lagged behind and tried not to fall off the horse.
At about 5 p.m. we got back to the hostel, changed, and headed over to the Baldi Hot Springs. This resort and hotel was absolutely gorgeous and full of about 15 pools of varying temperatures and 3 water slides. We got so excited and ran around the resort trying them all, until we finally calmed down. We spent about 5 hours there, soaking ourselves in hot and cold pools, hurtling down the most terrifying water slides I’ve ever been on, and feasting on a buffet dinner. It was an amazing night, and we returned back to the hostel happily exhausted. Christina headed off to bed and so did I—or tried to at least. I got stuck in the party room, and about 20 people were crowded into the room playing Kings Cup. I was immediately interrogated on where I was from, what I was doing there, nicknamed ‘Canada’, and coerced into playing their drinking game. Eventually they all headed off to sign karaoke and I thankfully passed out.
On Sunday morning, Christina and I woke up incredibly early (the sun rises at 5:30 a.m.), took a leisurely swim in the pool, and had an amazing breakfast of eggs and French toast at a cute little restaurant called ‘My Coffee’. We then packed up our stuff and checked out of the hostel, intending to visit a nearby waterfall. We were both super sore from the previous day’s activities and wanted a leisurely walk to a nice little waterfall. Instead, we found ourselves hiking down 200 feet on slippery stone steps (Christina unfortunately was wearing flip flops and a sarong). We eventually got to an incredible waterfall named Catarata Rio Fortuna that was about 100 feet tall. You could swim around it but you could feel the intense pressure of the water and you couldn’t get too close. Afterwards, we had to hike back up the 200 feet (we wizened up and put on real hiking clothes) with our giant backpacks in the crazy rainforest humidity. Definitely wasn’t the leisurely morning we had hoped for, but it was definitely worth it.
We then had lunch at the ‘Rainforest Café’, where Christina demonstrated her formidable appetite by eating her meal and half of mine, and then jumped on a bus back to San Jose. Definitely one of the best weekends we’ve had yet!