When we woke up in Tortuguero to head to our next destination it was pouring out! It was actually perfect. All night long you could hear massive downpours … for about one minute, then they would stop completely. That would happen on and off all night long. I think it helped keep the howler monkeys quiet which was a much appreciated side effect after an absurdly loud wake up call by them on our first morning.
The whole group piled into a covered boat with our luggage and made our way back to the “mainland.” Once we got back to our bus, the weather took a turn for the better. Our driver was amazing but looking back I wonder if he should have been paying more attention to the road because he was the best wildlife spotter throughout the whole trip! While we were driving through Del Monte and Chiquita’s banana plantations, he spotted this sloth in some trees! Costa Rica bucket list animal for sure!
We were also able to spend a few minutes observing workers at a plant. It’s across the street from where the bananas are grown. The fruit is in a box and ready to be shipped in less than 20 minutes from the moment it’s cut off the banana plant (not the banana tree as it turns out… the more you know). The process needs to happen that quickly for the bananas to stay fresh for their delivery to your grocery store.
Basically the bunches of bananas are brought via a mechanical pulley from the plantation across the street, a worker uses a special knife to cut them into the smaller bunches you see at the store, then they are dipped in a bath of liquid chemicals (not toxic) to clean them and slow down the ripening process. Depending on where the bananas are going (local market vs. shipped to the U.S./ other countries) they’ll get another bath before they’re put into bags and boxes ready to be shipped. The whole process happens so quickly and you can tell the workers know exactly what they’re doing and how to do it efficiently. They were very friendly to visitors too. In case you didn’t already know, the bananas are shipped while they’re still green so they have time to ripen on the way to, and while they’re in, grocery stores.
It was a long….long drive to where we’d be staying next. I think the entire tour group was pretty stir crazy and ready to get off the bus by the time we got to our next hotel. Our one break was at an quirky rest stop with great ice cream and iguanas that thought they owned the place.
I think everyone’s restlessness made this next moment even more magical. When we got off the bus in the driveway of where we were staying, everyone was blown away. Look at how gorgeous this place is!
We were staying at the Arenal Manoa & Hot Springs Resort near the Arenal Volcano. The views had me speechless, or actually just repeating “What is this!? Where are we!?” over and over in amazement. The sun was even beginning to set as we arrived, it was unreal. Each of us had our own little home surrounded by beautiful flowers and a view of the volcano from our porch.
As the neurotic planner that I am, I couldn’t help but Google the places we were staying once I found out from the trip planner where they were … but I was still unprepared for how breathtaking everything was. Especially after spending the last two days literally inside a jungle, this was a nice change for a night or two. I was obsessed.
One of the optional excursions available to us was a visit to a volcanic hot springs. There are several in the area but the one the tour guide picked for us was stunning. Eco Termales Hot Springs touts itself as the area’s only truly natural hot springs. They say that the hyper-thermal magnesia filled waters are great for your skin, stress and anxiety. It had several different pools that got hotter and hotter the higher up you went on the property. It was a much needed, relaxing addition after seven hours of commuting by boat and bus.
The next day we were scheduled to hike the lava flow of the Arenal Volcano. The volcano was quiet for thousands of years when suddenly in the late 1960’s it erupted for days, sent large boulders flying, and destroyed several nearby towns. There were slow lava flows and some eruptions on and off over the following decades but at this point the volcano hasn’t really been “active” for a few years.
There were a few trail options once we got to the base of the volcano but I’m assuming since there was a wide age/ability range between the people on our tour group, the planners picked a relatively easy hike so almost everyone can participate. That was slightly disappointing because in my dream world – we’d be hiking to the top! It was still a lot of fun and parts were challenging. Obviously in the 50 years since the last major lava flow, plants and trees have grown back so no big black lava paths here.
The area surrounding the volcano used to be used for ranching, and still is in some small parts which would freak me out if I was a rancher. There were some adorable lil’ cows around which was a nice surprise; so were the baby pineapples we found growing around the base.
After the hike the group had a free afternoon in the town of La Fortuna. We found a small, open air restaurant, La Casa de la Hormiga, off the main square to get lunch with some new friends we made from our tour group. While I totally cheated and got a Costa Rican spin on fried rice for lunch, S. got a more traditional plate.
After lunch the sun had burned off the clouds hovering over the top of the volcano and you could get a clear picture of it. So beautiful!
That night was our last one in the Arenal Region before another long travel day. Some of our new friends were two couples around our age. That night we hung out by the pool and took advantage of the hotel’s happy hour and then bumped into more folks in our travel group.
In the whole group there were young adults, older adults, grandparents, two teenage grandkids, and one couple who was in their 80’s. That couple was everyone’s favorite. He was born in Germany towards the end of WWII and she was living in Hawaii when he sailed to her after they had met previously, “showed up at her front steps and that was that” (in his words.) They have sailed to so many places around the world together and have the most incredible life stories and experiences. One of my favorite memories is a group of us sitting by the pool, watching the sunset near the volcano and having our minds blown by the stories this guy lived through. He may be the real life Dos Equis guy: The Most Interesting Man in the World.
We had a wonderful dinner in the hotel’s open dining area that overlooked the jungle and volcano, then a small group of us went into town to celebrate one of our new friend’s birthday. There was a little a bit of bad tequila and a lot of even worse Latin karaoke going on in the background at El Establo but it was a really fun night before another long day of travel. Next stop was Monteverde and the Cloud Forest!
Check out the first part of our trip here!