Arenal – My first Volcanic outbreak!

My first volcanic outbreak..it’s not really something you think can be compared to your first steps or the first time you rode a bicycle. I thought a vulcanic eruption was something you either saw on Discovery Channel or in a effect filled Hollywood movie. It turns out that one of the most active volcanoes in the world are located in Costa Rica, more correctly right on Lake Arenal. A volcano that had it’s last violent outbreak in 1968, but is still wide awake and doesn’t show any signs of falling asleep.
As we drove closer and closer to La Fortuna the vulcano came closer and closer. It’s just as you would imagine a volcano, as the top wasn’t blown away during the last outbreak. We were definently ready for a few days of vulcanic adventure!

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The not so postcard friendly view of the volcano from La Fortuna

We are definently on a budget, but as a Volcano is not something you see everyday we decided to spend a bit more money to get rooms with a view at the Arenal Vista Lodge. All the rooms have a magnificent view of the volcano from the bed or from the balcony in every room. The hotel is located in El Castillo, which is about a 30 minutes drive from the tourist hub of La Fortuna. If you want a room with a view of the vulcano I would recommend getting one in El Castillo as the recent outbreaks have all been on this side of the mountain. This was evident as right down the road from our hotel there was a bridge where tourbusses coming in from La Fortuna would gather to wait for signs of an outbreak. It was definently a lot more chilling to grab a few beers, tilt back the chair on the balcony and wait for the magic to happen right in front of us. On the first night we actually were lucky enough to see something! There wasn’t any proper outbreak but we could clearly see lava flowing down the side of the mountain, it was awesome!

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My only picture of lava flowing, so hard to capture! Look in the middle at the tiny streak of red.. that's lava!

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The fuming top of Volcano Arenal

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The view from our hotel room, nice huh?

On the second day in Arenal we decided to check out the La Catarata de la Fortuna, a tropical waterfall thundering down from 70 metres. It’s become pretty expensive as the prizes have doubled in the time between my Lonely Planet edition and Gil’s newer one. The prizes in general are quite steep and a stay in Costa Rica will definently dig deep into you wallet. La Catarata de La Fortuna is located just out of La Fortuna and you can either take a taxi or drive there ourself like we did. The entrance fee is 10 USD and it’s hard to say if it’s worth it. The waterfall is awesome, a natural beauty that is extremely refreshing after the hike down. On the other hand 10 USD to swim in a natural pond is a lot of money and if they raise the prize even more I would definently go searching for pristine and undeveloped waterfalls myself instead.

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The walk down to the waterfall in La Fortuna

We lounged by the side of the pond, took a lot of pictures and soaked in the refreshing temperature of the water. Refreshing here meaning pretty damn cold! 🙂 A couple of metres to the side of where we were sitting we even found a green snake curled up on the warm rocks! A photoshoot followed with me inching closer and closer to the snake to get my precious close ups. It has hard at the time to distinguish the snake as there are two famous green snakes in Costa Rica, one that is harmless and the other that is one of the most poisonous… So there was definently a risk involved with taking these pictures!

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Close up of a green snake at the waterfall

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In addition to the waterfall there is another tourist acitivity to check out if the vulcano is dormant. La Fortuna has several hot springs ranging from luxurious to luxurious.. yeah, there issn’t really any budget option. As we checked out one of them, Tabacon, it was indeed hot springs, but the facilities that had been built on top of them left no resemblance to the prior natural hot spot.They are more like waterparks with naturally heated water. If you have the money and the time I’m sure a dip in the pool accompanied with a beer from the waterbar while watching live sports on the many screens is just the thing. For us it wasn’t.

We ate dinner at a place that I cannot remember the name of just outside town that had really good food and a decent atmosphere. The prices were right and we were more than happy with the evening when we drove back to the hotel. We were about to be dissapointed as we drove past the bridge when a local photographer showed Gil a picture he had just taken of a major outburst from the vulcano. We had missed it!! AAAHHH!! Since we were now sure that there would be another outbreak of similar magnitude we raced back to the hotel and entered our volcanic viewing positions. At 3am we gave up and went to bed.. We did see more of the same vulcanic activity as the day before, but nothing like what Gil had seen in the picture. Maybe next time!

As we headed out of Arenal the next morning our destination was now the north of Peninsula de Nicoya where our beach, surf and diving adventures were just about to start.

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