Costa Rica is synonymous with paradise and a leisurely lifestyle. It’s no secret that La Fortuna has a sheer treasure trove of attractions centered on the abundance of natural beauty. For the vacationer seeking the ultimate in relaxation, coupled with a dash of adventure, this is a prime combination. I know what you’re thinking – a night hike of a volcano? Isn’t that a lot of work and sweat? That’s great for an avid hiker, someone looking for a challenge, or to break in some new hiking boots. Don’t worry, that’s not what this hike is about.
It’s suitable for every age, including young children and retirees, and takes vacationers on a short hike with a skilled guide who is an expert on the area. The total walk is a about a mile and a half and takes a little over an hour to complete. Guides pick up trekkers directly from hotels and deliver them to the base of Arenal. And that clinking in the back of the van? Coolers full of local juice, soda and red bull which are the perfect “night cap” to the hike.
It’s not possible to climb to the summit of Arenal (in fact, it’s not even allowed unless you’re a researcher) so you won’t be tackling steep terrain and increasing altitudes. Instead, there are a series of trails circling the base of the impressive volcano in Arenal National Park. This particular hike takes place on Araña Trail, which is Spanish for “spider.” Arachnophobes need not worry though, there weren’t any eight legged creatures spotted on my walk. The trail is teeming with some unique specimens of flora and fauna – some incredible, some strange, but none of them too terrifying for the squeamish. Bees were busy building an amazing honeycomb in a hollow tree trunk. A howler monkey was spotted early on in the trees, scratching and checking out the unusual newbies to the jungle (us).
The guide, Francisco, grew up in La Fortuna and has been exploring these trails since he was a child. He was quick to point out some “regulars,” such as a shy but beautiful lizard that has long claimed a particular tree base as her own. Even when nestled in her tiny cavern, she nearly glowed a translucent yellow that could easily be spotted. One of the most overlooked inhabitants, that are incredible in their own right, are the country’s beetles. The particular ones we spotted were a metallic gold that glistened in the dusk light.
One of the best things about taking an evening tour of Arenal is that the timing is perfect to see both the day and night creatures that call this slice of heaven home. But remember, it is a rain forest so dress accordingly. Even in the dry season, the rain was generous throughout the hike, but it’s nothing a brimmed hat won’t fix. It’s usually not the infamous “downpour” that the country is known for, but rather a steady but soft drizzle. On the plus side, this makes the conditions ideal for the greenery to really show its stuff. There are some truly phenomenal flowers and plants to be seen here – all showcased against the astounding backdrop of the volcano. Some of the leaves could easily be used as shelter by two people (another option for an umbrella, perhaps?).
There is a covered bridge towards the end of the hike that is perfect for some photo opportunities and the tour concludes at a kiosk at the park’s entrance. The guide will spend a few moments talking about the history of the volcano complemented with photos. Be sure to check out the intricate bird’s nests that look like purses hanging from the roof. Travelers visiting Arenal now are especially fortunate because the volcano became dormant in 2011. Prior to that, it was actively spewing lava for hundreds of years, including a particularly devastating incident in 1968. It is now the safest time to visit, learn a piece of history, and check out the massive crater and trails of black left by one of the previously most active volcanoes in the world.
But some people might be disappointed – what, no neon magma, no bubbling action? It’s a volcano, so where’s the heat? I’ll tell you exactly where – at the next stop, the hot springs at Los Lagos. People may have a few different ideas when it comes to “hot springs” depending on their experience of what they’ve heard. A few holes in the ground in the middle of nowhere, perhaps. Or a raucous group of college students partying it up. If this is true, you’re in for a big (and fabulous) surprise.
Los Lagos is a top resort that just happens to boast some of the best natural springs thanks to the volcano. Upon arrival, guests choose the time of their inclusive buffet dinner and then it’s off to explore. Take the bridge overlooking massive koi fish to the “regular” pools. Complete with waterslides, which kids of all ages absolutely adore, these pools are a great way to cool off if it’s been a particularly hot day in paradise. The bridge spanning over the largest pool is a great way to take in the breathtaking surroundings. Continue up to the wet bar – and I mean this literally. One side of the bar is covered with a canopy and provides a circular place to sip one of the freshest cocktails of your life. The other side is a swim-up bar attached to one of the hot springs where underwater barstools provide an idyllic place to enjoy a smoothie or cerveza.
There is a huge number of hot springs to choose from, ranging in size from hot tub-esque to full pools you can do a lap in. Temperatures range slightly, but hover at about 90 degrees. For guests worried about crowds or children running around, there’s no need. A huge perk of the night tour is that most of the resort’s guests have already retired for the evening. I enjoyed three different hot springs – one of them particularly large – and there was not a single person in any of them. For the more adventurous spirit, definitely give the waterslides a whirl. After all, you can always get back into that heavenly zen with another soak in the country’s best natural tubs.
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