Monday, June 10, 2013

Into The Rainforest - La Fortuna, Tabacon Hot Springs and Arenal Volcano

During my recent travels in Costa Rica, I was fortunate enough to be able to see many areas of the country. I started my journey in San Jose and made my way to Montezuma on the Nicoya Peninsula on the Pacific coast. I spent a week there before heading back to San Jose and catching a ride to a more northern region of the country in the area of La Fortuna. The biggest thing I noticed when I traveled from one area to the next was the diversity. The weather patterns were different, the scenery was different and while the Nicoya Peninsula was quite remote, La Fortuna seemed to have more tourists around but both areas were very uncrowded. That was one of the best things about Costa Rica; peace and quiet…an uncrowded paradise.

My transportation to La Fortuna, which was with Expeditiones Tropicales, arrived early the next morning and made the several hour journey to La Fortuna, making several stops along the way. The scenery was a stark contrast to what I had been surrounded by the previous week. While the Pacific Coast consisted of rugged, rocky coastline and beautiful sandy beaches, this more northern and inland region was mountainous with long, windy country roads, coffee plantations and was green with thick rainforest. The weather was much different too. After spending a week baking in very hot temperatures, the cooler and damper climate of the north was a much needed relief but it was still warm enough (the average year-round temperature is 25 degrees Celsius) not to snow like it was doing back home in Canada around that time.

I was able to see a lot of this part of the country while en route to La Fortuna and I noticed some very interesting things. I knew ziplining was a big thing in Costa Rica but I had not heard anything about the popularity of bungee jumping until we came across a very high bridge over a steep ravine with signs advertising the adventure sport. Had I known this, I might have planned to stop or take a side trip. I also would have booked a night at the Treehouse Hotel I spotted along the way. I’m sure there will be many more opportunities in the future! We passed through several small towns and villages before stopping at a souvenir shop to buy some locally-made treasures and test out some locally-grown coffee. The road from there was much like a roller-coaster with rolling hills and hairpin turns until we reached the town of La Fortuna and the main thing I wanted to see above everything else during my time in Costa Rica; Arenal Volcano. Before making the 12 kilometre drive around the volcano, we stopped to have a delicious meal at a roadside restaurant.

Unfortunately, it was foggy that day and I was unable to see the very top of Arenal and although I was able to get some very nice pictures, I had my fingers crossed that the next day, the fog would lift and I could get some better ones. A memorial was set up at the look-off to remember the 87 people who were killed when Arenal suddenly and violently erupted July 29th, 1968. The volcano was thought to be dormant at that time and a number of people were also injured and the three small villages of Tabacón, Pueblo Nuevo and San Luís were buried.

I had little sleep the night before and all the walking I did that day was starting to wear me down so I was looking forward to the next stop; Tabacon Grand Spa Thermal Resort and Hot Springs. These hot springs are located at the base of the volcano and are naturally heated by it. The resort itself is fairly big with a main lodge area, a gift shop and a restaurant. My immediate concern upon arrival was getting into my swimsuit, acquiring a towel and finding a quiet pool to relax in. Fortunately, there are lockers available so I was able to safely stow away all my belongings. Towels and drinking water were available too. I found a small, fairly shallow pool that was away from any crowds and submerged myself in the warm, relaxing, mineral-saturated water. There were signs warning guests not to stay in the water for long periods at a time, particularly if you have any underlying health problems. I don’t have any health issues that I am aware of and I didn’t have a watch so I was not too concerned with the length of time I spent soaking in those heavenly waters. However, when I did finally stand up to get out after what was probably an hour, I was overcome with light-headedness. This only lasted a few seconds and I felt like a million dollars for the rest of the afternoon.

There were a number of various-sized hot-spring pools all over the grounds so I spent a few hours walking around Tabacon taking pictures and admiring the pools, the beautiful gardens, bridges, waterfalls and archways. Being surrounded by so many large, tropical trees combined with the sounds of running water and various birds and insects made it seem like I was walking in a rainforest in the middle of nowhere. I came across the Grand Spa in my wanderings and wished I had the time to enjoy some of the services and treatments that were available. As a member of the Leading Spas of the World, there was no doubt in my mind that the services provided were world-class. "Refreshing Breeze", a service consisting of an Avocado wrap, back neck and shoulder massage and avocado and olive oil mini facial caught my attention on the spa menu. Then there was "Coffee Orange Parfait" which consisted of a coffee and orange exfoliation treatment, a Swedish massage and a honey yogurt mini facial which sounded like an indulgent dessert rather than a spa treatment and "Rainforest Caress", which consisted of a mud mask, mud wrap and Swedish massage and this sounded like the perfect way to end a long, tiring day. These luxurious treatments were available at a very reasonable price of $220.00. Many other individual treatments were also available including deep tissue massages, aromatherapy, waxing, volcanic mud wraps and facials ranging from $20.00 to $220.00.

By this time, I had been walking for quite a while and the heat was starting to get to me. I found the larger pool that offered a more refreshing and cooler water temperature and jumped in for one last dip before dinner. I met up with a few people who had come on the same bus as me and found out that they would be having dinner at the same time as me. Traveling alone usually means eating alone a lot of the time so whenever I am fortunate enough to meet some nice, friendly people to enjoy a meal with, it is always a treat. Eating alone is not so bad in your hotel room but in a large dining area filled with couples and families, it can be lonely and sometimes even intimidating and uncomfortable. But not this night; I had the opportunity to enjoy one of the best meals I had on my entire trip surrounded by some very nice people from all over the world which lead to some interesting conversations in several different languages. That’s one of my favorite things about traveling; meeting people from all over, hearing their languages, discovering what their lives are like back home and sharing my experiences here in Canada with them. These conversations are always so enlightening and interesting and some of my best learning experiences came from conversations like this in random places in faraway lands. The buffet dinner I enjoyed that night consisted of everything you could imagine and, even as a self-proclaimed picky eater and vegetarian, I had no problem filling my plate…twice, plus dessert.

I parted ways with my group immediately after dinner as they were headed back to San Jose. As for me? I was sticking around the area for a bit and spending the night at The Arenal Observatory Lodge where the next and last leg of my Costa Rican Adventure began.

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