The first thing to note is that I went during the COVID 19 era. So as you read this I’m sure a lot of things will change, even some restrictions were in place that will be lifted a week after I left. We flew direct from MSP with no issues and only had 20 people on our plane out of 238 seats. I rented a car from Enterprise Rental Car (Thru Expedia). Renting a car is definitely needed and I even caved and got the insurance. With all the car window breaking rumors I read and of course the famous potholes. Not to mention the crazy driving we encountered. Also, I can’t stress this enough, make sure you have Waze & What’s App Downloaded.
If you’re interested in the COVID experience I had on this trip you can read that here. This post will have the protocols and measures I had to take.
At the time of writing this post CRC 100 = USD .16 (most tourist places list their prices in USD, even restaurants).
Day 1 – Arrival & Drive to Bijagua de Upala 01.06.2021
Arriving from Minneapolis, a 5.5-hour direct flight to Libera. I went thru customs and it was a breeze, they didn’t even take our temperature. You do have to fill out a health insurance form and buy health insurance, I bought mine here. A bit more spendy but it guaranteed I was going to get in which was most important.
I rented a car from Enterprise and bought a full insurance package, I normally don’t do this but with all the web rumors of people breaking into cars, reckless drivers, and potholes everywhere I didn’t want to take any risk. My brother and I agreed that we didn’t want to drive in the dark at least for the first day driving in a foreign country so we made our first stop in Bijagua de Upala which is a 1.5-hour drive from the airport. The was a very easy drive, safe, and limited on potholes.
On the way I stopped at Walmart to get two sim cards, this was a mess, and honestly, unless you go to a phone store yourself just stick to wifi or pay for an international plan, at least in regards to Movistar Costa Rica. Driving around Liberia every single person had a mask on which made me a bit paranoid, “was I going to be on vacation in a mask the entire time?”.
I arrived at Apartamento Rio Celeste Dreams and had a great stay. The link is to hotels.com where I ended up booking but you can also book it thru other sites and Airbnb, if you haven’t booked on Airbnb before, use my code to get $50 off your first stay. We went out to eat at Bar La Gaviota and called it an early night, this town seemed to be a little less mask crazy for being outside but still had the indoor requirements. By the way, eating at that restaurant was fantastic and dinner with drinks was under $8 a person. When we got back to our hotel, we were warned that with national parks being at 50% occupancy there was a risk we would not be able to see Rio Celeste Waterfall unless we went early in the morning.
Day 2 – Rio Celeste Waterfall & Drive to La Fortuna 01.07.2021
We got up at 6:30 and made the drive out at 07:00 arriving at 07:20 we were one of the first 5 people to arrive so we had breakfast at Sode El Pilon. They also run the parking lot which you will have to pay for, it’s cheap I think we paid like $2USD. I didn’t see this anywhere on other blogs, but it is important to know that you do NOT need cash to get into this national park. We were able to use our credit card to pay at the restaurant for parking and the national park.
I made a time-lapse of my walk-in Tenorio Volcano National Park which you can find on my Youtube Channel. Below is a video of Rio Celeste Waterfall.
I was told this would take about 4 hours but honestly, you could easily see the waterfall in less than 2 hours. We hiked to the bridge that crosses the river and then turned around, if you go a little bit further you’ll make it to the hot springs. Outside of the waterfall, the hike was nice but not necessary to venture past the waterfall. You do get to see where the water turns blue and where the bubbles from the spring come up. Our total journey was about 3.5 hours from leaving our hotel to returning to shower and checkout. FYI This drive does have very narrow roads and potholes.
Heading to La Fortuna, it is a very scenic drive but this section is filled with potholes. Another thing I noticed about Costa Rican drivers is whatever the speed limit is they either go the exact limit or go 20kph over the limit. The speed limit can also change from 80kph to 40kph to 60kph to 40kph to 25kph all within the distance of 1km. Arriving in La Fortuna after a two and a half-hour drive, we were welcomed by a beautiful view of the Arenal Volcano. One thing I noticed here is Costa Rican drivers really look out for everyone as far as police go, the oncoming traffic will flick their lights to let you know the police are ahead. We checked in to our hotel at Aunty Arenal Lodge and then headed out to go on Sloth Tour. The lodge is also on Airbnb.
We had no plans for a Sloth Tour but we passed it on the way to the hotel and it seemed like a very relaxing thing to do after our hike this morning. This was such a neat experience I have never seen a sloth before and although you can’t see them without a telescope it is worth it. It’s also worth spending the extra $15 for the tour since the guide knows where the sloths are and you use their equipment. We were able to even put our camera into the telescope to get some photos of the sloths we saw. I also saw some leaf cutter ants and a Capybara (but couldn’t catch a good photo).
We headed into town to do some souvenir shopping, there are plenty of shops near La Fortuna Park. Then we had a nice Costa Rican dinner at Lava Rocks Cafe. I did get to try some Costa Rican cocktails, I had a Guaro Sour highly recommend.
Day 3 – La Fortuna Waterfall & Volcano View 01.08.2021
We headed out to La Fortuna Waterfall and I forgot to use the GPS to get there. I ended up taking a wrong turn and came across a little hidden gem that the locals go to. It’s a river spot for swimming with a rope swing, it is called El Salto (Rope Swing). There is a guy that watches your car for CRC 500. Which the rumor is it is pretty important to have someone watch your car and valuables. We didn’t stay to swim so we headed back in the right direction towards the waterfall.
We arrived and the place was not busy at all, it was USD 18 to get in. A lot of the tourist places in Costa Rica charge in USD, but you still will get hit with an international fee if you don’t have the right credit card. I took a time-lapse video of the park and you can see it on my Youtube Channel. Once you walk in you pass the toilets (last chance before going down to the waterfall) and some lockers (you need your own lock). Before heading down there is a great lookout over the forest to the falls.
15 minutes down the stairs and we arrived. Before you go to the base of the waterfall there is a lookout balcony for photos. During COVID we were allowed 45 minutes per person to be next to the falls and then unlimited time swimming in the river. You can swim at the base of the waterfall, it is deep, cold and the aftershock waves from the waterfall make a very strong current, so be careful.
Here is a quick video of my time at La Fortuna Waterfall.
After the waterfall, we went down to the river to swim. In some sections, it does get pretty deep but the river is very slow-moving. You can walk around the corner and up some slippery rocks to get a good view of the waterfall. Heading back up the stairs we stopped at the Restaurante Rio Lounge. Great food, all organic and cooked to order. A bit spendy and again all prices are in USD.
Heading back to the day not sure what else to do we decided to drive over to the Volcano Lookout near the edge of Lake Arenal. On the way back from the lake we stopped at the Free Natural Hot Springs River, which is in front of Tabacon Hot Springs. Parking is kind of free, there are a few people that are working the area around the hot springs to help people park and watch their car for CRC 3000 or USD 5.
I have been to hot springs in Iceland (Blue Lagoon), in multiple locations in Colorado, and Fiji. This was by far the best experience I had. It’s free, it’s something the locals do regularly, and you are in the rain forest in a river off a highway, it’s so hard to explain but it can’t be beaten. There are Coati there that people feed, I thought initially they were anteaters but it turns out they’re just a breed of a raccoon.
We went back to the city center for dinner at La Cava Pizza a La Lena and had some great oven cooked pizza!
Day 4 – Swinging Bridges 01.09.2021
We weren’t too sure what we were going to do today, it rained all day. This isn’t surprising as it rains 300 days a year in La Fortuna and we were told the best time to come here for no rain in April. We decided to check out the Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park, the cost is USD 26 to enter. If you have open-toed shoes you have to sign a waiver.
This is a really nice park, and if you’re lucky on a good day you’ll get a view overlooking the Arenal Volcano. Walking thru the park, we didn’t see too much wildlife but we did come across a snake. The bridges cross a few waterfalls that are listed on the map but the forest is so lush it’s nearly impossible to see. There is a section where they have made a path off the main trail to go up to the waterfall for photos. And then you’re done, it takes about 2 hours round trip unless you have a guide then they stop and talk about plants and look for wildlife. I made a short video on my Youtube Channel.
After that, we went out to eat at Pollo Fortuneno great food, highly recommended!
Day 5 – Adrenaline & Adventures. Drive to Playa Flamingo 01.10.2021
Last day in La Fortuna. We had initially planned to do a solo river raft with tubes at Sky Adventures Arenal Park but they had a weight limit that my brother was unable to meet, so we changed our reservation for the “Sky Limit”. This is a three adrenaline and obstacle course that costs USD 84. The course starts with a tram ride through the rainforest and on a rare day, you would get a great view of the volcano. It has swinging bridges, ladders, repelling, and swings.
This was well worth it, and instead of me writing multiple paragraphs on this you can check out my youtube video below.
Time to drive to Playa Flamingo. I was a bit worried about this drive with how narrow the roads are and how many curves and ups and downs the road has around lake Arenal but it was okay, even though they rarely have guard rails. The header photo for this post is taken from an overlook of the lake on this road. We had planned to stop at Catarata Llanos de Cortes waterfall but I missed the turn (it sneaks up on you and there is no turn lane off the freeway for it). Ultimately we were running behind and needed to pick up a friend at the airport. Check out my post about Playa Flamingo.
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