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Thursday, 19 October 2006

Holy Smoke:€“ Visiting Costa Rica'€™s Volcanoes - Page 2

Written by Thomas Lera & Sandy Fitzgerald
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As a traveler, I find myself schizophrenic. I’m unbearably optimistic in the planning stage, and utterly certain the night before departure I shouldn’t be going and of course have forgotten to plan and/or pack something utterly essential to the success of the trip. My wife is a meticulous and organized packer, who actually uses detailed checklists to ensure we have everything we might possibly need, without over-packing.



Located in Parque Nacional Volcán Arenal ($7 admission) the volcano stands over 5,200 feet in all its glory in a perfect conical shape. Arenal was actually thought to be dormant for several hundred years until a massive explosion in 1968 threw rocks and ash for miles, killed 84 people, and devastated the surrounding villages. Since then the volcano has been very much awake and is considered one of the ten most active volcanoes in the world.

Centrally located in the northern region of Costa Rica, Volcán Arenal is nestled in between Lake Arenal to the east and the town of La Fortuna to the west. Although small, La Fortuna has many quaint shops, as well as hotels and restaurants to accommodate visitors. It’s incredible to stroll down the main street, lookup and see the volcano dominating the backdrop. In fact, it’s the scene that has inspired many postcards.

If you want to get more up close and personal with the volcano, Parque Nacional Volcán Arenal has several trails leading to great photo-capturing vistas, including those in the lava fields on its backside. An easy walk, accompanied by volcanic rumblings in the background, leading to a more strenuous climb, this trek is worth the effort, especially with an informative guide.

The most extraordinary, luxurious, effortless way to see Arenal is from one of the thermal hot springs between La Fortuna and Lake Arenal. You can relax in a steaming pool and sip on a cold drink while watching lava explode from the volcano’s mouth. There are several different hot springs to choose from in a range of prices and amenities, all worth the price of admission. The only negative aspect is that it is a tourist mecca, since the area is relatively easy to get to.

After several days of exploring the area- we were off to our next home base, La Paz Waterfalls. We had been given loose directions, which included, “when you get to Alajuela, turn right at the big white church. If you get lost, just ask anyone the way to La Paz.” The reason for this last sentence, thrown in almost as an after thought, was two fold…there are absolutely no road signs in Costa Rica, and there was a road on both sides of the church. Taking first one, then the other, and not finding the next landmark as directed, we headed back to the church and did as we were told – asked for directions. By this time the weather was revealing why this was called the rainy season, and people walking by our bright turquoise toy car simply shrugged and quickly moved on.

There was nothing left to do but follow our noses up the mountain in what we hoped was the right direction. We were applauding our adventuresome spirit as we approached a sharp turn on a steep hill, when cars started to charge down the mountain past us at a dangerously fast pace. Just in time, we saw a 2 feet high surge of mud and rocks rounding the corner –we quickly backed into a side street before being consumed by the mass. Waiting several minutes to regain our breath and nerve, onward and upward we climbed, albeit in a different direction.

An hour or so later, expecting another hour’s drive, we almost passed the parking entrance to our lodge, which tumbles down through the jungle growth on the steep side of a sharp bend in the road. A short tour of the grounds, good dinner and a bottle of wine on our balcony overlooking the jungle, we went to bed to gather our energy for climbing up to another volcano the next day, lulled quickly to sleep by the glow of our fireplace.

peace lodgePeace Lodge is located in the La Paz Waterfall Gardens complex, all owned by Americans, Lee and Cindy Banks. Located about an hour above San Jose, for those who find their way directly, this place is a vacationer’s heaven, complete with a serpentarium, ranarium (frogs), an enclosed football field-sized natural-habitat butterfly preserve, more hummingbirds than you’ll ever want to see again in your life, trout fishing ponds, trails along a river to its 5 waterfalls, plus 3 restaurants. All of this and more is there for your enjoyment if you can manage to leave your room, which is a special “cabin” built to blend into its surroundings. From the king-size lodge-pole bed dressed with mosquito netting and luxurious linens, to the rocking couch in front of the stone fireplace opposite the bed, the main room is perfect. Then there is the bathroom with its two hand-painted sinks, romantic tree-branch chandelier with dimmer switch, Jacuzzi tub and grotto-like waterfall shower. And, where we spent most of our downtime, the balcony has a hammock, another hot tub Jacuzzi and relaxing view of the jungle. It was exactly what we needed after our harrowing trip to get there. Well-rested and well sated on the wide array of delicious fruits and other breakfast fare, we set off to explore the region.

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Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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