Category Archives: costa rica

Costa Rica Trip, Day 3 – La Catarata Fortuna & The Rainforest Chocolate Tour


On Monday morning, while our friends and family back home were commuting to work in the cold and snow, Dave and I were preparing to visit our first Costa Rican waterfall!

Of course we had to start with the hotel breakfast – fruit, eggs, gallo pinto, and toast – which was just what we needed to fuel the adventure.

La Catarata Fortuna

La Catarata Fortuna, aka La Fortuna Waterfall is located only a few miles outside the town of La Fortuna. It was a gorgeous drive, with breathtaking views of both Arenal and Cerro Chato.

It cost about $15 for admission to the park, and it helps to have a healthy pair of legs. There are over 400 steps to climb down to the waterfall! By the time we were at the bottom, I could feel my calves quivering and I just hoped they weren’t visibly twitching.

The waterfall is breathtaking. Seen from the viewing platform above, it looks deceivingly delicate, like a lock of silver hair streaming through the forest. At the bottom of the stairs, looking up the 200+ feet of thundering whitewater, you really get a sense of it’s might.

The river bends around to the left, where there are lots of shallow, calm areas. And rocks, of course. We spent a bit of time relaxing here, trying to capture video of fish with the GoPro, and enjoying the fresh water.

When we’d had our fill of calm, we climbed back up the few stairs to the pool at the base of the waterfall. People were swimming here. Of course we had to try it out too.

The water was surprisingly cold (though not as cold as a Vermont waterfall), and extremely turbulent. There really was no shallow area – you just sort of slid in and had to swim. There were some rocks to stand on, but the water was moving around us so vigorously that I couldn’t keep my balance. The closer you got to the waterfall, the more turbulent it got. So much for that romantic vision of putting my head under the waterfall and tossing my hair back sexily. I’m pretty sure it would break a person’s neck.

There was actually a lifeguard on the scene and a lifesaver (is that what those foam rings are actually called?), but he was standing so far back from the water that I think a person could drown before he made it across the slippery rocks, untied the life preserver (ah, that’s what it’s called, right?) and threw it into the water.

I called it quits after a few minutes in the pool, preferring not to drown on my third day of vacation. Dave went back in with the GoPro, to try to get some action shots, but the camera would not cooperate. Note: learn to use your GoPro and troubleshoot any issues before you take it on vacation.

Moments later, two young women approached him and asked him to take their picture. The three of the struggled to remain upright in the water during the transaction. I ate some cheetos and watched from the sidelines.

After drying ourselves off we were ready to hike back up the 400+ steps.

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I was a bit worried, since I have weak lungs, weak legs, and – frankly – am just a weak person all around. It ended up not being too bad. We (I) only had to stop to rest once. We stopped next to a mother and grandmother who were carrying a very fat baby. The grandmother gave me a knowing look and said “gordito!” as she shuffled the baby onto her other hip. He was smiling broadly and clearly not concerned with the fact that he was overweight and weighing his people down.

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Taking a breather on the way back up.

Once we got to the top, we changed out of our wet clothes and had a look around the butterfly garden there. There was also an orchid garden, but the entrance was closed off because they were doing construction in the area. That’s one of the downsides to visiting in the off-season – not everything you might want to see or do is available.

The Rainforest Chocolate Tour

While perusing the map the day before, we noticed there was a cacao farm along the route between la Fortuna and the waterfall. So we casually dropped in on our way back, and found out that a tour would be starting at 1. We had just enough time to eat some more snacks and slap some more sunscreen on my white self.

The tour began under a covered patio, where the guide gave a history of the natives use of the cacao fruit, and how it evolved over the years to the chocolate we know and love today.

We then walked around the farm, which not only had cacao plants, but also coffee, banana and lots of flowers.  We learned about the different colored pods and how to tell when the fruit was ripe.

Then we gathered in another covered area, and the guide gave an interesting explanation and demonstration of how the cacao is harvested, the different components of the fruit and how it was used back in the day versus how it’s used now.

We got to taste the raw beans. They were covered with a slimy white goop, which is actually cocoa butter and felt quite lovely as I rolled it around on my tongue. We were warned not to try to chew the raw bean because it would be intolerably bitter.

He showed how the farmers dry the beans and let ferment them before grinding them up. Several people in the audience took turns grinding the dried beans. Then, the other guide showed how to pour the ground beans from one bowl into another, while blowing through the falling pieces, to blow the bits of shell away. She had a girl come up and try it, and it seemed much harder than it looked.

Luckily we were sitting in the back row and there were eager kids in front of us, so I didn’t have to embarrass myself with any of these activities.

We got to taste the ground up chocolate. It was kind of like tasting baking chocolate, only fresher. Not sweet, but not terrible, either.

They made us a drink of hot chocolate, which was good, but the highlight for me was when they had us line up and receive a spoonful of melted chocolate. There was a table full of toppings – sea salt, nuts, caramel, coffee, and different spices. I tried it with sea salt and it was so amazing, I had to go back and get another spoonful. I would have gone back for a third (they said we could have as much as we wanted), but by then the line had dwindled down and I didn’t want to look greedy. Plus, Dave said if I wasn’t careful, I would get the runs.

After we left the chocolate place, we were ready to get some lunch. It was close to 3 pm at this point, so we were pretty hungry.

I’d seen a sign in one of the restaurants in la Fortuna, proclaiming it to be the home of “The Best Vegetarian Food in Town”, so I suggested we try it. It was called Life House. At 3 pm, it was basically deserted, but a friendly waiter came over and took care of us quickly. I got a veggie burger and Dave got a chicken sandwich. Both were really yummy. We met the owner of the restaurant, who grows much of the food in his own garden. It was a neat place.

That evening we went to Ecocentro Danaus, which is a local conservation and education center. We’d read that they gave night forest tours. However, when we arrived, they were just closing up, and they told us to call and make a reservation for the next night. It was a gorgeous time for a drive though!

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Costa Rica Trip, Day 2 – Exploring Fortuna


On Sunday morning, we woke to the sounds of exotic birds and animals chirping and calling in the trees outside our room. Ah, vacation.

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Note the non-light blocking curtains
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Our room was a tad smaller than what I’m used to. Or maybe we overpacked…

More adventurous folk may have chosen to rise early and run off to explore the volcano, or glide through the canopy on a zipline, but not us. We leisurely woke up, got dressed, and walked 30 feet to the outdoor dining room, where our hosts were preparing breakfast.

The meal consisted of an initial dish of fruit – a banana and a slice of melon. Then, the cook brought out a dish of mixed rice and beans (called gallo pinto), scrambled eggs, toast, and a slice of cheese. Of course there was also fresh juice and coffee or tea to drink. We sat and enjoyed the food while looking out over the gardens.

After we ate, we took a walk around the hotel gardens. They were nicely kept, but gave the impression of being entirely natural, like the groundskeeper did nothing more than mow the grass and trim everything to keep it from growing uncontrollably. I saw many familiar plants – much healthier versions of the  poor, longsuffering houseplants we keep here in the north.

We found impressive trails of leafcutter ants – so dedicated to their work that they had worn deep paths in the thick groundcover. (I’ll post videos later.)

After strolling for a while, Dave suddenly clapped his hand on his neck. “There’s something biting me, can you get it off?” he asked. I looked and saw nothing on his neck. Then, a moment later he was bitten again. And then whatever it was bit me on the face! We ran back to our room to get away from the violence. Our bites stung so badly – like a wasp sting, but there was nothing more than a little pink dot to show for it!

Once we recovered from the insect attack, we took a walk into town to explore. We wandered down the main street and looked at all the shops and restaurants, and we strolled through the park in the center of town.

We ate lunch at the Lava Lounge, which, it turns out, is a popular tourist restaurant. The food was good though – Dave very much enjoyed his arroz con pollo. It was here that we first noticed how dogs would just casually walk into restaurants and hang around waiting for handouts.

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At first we were charmed by the volcano-shaped rice until we realized that EVERY restaurant in town did the same thing.

After lunch, we wandered around town some more before we went back to the hotel to rest and figure out what we were going to do next. We brainstormed ideas for activities to do in the area, and then ranked everything according to how much we really wanted to do it (and how much money we wanted to spend!)

For dinner, we went to a place called La Choza de Laurel, which was also a bit of a tourist spot. It was “typical” Costa Rican food, served by women in traditional dresses. Dave got fish and I got some kind of veggie and rice platter. Oh, and a pina colada in an anthropomorphized pineapple.

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After drinking this entire thing, I realized it had no rum in it. Boo!

After our meal, we headed back to the hotel. It was a low-key first day, but we were both so tired from working so much and sleeping so little in the days before the vacation that we were fine with a chill day. There’d be plenty of time for adventures in the days ahead!

 

Costa Rica Trip, Day 1 – Getting There


Getting to La Fortuna de San Carlos, Costa Rica is no simple trip. After staying up until 11:30 to pack, we had to get up again at 1:30 am to go to the airport. We got there so early that the check-in counter wasn’t even open yet, which meant that we stood in line for a half an hour waiting to check our bags. The plus side was that we were third in line, so once they did open we got through quickly.

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Naptime is about to commence.
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Goodbye, Connecticut!

We flew to Atlanta, barely maintaining consciousness. I’m telling you, we probably looked like two bobble-head dolls with our heads lolling to and fro. In Atlanta, we had to walk from A to F  because the “Plane Train” broke down. Which was actually ok, because it gave us some exercise and helped us wake up a bit.

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Halfway there – HAH! Little did I know…


The second flight seemed unnecessarily long – probably because we weren’t sleeping through it. We landed in Liberia at about 1pm. Getting through customs was quick and easy.

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Hello, Costa Rica!

 

We rented a Hyundai Accent Blue through Adobe Rental Cars. The guys there were really nice and got us on our way quickly. The road by the airport was a mess because it was being repaired. It was so holey and bumpy I thought for sure we were going to destroy the car in the first 10 minutes of having it.

Being the cheapskates that we are, we didn’t want to pay extra for a GPS, and of course we didn’t want our phones to be roaming, so we had to rely on maps to find our way around. By this point we were pretty hungry, so we stopped at one of the first places we saw. It turned out to be some kind of Costa Rican/Asian Fusion place. Not the best first impression of Costa Rican food.

After we ate, we were quick to get back on the road. I had read that you don’t want to be driving at night in Costa Rica if you’re not familiar with where you’re going.

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This is the jolly good time part.

At first, the drive was a jolly good time and we were only slightly confused by the complete lack of road signage. We were excited to take everything in. The scenery was amazing and we were loving life.

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We came across a huge wind farm at dusk. It’s at the opposite end of Lake Arenal from where we were heading. 

After several hours, I figured we must be getting close to our destination, but no. If you look at the map of Laguna Arenal, it’s a huge lake. At one point we had to make a turn and we were confused about which way to go (again – complete lack of road signage!)

We stopped to ask a kid for directions and he said he was going our way. So Dave invited him to hop in. He only spoke Spanish, so I just listened to their conversation and thought about what I would do if he pulled a knife or a gun and tried to rob us. Because, America.

He rode with us for half an hour or so before we dropped him off. By then, it was completely dark. The road around the lake has a lot switchbacks – I guess because the terrain is too variable to put in a nice smooth road – so it was really rough going. Then it started to rain. In the dark and rain it felt like we just kept going around the same curves over and over and I was beginning to think we were in some kind of twilight zone. Or that I was going insane.

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Laguna de Arenal is the largest lake in Costa Rica.
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A close up, so you can see the switchbacks.


After what seemed like eternity, we arrived in La Fortuna around 7. We checked into Hotel Tangara and I was ready to lie down and sleep the minute we walked into our room. We managed to steel ourselves enough to go back out and get a quick dinner.

When we finally did get back to the room and lie down to sleep, we noticed that the curtains did not block out any light from the outside. Our room was right next to the reception area, so it was very bright. Luckily we had eye masks that we’d used to snooze on the plane, so we ended up sleeping with those over our eyes every night we were there.

Stay tuned for Day 2!

Excuse me, but your roof is full of cacti.


We saw some unusual things in Costa Rica. Unusual to us, that is. Maybe this is a normal situation in warm weather locations.

It may be hard to see in the picture, which I snapped as we drove past. This real estate office has a terracotta roof, which was covered with little cacti. I thought it was cute, and I honestly wondered whether someone cultivated it, or if they just spread on their own?

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I know, this is a lame excuse for a Costa Rica post, but it’s better than nothing! More to come soon, I promise!