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.


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.


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!


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.


Note the non-light blocking curtains


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.


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.


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!


New York, New York – Hornblower Cruise

Our final major tourist activity for the trip was to take the Hornblower Sightseeing Cruise  around lower Manhattan. We took the Big Bus to Pier 15, but when we arrived, the line for the boat was crazy long.

Luckily we had spotted a restaurant – Industry Kitchen – on our way in, so we decided to get lunch there and wait for the 1:30 cruise.  Dave got a Caesar salad and I got a pizza. Dave doesn’t usually like pizza, but he tried some of mine and ended up eating half of it! Which was fine, since it was way too big for me to eat all by myself anyway. The restaurant was nice, and because it was so sunny, they had all the doors open, so even though we were sitting inside, it still felt very light and airy.

OH- and how could I forget this? They had a unisex bathroom. It was the first time I’ve actually witnessed one with my own eyes and bladder. It was three or four stalls, with solid walls in between and full-length doors. The sink area was shared. I really wanted to take pictures and mention the experience on Facebook but I restrained myself.

When we finished lunch we got in line for the boat. One thing I’ve noticed they do at a lot of these places is ask you to pose for a picture before you go into the attraction. When you come out, they’ve printed out your picture and want to sell it to you for $35. I noticed the guy behind us was alone (he was a photographer) and he declined to have his picture taken. I guess I should remember that next time, as we aren’t going to buy photos.

I mean, why buy photos when we can take our own?


It’s us or the skyline… we nearly succeeded at fitting both in this frame. I’ll spare you the other selfies we took.

When we first got on the boat, I was annoyed because there was very limited seating and it was only around the windows. People had already claimed their spots and were viciously defending their territory. I had really looked forward to sitting down, as my feet were sore from walking so much and not wearing proper shoes. (What, they were cute boots!)

We  didn’t want to go up to the deck because we were afraid it would be really cold. We’d been freezing standing in line. I even had my mittens on! But after a while of jostling around in the boat, watching 90% of the occupants focusing more on their phones or their snacks than the actual view, we decided to get up to the deck and just deal with the cold.


The view was much better outside!

It turned out to be windy but not as chilly as I’d feared. We got a good look at the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island as we chugged by.

Then the boat turned back around and we headed back to land.


There’s Manhattan!







Dang, we could have taken a helicopter tour.


Ferries are born here.


The Brooklyn Bridge

The ferry ride, or whatever it was we were on, was about an hour long, although I think that included boarding and de-boarding (?) time because it went quickly.

We hopped back on the bus and back to Times Square. After a quick visit to Starbucks, we got on the bus again to do the uptown loop. This went around Central Park, along the upper West Side, to Grant’s Tomb, Harlem and Spanish Harlem and then back along the park, along what was once known as Millionaire’s Row – where the Astors and Vanderbilts had their mansions during the gilded age. Along the route we saw the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine (where James Gandolfini’s funeral was), The Dakota – the apartment where John and Yoko lived, John was shot and where Yoko still lives, and lots of other buildings where some famous person lived or still lives. Our tour guide kept joking about how much it cost to live along the park, but it was kinda bringing me down. Like, “Enjoy looking, but you will never be able to afford this life.”


Grant’s Tomb through the bus window.

We did enjoy the uptown bus loop. We sat on the top of the bus but it had a little shelter thing over the front, and heaters by our feet, so we kept warm enough. The people in the back, who were out in the breeze were freezing. They kept trying to get up and come to the front and the guide kept yelling at them to sit down because there were no seats open.

We got off the bus at the south end of Central Park since it was closer to our hotel than going back to Times Square. I have a soft spot for Central Park, as it’s the most well known works of the father of landscape architecture; Frederick Law Olmsted. Oh, and Calvert Vaux, but FLO is my homeboy. Ugh, why am I not doing landscape architecture?


Looking in to Central Park from W 59th St

Next time we go back to NYC, the plan is to do museums and Central Park. I’ll be sure to tell you all about it!