Tag Archives: alajuela

La Fortuna

I arrived in La Fortuna the next afternoon and headed to the hostel I found on the internet called “Sleepers Sleep Cheap”.  The word ‘cheap’ of course caught my eye immediately when searching for somewhere and the reviews seemed good enough.

About 100 meters south of the bus terminal, I arrived at the hostel which was set back a little from town than most of the others.  For $10 a night, I got a private room with a private bath, hot water and breakfast!  I paid for 2 nights and proceeded to get settled in.  Honestly I don’t have any negative words for the hostel.  It was a very basic set-up and nothing fancy by any means, but it was cheap, my room was clean, the staff were very friendly and accommodating, and the breakfast area had one of the best views in my opinion… I will later divulge what that view was;)

Now, I wanted to state my opinion about the hostel before writing about this bit: interestingly enough, weeks later when I was in Bocas Town (Bocas del Toro), Panama, I met a couple who just happened to stay at the hostel at the same time that I was staying there!  But they had a very different opinion of the place… Though they did agree it was cheap, they said they believed they had bed bugs and that their door wouldn’t close all the way so all sorts of critters would come in during the day and night.  Their room wasn’t clean and they weren’t that thrilled with what was served for breakfast (toast, eggs, fruit and coffee).  So, I guess it just goes to show you that not everyone’s experiences are the same!

In any event, after getting settled in it was about time to eat something, so I found a local soda that was recommended and that was just down the street from my hostel and had a fantastic fillet de pollo casado!  I absolutely love those casados!!!

Waiting for my meal to arrive, two guys whom I had met on the bus showed up so we dined together.  I spent that evening wandering the streets of La Fortuna with them, drinking beer in the central park. Since we had all arrived in the late evening, there really wasn’t much time to get our barring of the area, so at this point none of us really knew where the famed volcano was.  Sitting in the park drinking, it became a little bit of a game trying to figure out where the volcano actually was.  If the volcano had been active, it would have been quite obvious, but alas the volcano was dormant while I was there.  And mind you, it had been dark since before dinner, so there wasn’t any way to see around us…

The next morning I rose early determined to check several things off my list.  First off, I wanted to do a tour of the volcano and perhaps the hot springs and second I wanted to go to the famed La Fortuna waterfall and finally, I wanted to get a plan in place on where my next destination would be.  Even though the purpose of my trip to Costa Rica was not to be a tourist, one really can’t help but do a tour or two once here!  They can be pricey, that’s for sure but I did a lot of tour “office hopping” prior to settling on the final place to book at.  And since it was the off-season, there were more deals available than not.

Red Lava, a tour office located at the bus terminal offered the best prices and most unique tours.  Through them I booked a tour of the Arenal volcano that was 5 hours long, including a nature hike to a waterfall (not the La Fortuna waterfall but another one), a history of the Arenal volcano and finishing off with a night dip in a natural hot spring.  I also booked for a Jeep-Boat-Jeep package that would get me from La Fortuna to my next destination of Monteverde via, well you guessed it: a jeep, a boat and a jeep:)

It was mid-morning by the time I got all my bookings complete and since my volcano tour wasn’t going to start until 2pm, I opted to spend my time in between by going to the famous La Fortuna waterfall.  Since my motto on spending money was “the less you spend now, the more you will have later” I decided to walk to the waterfall, located inside a National Park, instead of taking a bus directly to the entrance of the National Park… I really should have just paid the darn $8 for the bus!!!!!  But oh no, I decided to keep that money and hike there myself instead!  Afterall, it was a paved road to the park so I figured a little exercise would do me some good!  I have no idea what the temperature was outside, but the sun was shining and it was definitely humid!  I had my little personal bag with me so I could bring my camera for the trip and take plenty of pictures.  And I was off for my hike…

About 8 kilometers (about 3 of which were straight uphill- the end 3 of course) later I arrived to the park entrance red-faced and completely dripping in sweat.  In fact I was so saturated with sweat that both my t-shirt and breathable pants were completely soaked through!!  My bag, supposedly waterproof, even began to soak in some of my sweat so that the inside contents became damp!  The very first thing I did when I got to the park entrance was go to the bathroom and practically bathe myself in the sink with my clothes still on!  Thankfully I did have along with me my vapur water bottle and therefore was hydrated the entire way, but I still had to refill it twice before ever leaving the bathroom because of my extreme thirst!!  People were looking at me like I was crazy, but all I cared about at that point was that I had made it!!

But then, I glanced at my watch… it was noon… there was NO way I was going to be able to actually get to the waterfall and back down to town by 2:00 for my volcano tour:(  You see, I had made it to the park ENTRANCE but the waterfall itself was still about a kilometer deep into the park.  And tack on the fact that if I wanted to even try to see the waterfall I would have had to pay the $10 entrance fee, well, it just didn’t make much sense at that point to even try for it.  So I decided to simply head back down to the town, perhaps get a bite to eat and make it in time for my tour.

The walk back to town was much nicer!!  All downhill with a little breeze to boot!  The little breeze did wonders to dry my clothing on the walk down and by the time I made it back (about 1) I had just enough time to grab a bite to eat at the soda where I had dinner and get ready to meet my tour.

Oh and I promised I would divulge the breakfast view from my hostel… It was indeed the volcano!!!  I had been staring at it all morning during the first morning while enjoying breakfast yet never realized I what I was looking at, lol!!!

On to Volcan Arenal Tour

Back to Costa Rica

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Volcan Poas

Volcan, as you may guess, means Volcano in Spanish.  This particular volcano however was not a cone volcano, but rather a geyser.  It is apparently the largest active geyser in the world! But I’m getting ahead…

I took a bus ride to the volcano with all my gear in tow thinking there was a town nearby where I could stay for the night, and not really fully understanding that the volcano was located in a National Park… Therefore NO sleeping facilities… In any event, the ride there was almost entirely uphill and quite cloudy.  There literally were times when I had to stop watching the road and just trust that the driver knew what he was doing because it became so cloudy at times that it was hard to see more than a few feet ahead!!

We reached the National Park entrance and all tourists on the bus were asked to get off so we could pay.  All National Parks in Costa Rica cost $10.00 for tourists to enter, but if you are local it’s cheaper.  I’m not entirely sure how much cheaper, but none of the locals had to get off the bus to pay, but rather they were all counted up and paid for by the bus driver.  It was standing in the line to pay for the park where I met two fellow Americans.  One was teaching English to students in Alajuela, and the other was a retired gentleman who was going to head to Puerto Viejo after a short stay in Alajuela to potentially retire there.

Once all the payment business was over we loaded onto the bus and were dropped off in the bus parking lot…  Perhaps now is the time to bring up again that since I was thinking that I could stay the night in or at least very near the park, I had brought my backpack with me… Well, when we were all getting off the bus, since I wasn’t sure whether we were going to have the same exact bus on the way back down, I thought it best to bring my backpack with me.  But what this meant was that I was going to get a bit more exercise than I had signed up for originally, lol!!  Basically I hiked all around the park with my dang backpack cinched on me and cursing every time I had to walk uphill, lol!!

In any event, after getting off the bus I simply followed the signs and my two new friends up the trail to the volcano.  My oh my what a view…

Isn’t it just fantastic?!?!?!  Ok, now I know it doesn’t look like much, but believe it or not you are actually looking at the volcano in this picture.  Everyone looked and looked and looked around for some sign of where exactly this volcano was, but because of the low clouds, all you could see (as above) was mist.  My two friends and I hung around for a little while longer and agreed that this (the dense fog) was probably the reason we were given 3 hours to hang around the park.  Apparently dense fog is quite common at this volcano and one must be very patient if they want to actually see it.

Patience wasn’t very high on our list however, and since there were two other trails that led to a lake beside the geyser volcano, we decided to try our luck and see whether the lake was visible.  Up and up and up we hiked through dense jungle forest on teeny concrete paths until again meeting our final destination.  And can you believe it???  The lake looked exactly like the picture above!!  Nothing but dense fog!!

Once again we resolved to simply hang out for a little bit and got to chatting.  And then it happened… In mid-sentence one of my new friends gasped at the image that unfolded in front of us.  The clouds suddenly lifted revealing a beautiful green lake!

This beautiful view literally only lasted about 10 minutes and then the fog once again swept in and obscured the lake from view. Thinking perhaps to try our luck at the geyser we immediately left (all downhill thankfully) and headed back to the geyser.

The rain started to pour down on us as we went down and I even had to stop to put on my poncho before getting too soaked! Once back to our original station at the geyser, the fog once again showed no signs of lifting. But about 10 minutes later, just as it had at the lake, the fog miraculously lifted and you could see the geyser!!

Just as the mist came and went within 10 minutes at the lake, the same was true for the geyser!  We really lucked out on our timing for this trip!!

After waiting for the fog to close back over the geyser, we headed back for a snack at the cafe in the park and awaited our bus.  It was on the bus ride back that I was offered a free couch for the night at the girls place.  I accepted the generous offer and we were all dropped off in Alajuela.  The rest of the night was spent hanging out with my two new friends and the girls boyfriend.  We had a great dinner at a local soda then wandered the streets for some ice cream at a chain place called Pops.  Personally I wasn’t impressed by the ice cream there, but many people seem to enjoy it, so to each their own!

On to La Fortuna

Back to Costa Rica

San Jose

I should start by saying that I really didn’t have a plan.  None of this trip was planned exactly.  The farthest I ever got with “planning” was that I was going to sell everything, quit my job and travel out of the Country.  But that was it.  Seriously, nothing beyond there.  So when I landed in the San Jose airport (located in Alajuela) I didn’t have any further idea of where I was going to even sleep that night or what my next move was…

Many would find that crazy especially since I had the time to figure it all out, but in my mind I was just interested in the experience and the challenge of having to figure it out as I went along.  I have always done my best work when thrown into the deep end of the pool and in a way, planning to NOT have a plan was my own personal ocean:)
Walking out of the airport I was immediately ambushed by tons of eager faces and voices all asking “Taxi???”.  I turned them down and asked someone nearby where the bus station was instead.  My thoughts were to get out of San Jose immediately and get out to a more typical Costa Rica town: more nature, less city!  As I made my way toward the buses I suddenly thought “well, one night wouldn’t hurt and I could use it to get my barring”.  So I headed back to the taxis and met a couple of other people who were asking if I wanted to share a cab to San Jose.  I took this as a sign that ok, I could stay one night in San Jose!

In retrospect, had I really understood that the airport was in Alajuela (which I did have a foggy memory of my brother telling me that, yet it somehow wasn’t solidified in my mind) I would have just gotten a taxi to downtown Alajuela…

In any event, about a half our later we were in San Jose and had dropped off my two taxi buddies at their various locations.  The taxi driver then turned to me and (all in Spanish) said- “where are you off to?”  I replied that I had no idea, but asked what he would suggest?  I stated that I wanted somewhere cheap- the cheaper the better in my mind!  He politely stated however that he would much prefer I stayed somewhere a little more pricey, but it would be in an area he considered safe for a single traveler.  I acquiesced and was taken to a little B&B near the downtown area.

After settling in I spent the rest of the afternoon getting lost and trying to get directions on where downtown actually was!  I ran into a few people on the street who I trusted to ask questions of and they assisted me very kindly- but each person also emphatically told me to either get back to my B&B prior to the night-time or take a taxi back.  “Muy peligroso” was what I was told.  Mainly because the drug addicts come out at night and petty crimes apparently aren’t unusual in San Jose.  Though there are crimes everywhere, I took the locals advice to heart and made sure I was back at the B&B by 6pm (yes, it gets dark here by 6pm everyday, year round!).

San Jose was a bustling, constantly moving city!  There were people everywhere!!  In the markets, hanging out in the parks, moving on foot or in their cars or on bikes going to their destinations.  Movement everywhere you looked!  Buildings weren’t very tall but they were everywhere all squished together as far as the eye could see, thus blocking any real view of the beautiful nature that surrounds the city.  McDonald’s, Quizno’s, Pizza Hut and other U.S. food chains were also everywhere!  I hate to admit, but as I was getting a little tired from all the travels and walking around all afternoon, I did drift to a Quizno’s for dinner.  The shame, I know!!  But crowds and areas with lots of hustle and bustle tend to wear me out fast and it was nice to get a little food that I could relate to, so to speak.  I knew there would be plenty of time to taste local flavors and I was certainly looking forward to that, but for the time I was happy with the Quizno’s.

After my bite to eat I did a little internet research at my B&B for Volcan Poas.  My cousin, who is a “seasoned” Costa Rica traveler said it was a good day trip from San Jose, so I decided to check out what was available there (hostels and such) for a trip the next day.  I found a few hostels online and took down their information so I could look them up once there.  I also had to get the bus situation understood because San Jose has 4, yes 4 different bus stations all in different locations from one another.  Depending on where you want to go to, that decides which bus terminal you need to show up to.

As I settled into the B&B to sleep, a huge thunderstorm settled in overhead… Now for those of you who know me, you know that I absolutely ADORE thunderstorms!!! In fact, so much that whether a place has thunderstorms on a fairly consistent basis is actually a deciding factor for me on whether I will plan to live there or not.  I know, I know- sounds absolutely nuts picking a place to live based on thunderstorms, but hey, I follow my passions no matter what form they take!

On to Volcan Poas

Back to Costa Rica

September 17th, 2011

Dropped off at the airport around 3am, my journey was about to begin.  I hadn’t slept entirely well the night before due to many factors really- nerves, had I packed enough?, ideas of what may lay ahead, but most of all fear that I wouldn’t be allowed in the Country to begin with…

Let me explain: all the online posts I had read pertaining to traveling to Costa Rica stated that you had to have proof of leaving the Country prior to entering.  In other words a bus ticket or a return plane ticket showing that you were going to be leaving within 90 days of arrival.  I had no such proof.  I had only purchased a one-way ticket there.

What I had later learned is that many airlines- Spirit, Air Mexico, etc will not allow you to purchase a one-way ticket online.  Or if they do, once you arrive at the airport you get slapped with the happy news that you have to pony up some more money for a return ticket… kinda sneaky if you ask me, but the good news or best advice rather if you find yourself in that scenario is to simply buy a refundable ticket and cancel it after printing your proof of a return flight.

One example of the kind of trouble one may run into without a return ticket from CR was of a couple who flew in to Miami (as part of the journey to CR) then were denied bording access to the plane to CR because they didn’t have a return flight!  They ended up having to get back to the ticket sales desk, only to find one airline open, purchase a ticket, haul back through security and get on the plane in the nick of time!

Though I was nervous about not having a return flight, I said to myself that if I wasn’t meant to go to Costa Rica, then I would have complications getting in.  If not, well then that was just one more sign that I was supposed to go.

The flight was quite pleasant as I slept for most of the time.  I traveled on US Air and made one of the best last minute travel purchases while on a flight: a sleep pack that included a little blanket, air pillow, eye mask and ear plugs all condensed in the size of… well frankly this little 10″ netbook I’m currently working on:)  It has come in handy time and time again!

My most nerve-wracking moment was when I arrived at the San Jose airport (which btw folks isn’t actually located in San Jose, but rather Alajuela- but I will speak more about that later).  Would I get past Immegration with only a one-way ticket???  Indeed I did:)

On to San Jose

Back to Costa Rica