I know most of my blog posts have been about our travels in the States, therefore, I thought it would be good to share my experiences from our other travels around the world, starting with our trip to Costa Rica in 2017. Costa Rica seems to be rapidly growing in popularity with tourists and its not hard to see why. With beautiful mountains, rainforests and beaches, diverse and abundant flora and fauna, friendly locals, lovely weather, great food and the fact that the country is almost entirely powered by renewable energy, why wouldn't you want to travel here? And one place in particular that you really must visit while in Costa Rica is Arenal Volcano National Park, just outside the town of La Fortuna.
Arenal Volcano National Park
While visiting Arenal, the main attraction of course is Arenal Volcano. In fact, it is pretty hard to miss this huge, towering volcano. Being a perfectly symmetrical cone shape, it is extremely popular with sightseers and photographers, despite the fact that its top is quite often obscured by clouds. The large expanse of water that is Lake Arenal resides at the base of the volcano and actually generates about 12% of the country's hydroelectric energy. From the lake you will also see large wind farms at the tops of the mountains, generating even more renewable energy.
Arenal Volcano National Park, Costa Rica
Start off at the Arenal Volcano National Park visitor centre where you can choose from several short hiking trails. These trails will take you through rainforest where you will pass enormous trees, beautiful orchids and an abundance of colourful birds. Also, make sure to go just down the road to the Arenal 1968 Lava Trails. This offers spectacular views of the volcano and follows the original lava flow from the huge eruption that took place here in 1968. This hike is really worth doing and leads you across lava rocks and boulders right up to the base of the volcano. We also encountered fewer people along this hiking trail than on the other trails we walked around Arenal and the more open habitats contain a different diversity of wildlife compared to that within the forest.
La Fortuna Waterfall
This impressive, 200ft high waterfall is situated just outside La Fortuna and is a must-see during your stay. As its quite a popular destination, it may be worth arriving a little earlier in the day to beat the crowds and enjoy unspoilt views of the waterfall. There are various viewpoints to observe from; start from the top before descending just over 500 steps to reach the bottom of the waterfall. Here there are also opportunities to jump into the Fortuna River for a quick swim. Don't miss out on the orchid garden comprising a collection of up to 200 species that are native to Costa Rica. This is part of an important conservation project to raise awareness of the negative effects of deforestation and habitat loss on these beautiful flowers and highlights the important relationships these plants have with their pollinators.
La Fortuna waterfall, Costa Rica
Thermal Hot springs
Don't forget to stop at some thermal hot springs, naturally heated by bubbling underground lava from the nearby volcano. There are several places that you can visit including free, natural hot springs that any local could guide you to. We chose to go to Eco Thermales Fortuna which turned out to be a really good choice as it was lovely and quiet when we visited, with only a few other people there. Here there are several pools of varying temperatures between 37°C to 41°C as well as a cooler pool and waterfall, all surrounded by lush green vegetation. There is also a bar that serves delicious cocktails and sun loungers to relax on. All in all, we found our experience here very relaxing and a great way to unwind following a day of hiking around Arenal.
Social Flycatcher at Arenal National Park, Costa Rica
Summer tanager at Arenal National Park, Costa Rica
Arenal Volcano National Park is home to a great abundance of wildlife. In particular, there are some stunning birds such as the Social Flycatcher and Summer Tanager (shown above) as well as Montezuma Oropendola, Keel-billed Toucan, Crested Guam, White-fronted Parrot, Golden-hooded Tanager, Blue Dacnis and a variety of hummingbird and woodpecker species. Some of these birds we also observed around our hotel grounds (we stayed at Hotel Arenal Manoa). This hotel was fantastic and offered superb views of the volcano from our room and had lovely grounds including a lake that is home to some impressive Spectacled Caiman. When you look up closely at the palm trees surrounding the lake you will see several iguanas basking in the sun. Despite their large size, they can easily be missed as they perch motionlessly in the trees. Variegated squirrels scurry about in search for food while numerous small birds dart about. Turkey vultures soar overhead and, if you're lucky, you will see the striking Crested Caracara swoop over. It is a wildlife lover's paradise!
Costa Rica, in particular Arenal, is a beautiful place and somewhere that I highly recommend you visit. If you are like me and love wildlife and amazing scenery, you will certainly enjoy your stay here and will be desperate to return back again!
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