Rainer Jenss and his family are wrapping up the final weeks of their around-the-world journey, and they’re blogging about their experiences for us at Intelligent Travel. Keep up with the Jensses by bookmarking their posts, and follow the boys’ Global Bros blog at National Geographic Kids.
Of all the things we’ve experienced over the course of this yearlong world tour, I must confess that it’s been the scenery and wildlife that’s often left the biggest impression, and Costa Rica didn’t disappoint. Mind you, this is a broad generalization and we’ve encountered some of the most generous, interesting, and unique personalities I’ve ever met, but the abundance of natural splendor this world contains is probably what I’ll most remember from this trip.
Our next stop on our Costa Rican adventure would certainly validate this assertion. The Arenal Volcano and its constant ash column and nightly spewing of fiery red lava rocks was a must-visit because Stefan’s third grade science curriculum required instruction on volcanoes. We have had ample opportunity to cover this subject throughout our travels, most notably in Hawaii and New Zealand (not to mention Santorini), but this is one of the most active volcanoes in the world, and there aren’t too many places to get a show like this… if the weather cooperates, and that’s a big “if”.
We knew it was a roll of the dice to come here during the rainy season. If the clouds shrouded the mountain, as they often do, we were at least assured to have plenty of alternative activities to make it worthwhile. The nearby town of La Fortuna is the jumping-off point to some of the region’s most exciting adrenalin-inducing pursuits. If the threat of a potential volcanic eruption isn’t enough to get your heart pumping, then perhaps some white-water rafting would do the trick? I figured we had to spend at least a day running down one of Costa Rica’s famous Class V rivers. But given that Stefan is only nine and pretty inexperienced (like the rest of us), we were more than happy to settle for the half-day Class II-III rapids offered by the Desafio Adventures Company. In fact, we all had a blast and got to view some picturesque scenery and wildlife (sloths, dart frogs, and monkeys) to boot.
Most people don’t leave La Fortuna without soaking in the famous hot springs heated by the volcano itself. Personally, I find this a pretty weak consolation for anyone who doesn’t actually see the volcano, especially at the exorbitant prices some resorts and spas in the area charge to sample them. We stayed at the very affordable Los Lagos Resort that included several thermal pools on the property as well as some pretty hairy water slides that made the rafting seem tame.
Fortunately, the weather was ideal for viewing Arenal the day we had a coveted reservation at the Observatory Lodge. The best nighttime views of the lava flows are from this spot, so we lingered on the restaurant’s deck after dinner to watch the action because our room didn’t face the volcano. If it had (as several do), I would say it would have indisputably been my favorite hotel room of the entire yearlong trip. There’s no better view for my money than watching an active volcano streaming glowing molten rocks down a picture-perfect conical shaped mountain less than two miles away.
While most vacationers we talked to headed for the beaches on the Nicoya Peninsula or Central Pacific Coast, we left La Fortuna and took an inexpensive internal flight to Puerto Jimenez and the more wild and rugged southwestern shores of the Osa Peninsula. After all, it’s been called “the most biologically intense place on earth,” and the southeastern border crossing into Panama was a more attractive alternative for where we were going next.
Because we didn’t rent a car (even with a 4WD, it’s pretty tough driving), we had no real access to the Parque Nacional Corcovado, for which the area is most famous. Although visiting the pristine rain forest and its abundance of wildlife was tempting, it would have required some pretty heavy-duty trekking and serious camping, none of which we were prepared for. An alternative would have been to charter a plane and fly directly into Sirena Station in the heart of the park, but that wasn’t realistic either. Instead, we settled in a secluded cabin on Cabo Matapalo Beach, which offered world-class surf and ample opportunities for rugged exploration and adventure right at our doorstep.
The cabin’s owner, Andy Pruter, runs an operation called Everyday Adventure, which gives a personalized tour of the area’s heavily forested coastline. The full package offers climbing 60 feet up a 400-year-old strangler fig tree called “The Cathedral.” The kids scaled it with ease while dad here had a slower go reliving one of every boy’s favorite childhood pastimes. It also includes the option of rappelling down a 100-foot waterfall. Although the water wasn’t running yet, we did it anyway, which proved a great accomplishment for father and sons alike.
In the afternoon, Stefan and I went surfing at nearby Pan Dulce Beach, which is much better for beginners. Meanwhile, Carol and Tyler scouted for the plethora of animals that inhabit the area, including scarlet macaws, anteaters, four species of monkeys, brown pelicans and a host of other amphibians and snakes. And to completely go with the Zen flow, Carol and I took a couple of outdoor yoga classed run by an American expat, who like Andy, now calls this area home.
“Roughing it” a little bit certainly should make us appreciate all the conveniences and creature comforts of the home we’d soon be returning to back in the U.S. and was also the perfect tune-up for the final stop of our journey, Panama.
Photos: Volcano, Greg Dix; Strangler Fig, Rainer Jenss; Quetzal, Tyler Jenss.