PURA VIDA IN LA FORTUNA
Updated: Sep 20
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Costa Rica is a magnificent physical specimen; striking volcanoes and mystical cloud forests partner to create a resplendent landscape replete with tropical beaches. The Dalai Lama once remarked, “When I visited Costa Rica earlier this year, I saw how a country can develop successfully without an army, to become a stable democracy committed to peace and the protection of the natural environment. This confirmed my belief that my vision of Tibet in the future is a realistic plan, not merely a dream.” Costa Rica did in fact abolish it’s military in 1948 to focus its resources on culture and education. This resulted in Costa Rica having one of the highest literacy rates in the Americas.
I arrived in San Jose, Costa Rica on the 17th, and spent several days meandering around the city’s downtown. Yesterday, I took an early bus to the lush and resplendent town of La Fortuna. La Fortuna is known as the entrance to the Arenal Volcano, inside the Arenal Volcano National Park. Arenal National Park actually contains two volcanoes; Arenal Volcano at 5,357 feet (1,633 meters) and Chato Volcano which sits at 3,740 feet (1,140 meters). Arenal National Park is a 29,692 acres and is the second most visited national park in Costa Rica. While I’m visiting, I’ve booked a few days in this hostel Palacios Arenal (9.3 rating on Hostelworld). I didn’t realize until I arrived, that the Arenal volcano sits right in front of the hostel. You can see in the photos I took from the hostel and the street, the close proximity.
I was in Costa Rica for one day last year, in the cruise town of Puntarenas. I spent the entire day on a fantastic tour, although now I don’t recall the name of the provider. The highlight was the jaguar sanctuary, known as the Natuwa Sanctuary at El Manantial, which contains a phenomenal collection of rescued animals such as jaguars, macaws, parrots, and monkeys. This is my first time in La Fortuna and I was awestruck on the four hour bus ride from San Jose. La Fortuna Spanish for the “the fortune” and is located in the canton of San Carlos, in the province of Alajuela. The town is 229.7 km sq and placed at an elevation of 253 meters.
The last big eruption of Arenal took place in 1968. On Monday July 29th, at 7:30 am, the volcano erupted violently. It unleashed 12-15 kilometers of rocks and lava, killing 87 people and burying the villages of Pueblo Nuevo, Tabacon, and San Luis. Currently, the hotels and shops are built at a safe distance from the crater. There once was tours available to take tourists and hikers to the west ridge of the crater rim of the Arenal Volcano, but there was a multitude of injuries and even deaths from falling ash and toxic gases. In 1998 an exclusion zone was created which limits access to scientists.
La Fortuna has a terrific collection of activities. Of course the highlight is the Arenal volcano which can be viewed from a platform on the western side; there are also hot springs, waterfalls, sloth trails, wildlife sightseeing excursions on the river, and nature hikes. Arenal is a rainforest and therefore replete with hanging bridges. The Mistico hanging bridges are a great way to explore, with 600 acres and 16 suspended bridges. If you want to visit a waterfall while you’re vacationing, the La Fortuna waterfall drops 75 ft. and is picturesque. For those travelers who are not claustrophobic, one can visit the Venado Caves. There is a popular saying in Costa Rica that goes, “Pura Vida!” This phrase, which translates to “pure life”, is a microcosm for the Costa Rican lifestyle.