I ended Spring 2017 by crossing off a major bucket list item, visiting the Arenal Volcano Region! The Arenal Volcano is an active andesitic volcano in north-western Costa Rica in the province of Alajuela, canton of San Carlos, and district of La Fortuna.
Costa Rica is one of the most diverse countries in the world. If you love nature, it offers just about everything you could want in a tropical climate. Because of this, I found planning to be a little difficult because there were so many options. If you are only going for a few days I recommend picking a region, lodging and transportation to and from the airport and figuring the rest out when you arrive.
Getting to Costa Rica:
Costa Rica offers two main airports: San Jose and Liberia. Thankfully Southwest Airlines flies here so I was able to use points, but tickets are relatively inexpensive from most destinations. I will admit, on my return flight I did a travel hack aka I booked a flight with a long layover in Miami, hopped off in Miami and took a flight the next day back home. This saved me about $200!
I flew into the Liberia Airport, which is very small compared to the in San Jose airport. It took about 10 minutes to get through immigration and to the shuttle that was waiting to take me to the resort.
Rainy Season vs. Dry Season:
Costa Rica has a rainy season which typically attracts fewer tourists. As a result, everything from resorts to flights is discounted! Going the first week of May was perfect because it was right at the beginning of the rainy season so I was able to get awesome prices without having a ton of rain. When it did rain, which wasn’t often, it was magical!
I hired a private shuttle through http://www.liberiacostaricaairport.net to transport me from the Liberia Airport to the Arenal Springs Resort and Spa. They provided very clean, spacious and comfortable shuttles with plenty of room for a group. The trip duration was advertised as 3.5-4 hours but Costa Ricans (Ticos) drive very fast so I arrived at the resort in under 3 hours. Hiring a private shuttle gave me an opportunity to stop and take pictures, which I immediately requested when I saw the wind turbines at the edge of the Arenal Lake and Volcano region. As an energy nerd to say I was excited to see these turbines is an understatement and I spent about 10 minutes admiring them.
Once in the Volcano Region, if you are staying on a resort, you have to hire a taxi to get around the area. Taxis cost about $10-$15 per ride if you are going into town or to another nearby attraction. This can get a little pricey. An alternative option would be to rent a car from the nearby town, La Fortuna or from the airport and drive to the Volcano. While the roads leading up to the Volcano weren’t bad, driving up spirals might be intimidating, so if you aren’t comfortable stay on the safe side and hire a driver.
The Arenal Springs Resort and Spa
The La Fortuna region is full of Hostels; but after consulting with friends, I decided to stay in a resort to have a place to relax after the excursions. The Arenal Springs Resort is listed as a 4-star hotel but I experienced 5-star treatment. Because it was the rainy season, the resort was extremely affordable and it wasn’t overcrowded with guests. I was greeted with fresh fruit juice and escorted to my villa via a golf court after a very smooth check-in process. The resort offered an amazing, complimentary buffet, free yoga each morning, 4 hot springs, a hot tub and a swim up sushi bar, two restaurants, a stunning view of the volcano and all of the Costa Rican café that you could drink! If I ever return to this part of the world, I will definitely be staying at this resort.
If you get bored of relaxing in the hot springs, the volcano region offers a ton of recreational activities through half or full day excursions. If you’re going during the rainy season, wait until you get to your resort or hostel to book so you can have a better understanding of what is offered. I highly recommend the waterfall repelling and the white-water rafting. Both activities were extremely fun, and scary, offered excellent lunches and a chance to explore parts of the Costa Rican Rainforest.
Pros and Cons:
- As soon as I stepped off the plane it was obvious that the Costa Rica economy primarily revolves around tourism. Thus, if you’re looking for an “authentic” experience, you have to really try to go off the beaten path. However, it was amazing meeting so many young Ticos that enjoy showing tourists their beautiful country through adrenaline-rushing-activities.
- Costa Rica is extremely clean. I was amazed by the lack of trash, even in the busiest areas. Ticos pride themselves on this and encourage you to limit the amount of waste you’re creating with water bottles and just drink the natural water.
- Costa Rican food is amazing, but outside of rice, beans, chicken and pork there isn’t much variety so eating it every day can be a bit much. Thankfully almost every cuisine in the world can be found throughout the country.
- The exchange rate in Costa Rica changes drastically throughout the country. I would highly recommend converting all the cash you plan to spend at the airport, especially if you aren’t staying on a resort. While most businesses accept American dollars and major credit cards, the exchange rate skyrockets outside of the airport.
- Everyone speaks English, but challenge yourself to speak Spanish while you are there.
- The weather in the volcano region changed drastically and frequently throughout the day. I would recommend bringing a light jacket, even in the summer.
Overall, this was a great trip and I’m glad I had a chance to experience the country. If you are looking for an affordable and quick getaway, I highly recommend Costa Rica. PURA VIDA!