Arenal - Road Tripping with S/V RAN
When Rachel and I were getting ready to leave on our own sailing adventure, we craved information and a glimpse into what our new life would be like. I read hundreds of megabytes worth of blogs before I finally found the joys of Youtube and how great video blogs, or vlogs are. One of the channels that I fell in love with was RAN Sailing. If haven’t heard of them, or seen any of Johan & Malin’s videos, stop reading here and go to their YouTube Channel and watch a few of their episodes now. Be warned though, this Swedish couple will draw you in and don't be surprised if you end up binge watching hours of sailing videos.
One morning while anchored off of Playas del Coco, I got pretty excited to see them sailing into the anchorage. Once they’d anchored and settled in we radioed over to say hello. After quick introductions, we all ended up piling into our dingy and heading to shore so they could get checked into the country and do some provisioning.
The next day we both ended up moving our boats a few miles over and into Marina Papagayo. This new marina definitely caters to more high-end luxury and mega yachts, but with it being low season they were willing to lower their rates and cut deals with us lowly cruisers. Both boats had long lists of things we wanted to get done while in the marina. For us it was mostly small projects and some deep cleaning that we had put off for sometime, but now with access to a dock and shore power it was the perfect time to tackle. It had also been over two months since Agape had a good bath and the salty, sand filled papagayo winds had taken their toll on Agape's usual shine. RAN on the other hand was getting ready for a 4,100nm passage, direct to Hawaii, and had actual work and preparation to do.
Luckily, there is only so much boat work we can do before we need a break, and with a bit of persuasion we were able to convince Johan and Malin to take some time off of their busy work load and come with us on a little road trip inland to the volcanic highlands of Arenal.
The Arenal Volcano is a symmetrical cone-shaped volcano that dominates the lush jungle landscape of Arenal Volcano National Park, and until recently it was the country’s most active volcano with an average of 41 eruptions per day. Although the volcano is currently in a “resting phase”, the region offers an abundance of exciting adventures. While you cannot hike up the volcano itself, we recommend hiking through Arenal Volcano National Park in search of old lava flows and wildlife. Slight changes in altitude create unique micro-climates and ecosystems throughout this region, making it home to a variety of exotic species. There is so much protected forest here that it’s natural inhabitants have no reason to fear humans and we found that the animals we saw were extremely curious.
We were only on a day trip through the park but you could easily spend much more time here. In just 10 hours we saw wild coati, howler monkeys, and macaws, soaked in the hot spring river under the misty jungle canopy, hiked to the La Fortuna waterfall and had lunch beside the calm and peaceful lake shore. Just driving around this magnificent park was a magical experience!
Even though we were only in the park for a day, here are a few activities we would recommend:
Soak your tired muscles in the thermal hot pools located around the park! These hot springs are formed when water is heated underground and bubbles to the surface. Costa Rica’s mineral rich waters have been used as therapeutic baths for more than two hundred years, and these natural wonders tempt even the most experienced travelers for a good reason. Arenal is home to several hot springs, some are free to visit, but the nicer ones are part of luxury spas and hotels. You can pay to go to the Tabacón Resort’s springs or walk just down the road and under the small bridge to access the free hot spring river with the locals like we did.
There are several spectacular waterfalls in the Arenal area but we chose to visit La Fortuna, as it is one of the closest and is easily accessible. From the lush rainforest canopy, La Fortuna plummets over 200 feet into a pool of crystal clear, cool water, easily making it one of the country’s most beautiful waterfalls and it’s no wonder why it’s become so well known! It can only be reached by foot (although it’s only a 15 minute walk) and if you go early or stay just until closing the crowds die down. At $15 a person to visit this fall, it is definitely on the more expensive side for a waterfall hike, but you are probably only going to be here once so dip into the happy hour fund and take the plunge!
At the base of Volcano Arenal sits Costa Rica’s largest lake. With the mighty volcano as its backdrop and the surrounding rolling hills and forests, Lake Arenal is truly a stunning vision. Fishing, kayaking, and stand up paddle boarding are some of the most popular activities enjoyed on the lake. For the romantics, and to earn double brownie points with your partner, book a sunset dinner cruise for views you won’t soon forget. Even if you can’t fit a lake day into your itinerary, you can most certainly enjoy the scenery as you drive around the park.
Go spelunking at Venado caves! If you thought the landscape was beautiful above ground, the Venado Caves are an underground wonder-world of limestone channels nearly 20 million years old. This unique adventure will take you 8,850 feet down into the earth, where fossils and subterranean animals reside. Wade through an underground river to see stalactites, stalagmites and a waterfall, with a professional guide who explain the history of this unique ecosystem.
Beyond this, there are a ton of the usual activities around the lake, like horseback riding, zip-lining, coffee plantation tours and much more. If you plan on visiting Northern Costa Rica, Parque National Volcan Arenal is definitely a spot you don’t want to miss!!!