Volcan Arenal

After beach time and mountain time, I decided to round out my Costa Rica trip with some volcano time in the city of La Fortuna. La Fortuna is a small village that sits just below the formidable Arenal volcano. Arenal has been active twice in its history- once 3,000 years ago and most recently in the period between 1968 and 2010, when it again went dormant. The 1968 eruption killed 90 people on one side of the volcano, yet spared the small village sitting at its foot on the other side. At that point, the village changed its name to La Fortuna, meaning “good fortune” or “luck.”

I opted to travel from Monteverde to La Fortuna via the “jeep-boat-jeep” method, which is an overland vehicle out of Monteverde, a boat ride along Arenal Lake beneath the volcano, then another car ride into town. At a cost of $25 and travel time of only 3 hours, this travel method made sense as compared to all day on the public bus. It turned out to offer some amazing views, and was so much fun! I met other travelers from Mexico, Israel, Australia, and the Netherlands. 

With some Australian friends/a fellow law student from the boat!

In particular, I met Gustavo, a guy from Mexico City who has been traveling for 2 years straight now and finances his travels by impersonating Captain Jack Sparrow and collecting tips. He lost his phone 4 months ago and decided he didn’t need one, and has been living without one ever since. He is the definition of a free spirit, and he provided so much entertainment on our journey! 

Once we arrived in La Fortuna, I checked into Mayol Lodge and spent some time lounging by the pool, writing, and checking out the beautiful river and waterfall located on the property. I also booked an “extreme 2 volcano trek” with the receptionist for the next day. A friend back in Manuel Antonio had recommended Red Lava tours for $75, but the receptionist offered me a deal with a locally-owned company for $60. 


The next morning, I set off on the trek with our 2 guides, and a group of both solo and couple travelers from Australia, Canada, and Germany. I was also so excited to finally meet 3 other travelers from NYC, including another girl traveling solo like me! We ended up having some great conversations over the course of the day about life, travel, and living in NYC. 

With Juan the guide, before things got loco

The 10-hour trek kicked off with a 2.5 hour hike up Chato, which is a smaller volcano beside Arenal without a top. Instead, a massive cater and lagoon exist at the top of the volcano. The hike started off as difficult but manageable. We were going at a pretty steep incline, using hands to grab rocks and roots for balance and leverage along the way. There was no trail- we just followed a downhill path carved out by water flow. 
The trail up Chato. This all became mud once the rain started!

Then the rain started about halfway up Chato, and it didn’t stop for the rest of the day. We reached the top of the crater, and had to walk another kilometer around the edge to reach the point where we would descend 100 meters down to the lake. The mud situation got serious, and I was up to my ankles a few times and almost lost my shoe due to the suction once! The real challenge began when we descended down to the lagoon by sliding and climbing on all fours down the slick rocks. “It’s better to have mud on your a** than in your face,” our guide Juan advised. 


Once at the lagoon, the rain intensified and the already poor visibility decreased even more. I did wade out into the water with some of my NYC friends, only to wash some mud off, as the temperature had also dropped. Sadly, we couldn’t see any of the beautiful views of the crater and Arenal given the weather, but I know it was all there just beyond the rain! 

You can’t tell, but we’re standing in a lagoon on top of the volcano Chato.
We then ascended the 100 meters out of the crater to continue around Chato and descend the volcano on the other side toward Arenal. Just as it had been tricky descending the 100 meters on the slick rocks in the mud, it was equally as challenging climbing out the same way. I used roots and branches to pull myself up particularly tall rocks. 

My plan was working well, until a few minutes in when my foot slipped on a rock just as I was dangling from a branch. My left thigh crashed into the rock as I fell just 2 feet, but it was enough to hurt a lot! Sure enough, I had a pretty big (but fortunately shallow) scrape on my left thigh, and the blood started flowing. I had no choice but to keep climbing, as we were in the middle of a cliff. All of my fellow hikers were so sweet and offered to help me, and one new NYC friend used his water to clean the wound. As the blood kept flowing, I waited for Juan once I reached the top, and he was able to clean the wound with alcohol and wrap my leg in gauze to keep all the mud out. I have to say I felt super tough at this point! 


We were all covered in mud, and it was still pouring rain…


We continued the hike down Chato to then hike around Arenal to some waterfalls and hanging bridges for another 3 hours. 

Crossing a hanging bridge

Juan kept a close eye on me to make sure I didn’t have any other accidents (haha). Even as the rain continued to pour, we all kept ourselves in good spirits by laughing and joking about the insanity of the situation. In particular, my new Canadian friend Matt made me laugh so much the rest of the afternoon that I forgot I was cold, wet, and bleeding. It was actually fun! 

We found a river to wash off in, and a waterfall. We even saw a tree frog in the pouring rain. So cute! 

This is real, not fake, I promise!

After a few more hours of hiking, we reached the Arenal observatory around 6:30pm. Sadly, we could not see Arenal at all. Instead, I stood under the hand dryer in the bathroom to try to warm up and dry off (this was the first shelter we had all day!) Juan also gave us coffee! 

Then, we loaded up in a bus and rode over to some natural hot springs, where we soaked our sore (and injured) muscles and floated. We also enjoyed some Costa Rican cocktails at this point, as well as a volcanic mud facial. It was the perfect ending to the day.


Last night, after I showered and as I fell asleep in clean, dry clothes, I thought about what a wild day it had been and realized I had never been more thankful to be in a dry, warm shelter in my life. I felt very fortunate. I also felt fortunate to have met such fun, adventurous, and hilarious people from around the world on the trek. We all had so much time to chat, commiserate, and share life stories as we trekked through the rain and mud for what felt like an endless amount of hours. Lastly, I felt fortunate that I didn’t hurt myself that badly when falling down the rock, that Juan had a first aid kit on hand, and that I was able to continue the trek and have a great day. I’ve had a few close calls on this trip, so I’m more than ready to return home to NYC at this point.


That’s not to say I didn’t love the jungle! Similar to when Sarah, Rachele, and I trekked Vinicunca mountain in Peru back in June, I feel like I pushed myself to a new limit and proved my own strength to myself on yesterday’s trek. At a point in my life where my days are usually characterized by a conflated stream of words from the cases I read and lecture notes I take, it was cathartic to get super dirty while hiking and climbing to the point exhaustion. 


This morning, I woke up and felt like I had been hit by a truck. But I also felt fortunate, and that’s Pura Vida. 

The view of La Fortuna from halfway up Chato.