Sunday, November 14, 2010

Costa Rica Day 2

We set our alarm but ended up waking early, before sunrise, probably because CR time is two hours later than Virginia time. Our room has a fantastic view of the volcano but it was mostly shrouded in clouds this morning.

View from our hotel patio
We took our time getting ready, then drove into the local town of La Fortuna for breakfast. Even though Arenal is a big tourist destination, and La Fortuna is the only town nearby, it doesn't have any of the usual tourist traps or shops; it's basically just another Costa Rican town (with a couple of tour operators). We picked up pastries at the bakery where the  locals were buying huge loaves of fresh bread, and our breakfast ended up being very inexpensive.

Center of La Fortuna
After breakfast we walked around town for a while. There is a small park in the center, and a large church nearby, but not much else to see. Our main event for the day was the rain forest canopy zip-line tour (for Kat) and gondola ride and nature walk (for Mike). We drove to the sky tour site, and half the drive ended up being very slow, on rough, unpaved, bumpy road.  These were the types of roads that we were expecting based on reviews from other visitors but in general, most of the other roads weren't that bad.

From the gondola we could see much of Lake Arenal, which was created to provide hydroelectric power to CR, and could see the volcano when the cloud cover allowed.  The rainforest was mostly beneath us during the ride up the mountain and we could see the huge leaves, trees, and branches, with a fair number of butterflies flitting about.


Once we got to the top, the tour guides, Katya and Leo gave us a few minutes to enjoy some fruit juice, admire the scenery, and take some photos.

Then Kathie joined the other six zip-liners and we got started.  The first two zip lines are considered test lines.  If you discover you cannot handle it, you can still back out and go back down the gondola.  You have to take the"chicken trail" back to the gondola.  After the first 2 lines, it's time for the real deal.  Once strapped into the line, they given you a gentle push and off you go!  You move pretty quickly down the zip line and have a fantastic view of the lake, trees below and the volcano.  There are 5 "real" zip lines we get to traverse.  The first two lines are practice and the last line is a photo opportunity.  The longest zip line is almost had a mile long and the fastest zip line goes up to 50 mph.  The last line takes you right through the middle of the forest.  The canopy tour with skyadventures was a fantastic experience.  The guides were a lot of fun, stayed enthusiastic and really made the tour enjoyable.  One of the advantages of going off-season is the small number of other tourists doing the same activities.  Leo mentioned that during high season, there can be over 40 people for one trip down the zip lines.


Mike took a small hike through the rainforest with another guide and small family while he waited for Kathie to finish her zipping.  The guide pointed out a few local plants and trees and explained a bit about the Costa Rica ecosystem.

After we both finished, we ate lunch at the small cafe there.  Kathie really liked the fried yucca fries there. They taste a bit like French fries but has a slightly different taste to them.

Since it was on the drive home, we stopped into Arenal Volcano National Park.  You cannot see the lava from the park but there are some nice trails to take to see the forest and the old lava flows.  We took the recommended 5km hike which takes you to the 1992 lava flow area, then a hike through the secondary forest.  We didn't see any monkeys but we did see some toucans, butterflies, hummingbirds, big spiders, and a 100-year ceibo tree that was enormous.  It's hard to believe it's only 100 years old.  We did hear a lot of odd insect and bird calls during our walk.


After the hike, we headed back to the hotel and soaked in their jacuzzi for a while.  A 5km walk is a fair bit for us so it felt nice to relax in the warm water with a great view of the volcano.

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