What intoxicating vanity

Date: 23 December 2020

Location: Ranchos Makena, a ranch near the cloud forest of Monteverde.

Arenal. Ar-en-al. It’s a lovely word to say. And it’s a lovely volcano — not dormant (it last erupted in 1968) but “resting” according to “scientists”.

Sometimes, when travelling abroad, you arrive in a town and you instantly feel at home. La Fortuna, at the base of the might Arenal, is one such place.

It’s easy to navigate: there’s a central square and on three sides, shops and cafe and adventure sales desks radiate out. On the fourth looms a giant volcano.

It’s pretty: How can it not be with such fertile soil and the aforementioned looming volcano?

It feeds you well: The local specialities are chocolate, coffee and bananas. I mean…

And there’s loads to do. Or, more relevantly for my purposes, loads of ways to not do anything whatsoever. Whilst on offer is all manner of adventures — in, around, over and below the Arenal volcano itself, I eschew offers of hikes and hanging bridge walks in favour of a day at a spa. I rationalise this by telling myself that this, too, is a volcano related activity: the hot springs are heated by the lava. So I am exploring the mighty Arenal, simply in my own, more horizontal fashion.

The town of La Fortuna has bubbled up with these natural volcanic hotspots for tourists to enjoy. Some are more natural and more volcanic than others. Some, like the first one we visit (Paradise Hot-Springs) feel a touch like an adults-only Wet ‘n’ Wild: there are interconnected tiled pools and jacuzzis of various temperatures and a swim up bar. We visit at night and it’s a lot of fun. Chilli guaro shots in a volcanic hot spring under the stars is one hell of a way to celebrate the festive period.

On the second day, however, we venture up to Tabacón. Tabacón is the grand dame of the La Fortuna spas. It’s built around a series of natural springs flowing down from the volcano, fashioned into a series of pebbly pools and waterfalls, in an Eden of lush green. The pools are hidden behind trees or little falls, crystal clear and ringed by rocks, their bottoms still the natural silt and mud. It all looks as if nature has just happened to do a really stellar job in this particular spot. It gives you pause for thought, really. Here is massive investment, just to make nature look basically untouched. All of Costa Rica has given me pause for thought really. London is so thin on green compared to Costa Rica — or even Australia. London’s parks are beautiful, its heaths even more so. But they’re beautiful because we residents snatch for any handful of nature we can get in the behemoth urban sprawl. Costa Rica, so heavy with jungles, volcanoes, beaches and forests, is a refreshing reminder of what’s on our planet. It is like having a cold shower after a year of lukewarm baths.

But back to Tabacón. For the princely sum of USD94, you can enjoy this paradise all day. (It’s also attached to a 5-star hotel that I could in no way afford but briefly attempt to rationalise by deducting the price of two hot spring admissions and ambitiously rounding down.) The whole setting and experience are marvellous and I’d recommend it to every single human on the planet. I’ve never been so relaxed.

Arenal and La Fortuna done for now, we head up into the hills to Monteverde for a few nights. The Green Mountain. It lives up to its name. There’s a cloud forest. They do amazing coffee. It’s wetter than anywhere on earth (look, I’m guessing,but I’ve certainly never seen so much rain). Loads of spiders and snakes. Zero sloths. We ziplined and did a frankly terrifying Tarzan swing over the jungle. Moving on.

And now, back to the coast.




– In La Fortuna we stayed at San Bosch Inn (cheap, cheeefuk, central, good AC) and got good coffee at Arabicos and a great dinner at Nunza. We visited Paradise Hot Springs (USD30, tiled, fun) and

– In Monteverde we stayed at Ranchos Makena. It feels like a school camp (in a nice, horsey way) but was very remote. It is, however, in a good location for zip lining, canyoning and exploring the hanging bridges. The Treehouse has a lovely vibe and okay food.

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