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Getting to La Fortuna from Jaco, though not far as the crow flies, is a not a journey for the faint-hearted. Particularly if your transport has virtually no suspension. For this journey, we used Interbus as there were no Caribe Shuttles available for this route. They do offer a good service, though the vehicles aren’t as comfortable, the wifi isn’t as good and maybe (it was just this journey) the driving is quite hair raising. There are no main roads for a lot of the journey and you are essentially heading upwards to the mountains, so there’s lots of twists turns, and the terrible roads that Costa Rica used to be famous for. Crushed vertebrae aside, it was an interesting journey. The landscape changes quite a lot and it starts to get quite alpine-esque. Cattle are big round these parts. We never worked out if the bullocks in the road that halted us at one point, were intentionally loose or not. But I did feel very sorry for the poor cyclist that one of them was chasing.
Our hotel, the San Bosco Inn was a proper grown-up hotel for a change. More like a business hotel style, with a great line in towel animals. It was really close to the town centre and was a fantastic choice for a number of reasons, one being the lovely staff and the other being their sister hotel which had hot springs that San Bosco guests were free to use. We got wrist bands as you get at a gig to wear during our stay which seemed a little odd, but I think these are partly so you can use the facilities of the Volcano Lodge, Hotel & Thermal Experience. More of that later.
This is really what it’s all about in La Fortuna. There are two volcanoes, though it’s the bigger one, the Arenal volcano, that looms over you wherever you might be in the area – including in the middle of town. It’s utterly gorgeous and I never got sick of looking at it. Though you are up in the mountains it does get cloudy so some days you might not see it at all. I think we stayed a good length of time but also got lucky. Some people visit and never get to see it at all. There are staggering views as you head further out of the town, so if I came again and had my own transport, I think I’d stay there. There were some really interesting looking accommodations. In particular I had my eye on some cute chalets which looked straight out of the 60s.
There’s a number of ways to see the sites, all of which are obviously out of town. There are organised tours which can be bought from hotels and even from most restaurants. There are also individual guides you can hire. We decided very last minute that hiring a car would work best for us. There are only three car rental places in town so we were lucky to get anything and ended up spending more than we’d have liked, but we got a nice SUV style car that made getting about a doddle. This meant we could get to various sites we wanted to see, get to the sister hotel, as well as just driving around and having a nosey. We drove up in the national park but didn’t get out, but you get some great views of the lake as you go up the trailways.
Mistico Hanging Bridges
This place is about 20-30 minutes out of town. Entry to Hanging Bridges is $18. Not a small amount but it’s an easy, perfectly setup jungle starter pack. At first, it seems like the bridges are pretty mild but they do get bigger and higher as you go along and there are some great viewpoints.
It’s probably too busy to get too much wildlife but we did come across some howler monkeys, some more cheeky capuchin monkeys (like Manuel Antonio, watch out for these ones they do grab for stuff). It was probably some of the smaller stuff we enjoyed most here, a ton of ants busy with their leave carrying and some gorgeous butterflies and birds.
La Fortuna Waterfall
The waterfall is also $18. Lots of reviewers moan about this price and say that you can find lots of other waterfalls in Costa Rica that are free. Fair enough, but those tend to be off the beaten track and you have to hike through a bit of rough and often muddy terrain to get there. Definitely one to do with a guide and with appropriate clothing. We aren’t good at appropriate clothing in general so this worked for us and with car’s being broken into one of Costa Ricas ‘things’, having a secure car park was a bonus for us. The one things that correctly should put some off this waterfall is that it’s 500 steps down, which of course means it’s 500 steps back up afterwards. There are places to sit and rest along the way and the walkways are very stable and well kept. The fact that it is down so deep makes it feel quite special when you are at the bottom. The water is crystal clear and pretty darn cold and unusually I was the one who took the plunge rather than Mark. It is indeed, as many reviews describe it, refreshing!
Volcano Lodge, Hotel & Thermal Experience
This was the sister hotel. You need to get your towels from San Bosco hotel reception and if you are driving a laminated card to use for parking. We didn’t really know what it would be like and probably had quite low expectations, as hotels which list themselves as having spas etc are usually disappointing. This place, however, was incredible. We could not believe our luck. I’d have happily paid for this experience. There’s a normal pool, then there are various other areas with the hot springs warming the water with jets and in a gorgeous setting. Wherever you are the Arenal volcano is your scenic backdrop. This was just what I needed to heal the damage done by our spine pounding shuttle journey to La Fortuna. We went late afternoon so got to see the sun go down behind the mountain and the place is lit really prettily for after dark. One of the thermal pools has lots of offshoots so different sets of people are more private from each other. There is also a swim up bar. I personally don’t think booze and thermal water mix, but that was winner with most of the guests. Wildlife wise we had a close encounter with our first Costa Rican turkey-like Crested Guan. Goodness knows how this fat bodied bird flies so high but it certainly makes a crash when it lands in the trees. It also makes an interesting noise which is half gobble, half screech.
Nope, never did find out what a Pork Cowboy was or why there is a statue of JFK locked behind what seemed to be an electricity sub station close to the town centre.
Food and Drink
I wouldn’t say that La Fortuna is much of a destination for food, but there are some decent enough places. It being quite small and with a captive audience, prices tend to be a little higher.
For a drink, there isn’t a great deal and stuff closes pretty early. Restaurant Nanku is ok, Lava Lounge is pricey and mainly a younger crowd, good craft beer though. I think my favourite place for a drink was in the La Fortuna Hotel bar/restaurant. A bit out of the way but was open, chilled out and nice decor.
The Corner is a nice place to sit out and do good pizza. Our favourite however and frankly one of my favourite places period, was the Kappa Sushi, conveniently located right next door to our hotel. In our short stay, we ended up eating there three times. We tried a variety of things and the only real let down was they gyoza. The sushi was amazing and great value. We even went for the sushi boat which worked out as great value. I’m not a great lover of fusion things as more often than not, it doesn’t seem to work that well. But they had a caribe tempura sushi roll called Calypso, which had coconut shrimp at its centre and was simply divine. I actually feel quite tearful to think I’ll never get to eat this again.
La Fortuna is a little bubble of beauty and you feel you could stay forever, but in reality, it would probably drive you mad unless you liked a really quite life or lots of tourists. I can imagine if you live in San Jose, going up there to unwind for a long weekend is a true delight. I’d love to go back – I can’t get enough of those volcano views and on a more base level – I’d go back just for the sushi!