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Chris Goes to Arenal Volcano

I have to admit, I was a bit loathe to leave the Peace Lodge. I figured that no matter where we wound up it wouldn't be as nice. But we had pretty much seen all the things that we had wanted to see at the waterfalls, so it was time to move on. It was a two hour drive or so up to the hotel we were staying at, which was called the Arenal Paraiso. It was supposed to have the best view of the volcano in the area. The volcano itself seems to pretty much tower over everything so you could see it from lots of places and lots of angles, but word on the street was that the Arenal Paraiso had the best angle.

The hotel wasn't as nice as the Peace Lodge, but that's to be expected as there are few places in the world as nice as the Peace Lodge. But the hotel was decent (and much cheaper than the Peace Lodge). It was actually a bunch of private cabins, not exactly a hotel. It seemed like a suburb. The view from the window of our cabin was indeed remarkable, you could really see the volcano.

Click here to see some pictures of The Arenal Paraiso Hotel.

The terrain and weather at Arenal was much different than at La Paz. There were no forests, it was mostly fields and grasslands, and it was about 20F hotter. Where we needed a light jacket before, now we were hot. But I suppose that's not a bad thing per se.

There were also some bugs in this area. Nam is deathly afraid of bugs and I'd been telling her all along that, "they don't have bugs in Costa Rica", which was more of a wishful fantasy on my part than anything I had any evidence for. But there were no bugs at La Paz at all (another reason Peace Lodge is great), so the ants we saw at Arenal were surprising. The insects weren't in the room or anything, but you could see them on the grounds of the hotel. So Nam was worried that they might crawl on her. Nam says: I actually saw some bugs in the hotel room. The bungalow is made of wood and wasn't completely sealed in the corners so I think the bugs got in that way.

The hotel also had a series of hot springs, which amounted to a series of semi private hot tubs all connected by a small artificial stream carrying hot water. The water was real hot spring water, which you could tell because it seemed cloudy and full of 'minerals', but the artificial nature of the hot springs took away something I think. Once we got settled into our room we took a dip in the hot springs, just because we didn't have anything else to do before dinner. The hot tubs all eventually drain into a large pool of warm water with a swim up bar and a great view of the volcano, so we swam up and had a drink.

As in the last hotel, Arenal Paraiso is a good mile at least from the nearest building, and since we didn't have a car we were eating at the hotel restaurant. Like everything else at this hotel, the restaurant has a great view of the volcano. I was a bit worried that I wouldn't find anything to eat, since they referred to the place as a steakhouse, and I was kinda thinking that maybe the veggie friendly nature of the Peace Lodge was just a fluke of that particular hotel, but this hotel had veggie options as well. They say that a lot of time during the day you can't see the lava, but you can see it at night. Unfortunately, the fog rolled in and we couldn't see the top of the volcano.

The next day we signed up for some tours. I don't know what I was thinking, but I signed us up for a horseback riding tour. Horseback riding is so not a Nam thing to do, and I was worried that I might regret it. Especially after Nam started complaining that the horse 'was going to eat her'.

However, my fears were unfounded. Once we got Nam up on her horse she had a great time, and neither of us fell off even once! We rode up the volcano. Not all the way to the top of course, you can't go to the top, but pretty high. The reason you can't go to the top is that it is a live volcano and there are a lot of toxic fumes up there, and people who go all the way to the top tend to get dead.

Click here to see some pictures of our horseback ride.

Since the horseback ride was right near the hotel, we got back in time to eat lunch. Then we got ready for our next tour. The list of tours that the hotel had included a day long boat ride on a flat bottomed boat up to the Nicaraguan border. I had sorta wanted to do that because I've never been to Nicaragua before, so why not kill two birds with one trip? Unfortunately, it was a long, long tour and we didn't have the time. It was also on the "Cold River" which wasn't encouraging. There was a half day tour that claimed to be the same thing, only it didn't go to Nicaragua, (it was on the Penas Blancas River) so we had signed up for that one.

This tour was not quite what was advertised. It was actually a white water rafting tour, not a big, comfy flat bottomed boat. While I don't have a problem with rafting, we were totally not dressed for it, and my camera is afraid of water, so when we got to the boat dock I was pretty apprehensive. Luckily, just as we were putting in, the skies opened up and it started really raining, with thunder and lightning. The tour guide claimed that he wasn't allowed to go when there was lightning since it was dangerous. (Nam found it very interesting that they have strict safety rules in Costa Rica). So, we waited around at the dock for a while and then the tour was cancelled. I was ok with that because I didn't really want to go anyway.

Click here to see some pictures of our aborted tour of the Penas Blancas River.

The other couple on the aborted rafting trip was talking to us on the way back and couldn't stop raving about the Tabacon Hot Springs and Resort. The hot springs that were at the Arenal Paraiso were ok, but if you wanted hot springs, the place to go was Tabacon. They also mentioned that there was an all-you-can-eat buffet. Nam is a sucker for all-you-can-eat, so once we got back to the hotel, we changed and took a shuttle to Tabacon, which was only a mile or two down the road.

The Tabacon Hot Springs were great, if you like hot springs. It was much larger than the one at out hotel, and much more natural looking. It seemed to go on forever, there was grotto after grotto after grotto, along with several swimming pools filled with hot water and swim up bars. Each pool was at a different temperature, so if you felt hot or cold, you could just move to another pool. There was even a waterfall of hot spring water which Nam made me put my head under.

The hot springs were very pleasant for a good soak, although there wasn't much to do besides soak, so after an hour or so Nam was ready for the buffet. Of course, once it started to get dark you could see the lava coming down the volcano, which was very exciting, although ironic that we didn't see lava at our hotel, which is known for lava, yet we saw it down the road from the hotel. There is no way to effectively take photos of far away lava flows at night, so you'll have to take my word for it.

I was a little worried because for the second time that day, I didn't really dress properly. I had no idea what to expect when we went to Tabacon, so I just wore my bathing suit. But a lot of people there had worn street clothes and changed. This made it simple to change back for dinner. I was hoping that they'd let me eat, even though I didn't have any real clothes, considering that the buffet was nice looking, but it turned out not to be a problem. If I ever went again though I'd definitely bring street clothes.

And of course, once again I was worried about finding things to eat, but the buffet was delicious. After we ate we took the bus back to the hotel. Unfortunately, because it was so dark, and I didn't want to get my camera wet, I don't have any pics of Tabacon.

Overall, I'd have to say I was pretty happy with our time at Arenal. The hotel wasn't nearly as nice as Peace Lodge, but between the horseback ride and the Tabacon Hot Springs we had a great time.

The next morning we slept in a little bit, and then took a long, five hour drive across most of the country to our next destination, the Manuel Antonio Nature Reserve, which was supposed to be great for seeing monkeys, and you know me, I'm all about monkeys.

Ok, enough of volcanos, let's go see some monkeys!

Part 4: Manuel Antonio

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