Monday, March 21, 2011

Arenal Volcano Adventure, Costa Rica

Ever see an active volcano?  Sure, I have done the baking soda, build-your-own volcano science project, but I have never seen one huffing and puffing.  Our big adventure to Costa Rica involved a five hour flight from Toronto to Liberia, where we picked up our rental car and headed out to The Arenal Volcano Region.  I recommend only driving this road when it is light out.  The highway is not lit and is full of dizzying twists and turns.  The three hour drive along the well-paved highway is full of scenic stops and small cafes and restaurants for lunch on the way.  After passing a series of small towns from the airport, you will come to Lake Arenal that you must drive around for two hours to reach the volcano itself.  It's most definitely worth the trip.
Hiking down to get a peek at a waterfall (left), the paved hiking trail (right)
We didn't have a ton of time to go on a three hour zip line tour.  If we did, I would have gone with a company called SkyTrek, where they brake for you.  Instead, we went on the Hanging Bridges Tour through the dense and beautiful rainforest ($20).  Wear good shoes, bug spray, sunscreen and workout clothing.  The hike is a good hour and a half with lots of uphill sections.  It's probably not good for people afraid of heights, as the bridges are shaky when there are many people on it.  You will cross through 14 different bridges on a carved out hiking trail that is full of lush scenery.
This must be what remains from the 'old' hanging bridges tour

A view from a high point on our bridge hike
On our last day, the clouds finally parted and we could see the volcano
The top of the Arenal Volcano, is smoldering.  No lava though!
On your way back to Liberia, make sure you stop for coffee and dessert at Cafe Y Macadamia.  It is located on the main highway and you won't miss the signs counting down the distance.  The suspense was killing us, that we had to stop and we were so glad we did.  Relax with a fresh cup of strong Costa Rican coffee, fresh baked macadamian desserts and a great view of Lake Arenal.  The service is very friendly, the bathrooms are clean and there is a parking lot attendant watching over your car full of luggage.  It's the perfect mini pit-stop during the long drive back to the airport.
Look over all the desserts on display before you decide.  If you don't drink coffee, Cafe Y Macadamia also does fresh fruit shakes made with your choice of milk, ice or yogurt.  A small gift shop also sells coffee, homemade soaps, scrubs and crafts.
The cute rustic cafe
The view from their patio

Hip + Urban Girl Tips:

1) Yes, you can pee.  When you tell me we're going on a three hour drive to the rainforest, I panic and think - what if I have to pee?  The drive is full of gas stations, cafes and restaurants.  Most of them have really clean bathrooms.  Just look for the ones that cater to tourists and have signs like free WiFi.  We also felt quite safe and the people are friendly.

2) Renting a car.  It will cost you around $600 for an average-sized SUV, including the cost of insurance.  We bought full collision, third party and everything else they threw at us.  The roads can be rough and cars do get stolen or damaged.  Our credit card did not cover us if we damaged someone else's car.  We would be on the hook for that.  So we ended up caving and getting everything, as our credit card only covered collision.  

3) Money.  Most places accept US Dollars and credit cards.  However, you should take local currency (Colones) out of an ATM when you arrive, just in case.  

4) Stocking Up.  We found lots of supermarkets on our drive to stock up on water, beer, drinks and snacks.  It's easy to grab yogurt and fruit for a cheap and fast breakfast.

5) Staying Near the Airport.  If you fly in late or have to fly out early, The Hilton Garden Inn next to the airport in Liberia is a great option.  We paid around $120 for the night and you can literally see the hotel from the runway.  They also offer a free airport shuttle, with a decent restaurant and great amenities.

6) Cafe Britt.  They make a great volcano, organic blend of coffee.  They also do some serious chocolate-covered fruit and coffee beans.  If you have to buy souvenirs, make sure you pick up a few things from this brand.

Read more from our Costa Rica Travel Series.  
Stay tuned this week for more posts from our visit!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this! We leave in two days and this post was very helpful.