MY FIRST TIME ZIP LINING!

Up to this point in my life, I always held out on zip lining, because I wanted to have my first experience in Costa Rica (ie. canopy tours began). In fact, in the 1970’s, wildlife biologists set up zip-lines within the rainforest so that they can study and explore the area without disturbing the environment. And from that came the idea of doing canopy tours via zip lines!

Getting to Monteverde wasn’t as easy as I thought, because the road getting there is largely unpaved. You can read more about driving in Costa Rica on my prior post here. Once you get to the edge of where the town begins, you’ll notice paved roads, which was a relief for us. The town is small and somewhat spread out, but you can easily walk to get to places. Just be mindful that you are going to be walking up and down some hills, and the weather also resembles the temperate of San Francisco weather, so bring a windbreaker! We stayed at two hotels during our time there: Hotel de Montana Monteverde and Hotel Fonda Vela. We were not able to stay at the Monteverde Lodge because it was fully booked by the time I tried to make reservations, which was 6 months out from time of visit. This lodge works alongside a popular tour operator, so they get first access to rooms before the public does. Thus, try to book rooms, especially during high season, much earlier in advance than you normally would. Even though I wasn’t able to stay at Monteverde Lodge, I was still able to visit and take pictures of the place! After exploring the lodge, I did get jealous that I wasn’t able to stay there overnight. But, there’s always next time!

The first hotel in Monteverde we stayed at was the Hotel de Montana. This was going to be considered our lower end hotel, but it actually was a great hotel. I mean, there was a hot water issue the first night there, but besides that I actually loved it and, I don’t have anything bad to say about the hotel. It seems that since the hotel was not a part of the List I did not take any pictures of the hotel or the room so I guess you will just have to take my word for it.

The second and last hotel we stayed at in Monteverde was Hotel Fonda Vela, which we considered to be more on the higher end of hotels in the area. This hotel, like Hotel de Montana, had big rooms and a nice balcony (that comes with beautiful views). If you desire some privacy, these chalet style rooms are ideal due to the two leveled buildings with just one room above and below. I loved staying here as well, but I really don’t think you can go wrong picking any hotel in Monteverde. One complaint I did have of the place was how far apart the chalet rooms were to the restaurant and amenities, where it could be difficult to navigate at night since not much lighting is available. There was another building with rooms that was much closer to the restaurant, so you may want to request those rooms instead. This hotel is also close to the Monteverde Cloud Forest National Park, even walking distance from our hotel! I highly recommend heading to this park for a day hike. There are some amazing viewpoints you can enjoy, and you’ll see why they call it a cloud forest by the end of your visit. Not only that, right next door to the park’s entrance is a hummingbird cafe. You’ll get to see tons of hummingbirds up close! Also, try the cafe’s pan de elote, it was delicious!

A dinner spot that the book recommended while staying at Monteverde was called Sofia’s. It was actually quite close to Hotel de Montana, which I’d say was a few minutes walk from our hotel. From all the other restaurants we tried in Monteverde, I would say it was the fanciest restaurant we dined at. And when I say fancy, I mean fancy for Costa Rica. It was by no means a Michelin star restaurant or anything, but it was a restaurant that tried to strive towards that standard. Unfortunately, none of the food was very memorable. The ginger mango mojito was so overpowered with ginger flavor, it got too sour to drink at one point. The seafood chimichanga was on the smaller side to what I’m used to, and I would have preferred a regular beef chimichanga instead. We had banana bread pudding for dessert, and I would suggest just passing on it to begin with. I personally do not like raisins in my bread pudding, but I also do not like it being drenched in sauce, and this dessert dish had both. Instead, I would recommend Choco Cafe for delicious coffee and sweets, Tree House Restaurant for some cool ambient dining, or Don Luis for some amazing pizza.

Now, when it comes to zip-lining, it seems the two main competitors are Sky Adventures and Selvatura Adventure Park. But, since I have to follow the book’s instructions, I chose Selvatura Adventure Park. And to be honest, I think Selvatura is the more widely known adventure park anyways. We already bought our package (Canopy Tour and Sky Bridge), which I highly recommend buying in advance since there are group tours that swarm the adventure park in the morning. Since the morning lines were so long, we were told to do the bridge walks first then come back for the afternoon session. The bridges were fun to walk across and slightly scary as the bridge can sway side to side when you have people leaning on the sides. But you can get amazing views of the forest and clouds, it was quite beautiful. After that, we were ready to conquer the zip line! So, if it’s your first time, you are naturally going to be a little scared. But luckily they give you a short and easy lesson on how to zip line properly. Not only do they go over how to zip line, but there’s a smaller, very manageable zip line to go through before you start on the bigger ones. I think after going through the first short zip line, you will lose the fear of going on the longer ones. It does get a bit scary walking up to get to the zip line, but you are there for the adventure and thrill of zip-lining. So trust in the zip line system! You will be reassured when you see there is a person sending you off and a person on the receiving end to “catch” you. It is very thrilling and would recommend it to anyone that wants to do something exciting!

MY ADVICE ABOUT DRIVING TO THE ARENAL VOLCANO

Arenal Volcano was the second stop on our Costa Rican road trip, and it was a pretty smooth drive from San Jose to the district of La Fortuna. I originally reserved a small SUV for our journey, but when we got to Avis, they only had economy cars left over. So, unfortunately, we got stuck with a Nissan Versa. After doing countless research about driving in Costa Rica, I was worried that my Nissan Versa wouldn’t cut it. But after speaking with the car rental salesman, he recommended that we just drive slowly on the unpaved roads. So, with hesitation, we took the car. Overall, I didn’t have any issues with driving around the country in that car. But if I had a choice, I would still pick a SUV over the economy cars because of the peace of mind it can provide. There are rarely any potholes within the city and on the major highways and roads, so you won’t have to worry if you plan to stay in San Jose. But once you start venturing away from the main highway and going off the beaten path, it turns into unpaved and gravel roads which can seem daunting to drive on. The beaten path can beat up your car!

Before going to La Fortuna, I wanted to stay at one of the hotels on the List which is located in the rain forest. Chachagua Rainforest Eco Lodge is about a 1.5 hour drive north of San Jose, and technically on the way to Arenal. I really wanted to just stay one night there, but during high season they require you to stay for a minimum of two nights. Patricia, the book’s author, usually takes the luxury route when staying at hotels so I wasn’t too worried about staying here. However, I was shocked by how wrong she was about recommending this place. Were they skimping out on amenities to justify themselves as being eco-friendly? I understood we were in the middle of a rain forest, but I wasn’t expecting us to be greeted by bugs throughout the night. The entrance doors were flimsy and weren’t secure enough to keep the bugs out. There’s also about a 2 mile drive of unpaved roads to get to the hotel, and that’s just one way. It was quite annoying to be going 5 miles per hour on this dirt gravel road in hopes that we don’t puncture our tires. I’ve seen other cars similar to ours go much faster, but I wanted to be safe with our driving. Also, be aware of a small river crossing you will need to take your car to get to the parking lot. Overall, the only upside to this hotel was the food because I enjoyed my dinner both nights I was there. But learn from my mistake and skip this hotel and go straight to La Fortuna.

The hotel we stayed at after Chachagua was directly inside the Arenal Volcano National Park, called Arenal Observatory Lodge. It was obviously a much better stay than the one before, and this hotel I can highly recommend. Obviously there are different room views you can get with each room type, but you should stick to the volcano view rooms with a balcony. The room itself was basic and nothing really to write home about. However, the properties amenities really made the stay worthwhile. There are several short trails on the property you can hike on, which we did the first day we were there. One of the highlights of this hike we did was the ‘Nest’, which is a 92 foot metal observation tower you can walk up to the top and observe wildlife in the center of the rain forest. It’s not for the faint of heart as it is scary walking up the stairs of that tower, with even some strong wind allowing the tower to sway a little bit back and forth. If you are tight on time, you can just wait until the next morning at 8:30 a.m. every day (which starts at the reception office) to do the free guided walk that lasts for about 2.5 hours. The tour took us on most of the hiking trails, with a fun tractor ride back to the hotel at the end of it. Please be mindful that this hotel property is secluded and isn’t walking distance to anything remotely close by, so all your meal’s will be at the hotel restaurant. Lucky for me, the dinner prices were reasonable and not overly priced. As noted here, breakfast was included with our stay. Even though the food was delicious, I think the bigger draw of the restaurant was the amazing volcano view on its deck. There were a few chairs on the deck facing the volcano, but I think there should have been much more. I would have loved to sit on the deck overlooking the lake and volcano with my morning coffee.

Another attraction in La Fortuna are the hot springs, where the top two I would say is Tabacon Thermal Resort & Spa and Baldi Hot Springs & Resort. I think Baldi Hot Springs was the more affordable option because we saw a lot of people trying to enter. Whereas Tabacon felt a bit more exclusive. I opted to try out Tabacon because it was on the List, but Baldi (from the exterior) could have been just as fun. If you stay at Tabacon, access to the thermal springs are included in your hotel reservation. But if not, you can easily get a day pass, which prices range between $70-$94 depending on the season and includes a buffet meal with access. If you want to be romantic and stay away from the crowds, there are lots of little pockets of hot springs you can go and relax as a couple. If you want to add a little more excitement, there’s a small water slide and swim up bar you can enjoy.

If you plan to go to Poas Volcano instead, which is a much closer volcano to San Jose, be sure to make reservations the day before to get access. Since the volcano is currently active, there is only a limited number of people that can go inside the park. You will need to wear a helmet and other safety gear when entering, and be sure to go earlier in the day to get a better chance at viewing the volcano.