November 11th, 2009 – by: Johnb42
Another rather painfully long bus journey from Santa Elena
to Fortuna which took all day despite not actually being that far distance-wise ... the cynical side of me is thinking there is a deliberate strategy in Costa Rica to make all backpackers lives as difficult as possible so you give up on public transport and start signing up for the expensive tourist transfer shuttles. Fortuna is a little town that exists seemingly for the sole purpose of feeding , housing and selling tours & activities to tourists. It's the main base for this popular area around Lake Arenal and Volcano Arenal. I had another early start getting up at 6am to get the bus to a town called Tilaran
from where it's possible to get a connecting bus on to Fortuna .
.. but only four hours later. Normally I can amuse myself quite happily wherever I'am and just enjoy seeing whatever is happening , but unfortunately Tilaran is quite possibly one of the dullest towns in Central America - there really is almost nothing to do or see once you have looked at the ugly church & the bandstand in the central plaza - so four hours was a bit of an endurance test . However, the bus journey from Tilaran to Fortuna turned out to be worth the wait in the end as it takes a stunning route along the northern shore of Lake Arenal which is a really beautiful landscape. Unfortunately the actual Volcano Arenal was draped in cloud so I couldn't yet see it on the way through. Stayed at "Arenal Backpackers Resort" which describes itself as a "luxury hostel" ...a good excuse to charge pretty high prices (by central american levels) but to be fair it was very nice with clean dorms , massive hammocks , a swimming pool and fairly stunning volcano views from the garden (when the clouds were clear !) .
Over a couple of quiet beers in the hostel bar on the first night it became apparent that there were quite a few of us wanting to do the same thing (ie lake , waterfall and volcano) and not wanting to pay the high tour prices so a group of us clubbed together to hire a car for a day which worked out really well - much cheaper & more flexible. So on Wednesday we first went to the nearby Rio Fortuna waterfall in the morning - its 70m high and really gushes water quite powerfully into a little pool (good to see much more water than San Ramon waterfall on Ometepe , the last one I went to). You can swim in the pool (although its seriously cold) and most people try unsuccessfully to get actually right under the falling water but its too strong and pushes everyone back.
After experiencing the waterfall we went for a cruise round Lake Arenal , which is a very picturesque landscape with the volcano as a backdrop , and found a good spot to stop the car . Lake Arenal is man-made and has a large hydroelectric dam whilst the volcano is over 1600m high , a classic conical shape just like Concepcion on Ometepe in Nicaragua and is extremely active - apparently it killed a tour guide in 2000 who took his group up too high. The highlight of Wednesday was in the evening , however , when we got some food & booze from the supermercado and went to the lake to watch the red hot lava run down the volcano side in the night sky. A group of locals who were hiking the lake helped us get an open fire started near the lakeside where we could sit around , eat & drink and watch the volcano .
Couple that with the ipod pumped through the car stereo , a kiwi guy bringing a guitar along which a couple of people could play (wish I could !) and seeing loads of lava streams coming down the volcano and it was a recipe for a memorable night. Got back to Fortuna about 10pm and then on to a nearby bar until the early hours with a load of others from the hostel - fun night . Thursday I then caught the bus to San Jose