The shuttle picked me up from near my hotel in San Jose, and we set off for La Fortuna early in the morning, around 7 a.m. The journey took around three to four hours, in part due to the shuttle picking up other passengers along the way. It functioned like a shared ride, comfortable enough, and a better alternative than an unpredictable bus service.
As we drove past towns reminiscent of San Jose, I seized the opportunity to sample some local cheese pastries and a cup of coffee from roadside fruit stalls. Finally, we arrived in La Fortuna, a town situated near the Arenal Volcano.
My chosen hotel, Arenal Lodge, was a bit isolated from the main town, nestled on a hillside. This location had its advantages and disadvantages. Yet, in my opinion, the benefits significantly outweighed any drawbacks, making it arguably one of the best hotels in the region.
Most other hotels are located in the unremarkable town of La Fortuna itself, which can serve as a base for explorations rather than a destination. There isn't much to do except perhaps visit a local café or shop. However, the Arenal Lodge offered a panoramic view of the Arenal Volcano right from my room. Being one of the oldest hotels in the region, it has its charm and offers a unique experience.
The hotel was located atop a large hill, a good distance away from the main road. After passing by a lake and going through a gate guarded by security personnel, the journey to the hotel took an additional 15 to 20 minutes by car, up a winding concrete road snaking through the jungle.
Scattered across the expansive property were wooden cottages. The hotel also featured a pool overlooking the volcano and a couple of jacuzzis that needed to be reserved by a timer. However, they were heated quite intensely, which may not be to everyone's comfort.
What I especially appreciated about the hotel was the several trails within the property that led through the surrounding rainforest. This meant that you didn't necessarily need to book a tour to experience the jungle. One shorter trail led downwards from the hotel, meandering through plantations of pineapples, bananas, and other local plants. Much of this area was being reclaimed by the dense local vegetation of the rainforest. The trail was circular, so you could easily return to the start, passing a colourful old fountain overgrown with plants along the way.
The other trail I had time to explore that day was the trail which led directly through the jungle. It was quite stable and easy to navigate, mainly following along a local stream. Walking through here, I truly got a sense of what being in a jungle is like. At times, I had to step over trails of ants carrying leaves back to their anthills. These ants worked in groups, forming a steady stream as they cut and carried leaves from the nearby bushes and trees. Their anthills were vast and hidden underground, and these ant highways could extend for hundreds of meters, transporting a continuous stream of leaves.
The ants are engaging in a sort of agriculture, they take these leaves inside their anthill where the leaves begin to ferment. This fermentation process facilitates the growth of a certain type of fungus, which is what the ants feed on. So, in a way, they're cultivating their food.
As I walked through the jungle, I needed to be mindful of the various insects and snakes that could be resting on every leaf. However, my eyes weren't yet accustomed to spotting these creatures, so even if they were hanging on every other branch, I wouldn't necessarily see them. Occasionally, I'd hear noises in the distance – perhaps the call of birds or even monkeys.
Enormous butterflies would flutter by, darting in and out among the flowers. Amid the bushes, I encountered a female wild turkey wandering peacefully. Her vibrant plumage was akin to that of a peacock, complete with a similar tail. She was foraging among the bushes as I walked past.
The trail passed over several bridges, eventually forming a loop that would bring me back to the hotel. I started to get the sense that I didn't need to venture far or book any tours to get a good feel of the volcanic region. The volcano itself, often hidden behind clouds and beyond my line of sight, was a constant presence. In the morning, when the weather was typically sunnier, there was a better chance of seeing it unobstructed from the hotel.