A slightly disastrous start to our Costa Rican leg of the journey, we nearly missed our bus in Bocas and then the journey took much longer than expected! As a result we had to make an unplanned overnight stop in the capital of Costa Rica, San Jose.
Many of the capitals in Central America are meant to be a bit dangerous and to be generally avoided so we stayed close to the bus station in a strange little guest house! Although, with quite a big Chinese population in Central America, we managed to find a decent Chinese meal for dinner!
Our only planned stop in Costa Rica was in a town called La Fortuna in the north of the country. As with Panama, Costa Rica is notoriously expensive and very tailored to the American tourist market so we wanted to get up into the more traditional countries further north as soon as possible.
La Fortuna is made famous for the volcanos that surround the town. Cerro Chato is the smaller of the two and has been dormant for about 3000 years and now houses a big lagoon in the crater. The highest is Arenal Volcano, laying quiet at the moment with just some whispers of smoke coming from the top every now and then but it was still spewing small amounts of lava up until 2010 and last erupted in 1968! The town renamed itself La Fortuna because fortunately during the last eruption the lava spewed down the other side of the volcano and spared the inhabited town below!
The town, and volcanos, are surrounded by rainforests and rivers. In the town you can do everything from zip lining, hiking and canyoning to hiking and horse riding.
The 4 days in La Fortuna would turn out to be some of the most active of the entire trip with hikes, walks, swims and treks planned.
First day we went on a 12km walk to the biggest waterfall in the area, followed by 500 steps to get down (and up from) to the waterfall lagoon! The power was really strong creating tides you could hardly swim into! Also a refreshing dip after a scorching hot walk! As with most of South and Central America, local dogs are free to roam the streets, sometimes just spending the day walking around with you! One decided to join us on the outing, having a dip in the rivers on route.
The next day we went on our only organised tour of the week (which can always be touch and go) but it turned out to be one of the best we'd been on. First a light hike around the base of Arenal Volcano, with the guide telling us all about the history and nature around us. We saw a really cool tree frog, glowing green skin with bright red eyes and loads of other wildlife including monkeys in the tree tops. Although the icing on the cake was an illusive wild leopard cat we saw feeding as we headed back to the van! Really rare to see, it was one of Costa Rica's smaller wild cats called a Margay. It's fur was exactly like a large leopard and it had huge eyes and paws, one of the best animals we've seen in the wild so far!
On our final planned day we trekked to the lagoon inside Cerro Chato. 12km walk to and from the volcano and a 3km climb to the summit and back to ground level! The volcano was just over 1200m in height but the path was literally just soft mud, half the time requiring full climbing to get up to the top and then down into the lagoon! Once we got to the top we then had to make our way about 500m down to the lagoon! Well worth the effort but still feeling the pain 2 days afterwards!!
Our plan was to head up to Nicaragua the day after the volcano hike but we were so tired (and sore!) that we opted against a 5am start and went for a lay in instead! That afternoon we took a trip to a natural river and swimming area, which also had a really cool rope swing! The final night, for a massive change, we didn't end up going out before a 5am start and actually managed to eat breakfast and make the early bus!