Last week, Ryan and I celebrated our five year wedding anniversary! Its been five incredible years with him by my side, full of adventure and love as we've traveled the world together. I am so excited for what lies ahead!
We've called Costa Rica our home for over a month now and due to work we haven't been able to travel much outside of our town. So when our anniversary approached, we wanted to do something fun and different to celebrate. We decided to visit one of Costa Rica's most popular destinations, the Arenal Volcano, and we figured it was about time to see one of the most iconic sights of the country.
We booked a hotel in La Fortuna, loaded up our car, "el gringo", and headed north. Our family was excited to venture out and experience a new part of Costa Rica as a family.
From Dominical, La Fortuna is a 5 hour drive through the countryside. It may seem long, but as Texans, 3-5 hours is a piece of cake! The beginning of the drive was familiar but once we passed Jaco, we turned our car north to new territory.
The scenery drastically changed as the tropical landscape disappeared. El gringo worked hard as we climbed up the mountainous terrain. The temperature dropped and the wind picked up, pine trees started emerging and the roads were winding back and forth. It was quite the experience!
This area was gorgeous, and the views had Ryan and I "oohing" and "ahhing". We made a pit stop before jumping on Route 713 at La Casita de Cafe which overlooks the valley. Its a quiet restaurant with traditional Tico food with stunning views.
The map took us north towards La Fortuna and we passed through sleepy farming towns on often unpaved, and bumpy roads. This area of Costa Rica is known for its agriculture and the farms stretched out as far as you could see. Its a beautiful part of Costa Rica and while the drive was long, it was at least interesting and unique to take in a new landscape.
As we approached La Fortuna, we instantly knew we were close. Arenal towered over the landscape demanding your attention. When booking our trip, I knew Arenal was large, but seeing it for the first time was incredible! Clouds hung heavy on its peak and the sky was a vivid blue. Arenal's welcome was breathtaking!
I'm a big fan of unique, boutique hotels. While chain hotels offer customer rewards and luxury, I love finding quaint hotels/rentals that have real character. During our time at La Fortuna, we stayed at Hotel Villa Vilma and had such a great time! The hotel offers small bungalows that are painted in bright colors with a small garden in the back. But the best part of Villas Vilma is the breathtaking views you have of Arenal, its literally at your doorstep!
When I started researching things to see and do around Arenal, I quickly realized our two days in La Fortuna wasn't enough. Between zip lining, thermal springs, wildlife tours, white water rafting and the national park, we were going to be busy!
Traveling with a toddler in Costa Rica is a bit tricky. While there is nothing more rewarding than seeing Milena light up when we spot a sloth or hit the beach, many of the sport activities aren't possible at her age. So for the time being we have to pick less extreme activities but we still had a blast!
Mistico Hanging Bridges
As many of you know, heights aren't my thing so Ryan was a bit surprised when I mentioned the hanging bridges tour. I knew it was going to make me weak in the knees, but the hanging bridges in Costa Rica's offer some spectacular views and I just had to try!
While I was nervous walking across every single bridge (I'm such a wuss) we all had a great time and even saw two sloths!
La Fortuna Waterfall
After a busy day trekking through the rainforest, we decided to cool off at La Fortuna Waterfall. A quick drive out of the town, you'll find a dirt road that leads you up the waterfall entrance. You have to pay a small fee but its worth it!
As soon as we caught sight of the waterfall, Milena screamed out "water"! She was so excited and Ryan and I were also. It was magical! Peering through the trees, the 75 meter high waterfall shoots out of the dormant Chato volcano into a small stream below. Everything about the scene is typical Costa Rica. Nature at its truest beauty, raw and literally untouched.
We enjoyed swimming in the stream while Milena played in the sand and couldn't believe we were viewing this oasis in real life.
Arenal National Park
It wouldn't be a trip to Arenal without visiting its national park. There are several trails that offer views of Arenal, the lagoon and the previous lava flows. It was an easy hike but was a bit long and hot for our little one. She was getting antsy half way through the trail so the last hour was a bit of a blur.
However, the trail was a nice walk through the forests and we spotted a wide variety of plant species and insects. No monkeys though. The highlight of the hike was definitely the Ceibo tree you run into halfway through the walk. Its worth a visit all in itself! It towers over the surrounding trees and is a perfect representation of how unique and beautiful the forests of Costa Rica are.
Where to eat
During our weekend stay, we tried out a variety of restaurants in La Fortuna. Our family tries to eat out at non-touristy restaurants but in a small town like La Fortuna its a bit hard. Our favorite places were:
Restaurante Mi Casa
We stopped here for breakfast and they offer big portions for cheap! The restaurant was quick, tasted great and the side of fruit was enough to feed a family of 5!
My Coffee La Fortuna
Sitting along the square, My Coffee is a perfect spot for pancakes and a latte. The coffee was very good and is in a great location.
La Fortuna Pub
Soda restaurants are hard to mess up and Soda Viquez was another great Tico meal. Located near the main square, they had a large menu with a variety of dishes.
Before we headed back home on Monday, I had to try Organica Fortuna. I had seen this restaurant online and didn't want to leave La Fortuna without stopping by. Its atmosphere is so inviting and they offer organic, vegan food that is beautiful to look at. We enjoyed our last meal in Arenal on their colorful porch while eating healthy, and consciously made food. It was perfect way to end our anniversary weekend!