Pura Vida: The Good life – My Costa Rican Vacation (Part 1)

 Part 1 collage Costa Rica La Fortuna

Every once in a while it’s a good idea to pack up the bags, leave the cares behind and escape the everyday craziness and replace it with a good kind of crazy.  After unfortunate circumstances caused me to miss out on vacation trips I planned last year and the year before, I decided to take the trip that’s been on my bucket list for a while.  Eight years ago (give or take a few years) I saw some vacation images from Costa Rica. Images of people having the time of their lives zip lining through the jungle struck a chord with me. It looked absolutely incredible. I was in awe and decided I had to go there. It took me a little while but I finally made it. Here’s how it went:

 Day 1:

San Jose in a Day

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My travel buddy, Emmanuella (my sister from another mother who I call E for short) and I arrived in the capital city of San Jose on Friday and checked into our first hotel, Hotel Presidente. Hotel Presidente is located smack-dab in the middle of downtown San Jose along Central Avenue, the main street and pedestrian walkway. Uncertain of what San Jose had to offer, we didn’t really set our expectations too high. After all, the part of the trip we were really excited about was the following day’s trek to the town of La Fortuna.  That being said, Hotel Presidente far exceeded whatever minimal expectations we might have had.

To begin with, we were greeted by Jorge, the friendly front desk clerk who couldn’t have made us feel any more welcome. This was our first introduction to the kind of hospitality and kind-hearted, good-natured, Costa Rican people we would be interacting with during our visit. Jorge let us know exactly where we could find authentic Costa Rican food, stock up on groceries and provided us with a walking map, which included restaurants, museums and other areas of interest close by. He even helped me use a phone card I’d purchased when I couldn’t decipher the Spanish language instructions (My elementary Spanish was of no help here). After eating we spent the rest of the evening strolling through the downtown area. Later on we stopped for a drink and listened to some live music at a hotel bar across the street from ours.

 

Day 2:  

Bienvenidos a La Fortuna and The Springs

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In the morning we went down to the uber-cute bar/buffet area for breakfast. Hotel Presidente offers an excellent breakfast spread (It was actually our favorite breakfast from our entire trip) in traditional Costa Rican fashion. At 7:00 am our driver from Desafino Adventure Company arrived to take us to the Springs Resort and Spa in La Fortuna, a small city in the canton of San Carlos.

Diego, our driver was another warm individual who made the long three-hour drive seem more like a scenic tour. We stopped along the way at a souvenir shop where he patiently waited while I got my indecisive self together and made final selections before we hopped back in the van and headed into town. As we arrived in La Fortuna, Diego pointed out that this small area was the center of town and up ahead we could see the Arenal Volcano.  We drove a little further and down a winding, bumpy road we arrived upon The Springs Resort & Spa. One word, breathtaking. I was in awe of this place on sight. It’s simply breathtaking. The open plan of the resort features a lobby with an open-air design that looks right out to the Arenal Volcano.

Upon our arrival at the hotel we were greeted by name and literally welcomed with open arms. We felt the hospitality from the moment we set foot on the property until the moment we left. We checked in and were offered some morning mimosas while being given a tour of the property.  We arrived early so are our room wasn’t ready yet.  Our bags were stored by the concierge while we went on our first excursion of the trip.

 

Zip Lining

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We booked a zip lining tour with Arenal Mundo Aventura. There was a snafu with transportation (mostly my fault for failing to reply to an email sent by the coordinator at Arenal Mundo) so we arrived to the excursion late. The staff at The Springs went out of their way to help arrange transportation so that we didn’t miss our excursion and was even apologetic about the misunderstanding even though it was beyond their control. The staff at Arenal Mundo and The Springs coordinated transportation for us and we were able to sit down for lunch at the casual dining restaurant (one of three restaurants in the main building) while we waited. They were even kind enough to wait for us while we finished up lunch.

By the time we arrived at Arenal Mundo we were several minutes late. Everyone taking part in the tour was ready to go so we were rushed through the payment process and souvenir picture info before quickly purchasing access to a rental locker and then hurried onto a “bus” (it was more like a large, partially covered wagon with bench seating pulled by some sort of tractor), which would transport us up towards the hiking point. As soon as we got into the “bus” it started pouring. No biggie. This is rain season. We were mentally and physically prepared. I brought ponchos and protective pockets for our phones and wore water resistant boots.

We reached the hiking point and were suited up by the instructors and we began our hike. Whoa nelly! Let me tell you that hike was no joke. I’m in pretty good shape and it was tough. To make matters worse the instructors never let up so you had no choice but to keep up. Our ponchos had become our own personal saunas. Jesus take the wheel. When we reached the first line there was a water break and one of the instructors shouted out “Okay everybody remember all the rules?” E and I look at each other with a look that said “We’re about to die” because clearly we missed out on the orientation/safety presentation. At this point we shouted “No… we weren’t here.” The instructors decided to leave us for last and explain the procedure after the others had gone ahead. They explained the procedure and off we went.

 

It was one of the most exhilarating experiences I’ve ever had in my life. We got through four shorter zip lines (where I totally screamed) before the instructor asked if I was ready for the real stuff. I looked at her like she was a two headed creature. What do you mean real stuff? What the hell did I just do? She laughed and said that was just practice. She launched me down the next cable where I whizzed past trees, foggy mist, and river down below all while thinking “This is absolutely crazy. I’m flying through the jungle.” On one trip I went with an instructor to increase my speed down the line. A few seconds in he taps my shoulder and tells me to look to my left. We were flying by the huge La Fortuna waterfall. The feeling was unreal. Give me two-mile long zip lines any day. I would do it again in a heartbeat.

 

Our Room at The Springs

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When we arrived back to our hotel we were taken to our room. I’ve stayed in some pretty nice hotels and resorts but this room takes the cake.  The rooms at The Springs all have a view of the Arenal Volcano so that’s the first thing you see when you enter the room. Large floor-to-ceiling windows and doors on either side, which open up to a veranda or balcony depending on your floor provide a picturesque frame for the view. Outside, take your pick of seating from a set of rocking chairs, seating for two at the small dining table or for optimal relaxation, pick from two hammocks, which flank both outdoor walls.  We spent quite a bit of time luxuriating in those hammocks. The bathroom was glorious and the tub.. the tub was something out of every girls dreams. Absolutely beautiful.

Our entire experience here would turn out to be something phenomenal with only a couple of hiccups. On our first night for example, as we entered the room there were two huge puddles of water in the entrance hall and water was leaking from the AC unit above. The gentleman who helped us with our bags let us know he would send someone to take care of it. I spoke to him twice about it so I’m not sure if he got lost somewhere but it seemed to be taking forever for someone to appear. I ended up calling the front desk who informed me that no one told them but they would send someone to fix it. Shortly after that, two cleaning personnel and three maintenance people arrived to clean the mess and repair the leak. They weren't overly apologetic about it but at least the issue was taken care of promptly after my call.

I was also a little disappointed by housekeeping. Not that it was bad. It just wasn’t exceptional. At a hotel of this caliber I just expect more. There's something to be said about a luxury hotel with a standard of going the extra mile to straighten things up. Although our last housekeeper was a great improvement over the previous one(s), a little more attention to detail would have been great overall. I’ve stayed at hotels where the cleaning personnel literally makes me chuckle because they insist on placing my hair care products in a straight orderly line. Also, where were my little white slippers? I’m nitpicking. I know, but when in the lap of luxury, a white robe should totally come with white slippers, shouldn’t they? I digress. These are minimal complaints. This place was paradise, slippers or no slippers.

After we were settled in our rooms, we ventured down to the restaurant again for an amazing dinner before retiring for the night in preparation for another activity-filled day.

Day 3: (Part 1)

Canyoneering and Rapelling

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On our third day we booked a tour with the Desafino Tour Company. They arrived bright an early at 7:00am to get the day started.  We were greeted by David, the guide and Ramon the driver. Again, two warm and friendly individuals who made us feel right at home. We picked up other travelers who had booked the same tour.  Luckily they were all fun people and we had a pleasant commute to the location despite our last leg were we once again got into an open-air “bus” and experienced getting drenched in Costa Rican Wet Season rain, but oh well, it’s the rainforest “When in Rome”.

Our tour for the day was called a Combo Mambo. This consisted of canyoneering, rappelling and rafting. Canyoneering through the Lost Canyon and rappelling down tropical waterfalls, I felt like George of the Jungle. I’m a total princess. I don’t like being cold, I don’t like getting dirty and I don’t like hiking. On this trip I often found myself dealing with all three of those things, sometimes at the same time but for whatever reason I had the time of my life. Surprisingly, my princess sister/friend E, turned out to be an even bigger princess than I was and could have totally gone without the stepping in the mud and wadding through beige-colored river water but she was all for the down-climbing and long drops down the sides of the rocks and waterfalls. Go figure. After rappelling we made our way back up to the canyon house and had breakfast and viewed pictures from the experience.

That's it for the part one recap. Tune in tomorrow for part two where I'll let you in on more on our adventures on day three and more.  In the meantime, thanks for reading and let the power moves continue.

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