Buzzing on way too much coffee, the mid part of our trip brought us to the area surrounding Volcan Arenal.    The landscape around Arenal is gorgeous.  A pretty lake is surrounded by rolling countryside, under Arenal’s shadow. Think rolling country side meets the jungle.  Until 2010, Arenal was Costa Rica’s most active volcano and 10 years ago, I spent one of my best New Year’s Eves in some Hot Springs under the shadow of the volcano, so there were definitely some moments of deja vue.  We stayed at a basic hostel with walls which were way too thin…and who am I kidding, it was way too “zen” and “finding yourself” for my tastes. And on that note…what is with all the backpackers and their collapsable hula hoops? Clearly there is some trend that has completely passed me by.  Max woke up in a fit of terror in the middle of the night, and we definitely had our revenge on the neighbours who clearly didn’t have an 11 month sleeping between them on the bed.  Hey, but really, what can you expect for  $14 dollars a night, although, travel tip, thick walls are generally important, and made even more so when you have a baby.   We took off for some exploring the next day at dawn break (did I mention, Max woke us up at 5Am every day insisting that we pack as much into our schedule as possible?). Partly I wanted to avoid the your baby woke us up glares, and partly, I wanted to avoid seeing the amorous couple whose room was on the other side of the paper thin walls and who I felt I knew all to well, without having a clue what they looked like.

We had heard some rumours that “Cerro Chato”, a dormant volcano on the southwest side of Arenal  was a challenging but beautiful hike  slog.  The reward at the top is an emerald lagoon surrounded by lush rain forest. On a clear day, you can see Arenal.  Many were pretty surprised to see us attempting the hike with Max, and my muscles definitely protested the 23 extra pounds, but it was a great challenge.  We made it to the top, took a dip, and then started the trek back down.

Rob and Max Cerro Chato

Of course every challenge has its rewards…or really, I’d never test myself.  We finished the hike tired, dirty and sweaty. The hot springs in the areas had been in the back of our minds, but we weren’t set on it.  The hike changed our minds. Suddenly we deserved it.  Of course, Rob didn’t need such convincing or justifying.  We decided to check out Tabacon ( …the porsche of Arenal’s hot springs.  Now….as much as its great bringing Max on all of our adventures, this was definitely one of the ones where it would have been darn nice to leave the little guy at home and have some romantic mom and dad time.  The entrance fee isn’t cheap, but the resort has a series of waterfalls and pools, surrounded by gorgeous gardens, its one of the times where its worth just paying the entrance fee and for the overpriced drinks and enjoying yourself.  Really, Tabacon is luxury at its finest.  There are enough separate and secluded pools that you could easily spend an afternoon simply relaxing and enjoying, and still having a little privacy.   The water is hot…definitely too hot for an 11 month old so we had to take turns going into the pools and handing off Max.  Not perfect, but really, we were in gorgeous hot springs, surrounded by incredible gardens in the shadow of a volcano.  It was still pretty sweet – but could it ever have been romantic if we had been max-less. Oh and here is a travel tip and something we wish we had known.  I had had an inkling that there were “free” hot springs somewhere. I mean really, just because someone sets up a resort, the water is still coming and going from somewhere. Sure enough, we got back from Tabacon and someone asked “did you go to the free hot springs?” Free hotsprings? What? I’d actually done a fair bit of googling prior, and my sleuthing did not reveal free hot springs.  Supposedly though, a little off past the turnoff to Tabacon, on the right hand side heading away from La Fortuna is a yellow gate.  Park the car, go through the gate, wander, and voila, free hot springs. I’ll have to go back and check them out one day.

Our time in the Arenal was way too short.  Another fatal flaw of a 1 week trip – trying to cram way too much in- but really, there isn’t one thing I’d give up or swap…ok I take that back, wrong turns on bumpy roads.  We headed back to our thin-walled hostel, slept, and were up again the next day for our long drive down the coast to try our hand at surfing – and eating sand of course.  But, I’ll save that post for another day.

Buenos Noches!