After three lovely days in escaping Central American heat in the mountain town of Santa Elena, it was time to move on to tourist stop #2 on the typical tourist circut through Costa Rica, Volcano Arenal, with our home base being in the town of La Fortuna. Volcano Arenal spit lava regularly until a few years ago, and people still go to take pictures of the picturesque volcano that is usually shrouded in clouds. Honestly though, we have seen a dozen or so volcanos at this point and what really drew me to this area were the hot springs heated thermally by the volcano.
Getting to La Fortuna can be done two ways. You can take a bus down the mountain and then another back up the mountain a different way to the town of La Fortuna (cheap, but at least 8 hours worth of buses) or you can do “Jeep-Boat-Jeep” ($25, 3 hours), which should more appropriately be named “van-boat-van” as you do not actually get in a jeep. We opted for the more expensive, but faster option as our time in La Fortuna was limited. The van ride took us up and down hills and into valleys filled with countless rainbows. I have never seen so many rainbows in one day! The boat across the lake offered view of the volcano, which was awesome as we ended up forgoing any of the activities involving the volcano in favor of the hot springs heated by the thermal water stemming from the volcano.
We arrived in La Fortuna during a Sunday festival and after checking into our hostel (Gringo Pete’s) we decided to check it out. We lasted all of 10 minutes in the blistering heat before deciding to grab lunch (chicken sandwiches for Chelsea and I and sopa ranchera for Logan, with chicken, beef, bacon, pork and egg all mixed in) and head back to the shady backyard of our hostel. Gringo Pete’s was the cheapest hostel we have stayed in in Costa Rica (at $6/person/night) but we found it just as comfortable as other hostels where we paid triple that per person. We had our own little private room in what felt like a hull of a ship (curved ceiling and all) and spent quite a bit of time playing cards and reading in the backyard.
We spent our only full day in La Fortuna at Baldi Hot Springs. We looked into hiking around the volcano or going to the free hot springs just outside of town, but after much deliberating (and remembering that we do not really like hiking) we settled on a full day at one of the half a dozen or so resorts in the town of La Fortuna. We had read reviews comparing Baldi to Disneyland, cheesy and touristy, but it was far cheaper than the other hot springs in the area and at $31 for a full day entrance plus an all you can eat dinner buffet, we decided to give it a go. We were so happy we did. Baldi is comprised of a dozen or so hot springs pools, ranging in size from small to huge and ranging in temperature from 68 degrees (the”cool pools”) to 109 degrees. There were waterfalls and saunas and little coves. There were beach chairs and chairs submerged in the water and stools to sit on at the swim up bars. We spent the whole day bouncing from pool to pool, going down the three (FAST!) watersides, and reading in beach chairs. The jungle around the pools was beautifully landscaped and despite being in a major tourist resort, Baldi really was calm and tranquil.
We lucked out and weather that day hung around 60 degrees and stayed cloudy (in contrast to the heat the day before), perfect for being outside in heated pools. Most of the day Baldi did not feel as crowded as TripAdvisor would have us believe, but at around 3 pm the tour buses started pulling in and people arrived in large droves. Despite the large increase in numbers, we still found plenty of room wherever we wanted to be. We finished our day of doing nothing (which we have become pros at) with a buffet dinner complete with a pasta bar (which even I enjoyed, much to the dismay of my poor gluten intolerant body later), fish, chicken, potatoes, fruit, and of course deserts! We left Baldi stuffed, relaxed and ready for another long travel day through San Jose and down the coast to the seaside town of Manuel Antonio.