2008-02-10 – Sunday – San Jose to the Sueño Azul Hotel. Diego is leading this second segment tour, and our volcano expert is Steven O'Meara, who gives us lots of information about volcanoes over the coming few days. We drive north out of San Jose through coffee plantations and proceed onward to Poas Volcano - our first stop. The weather is notoriously fickle on top of this volcano. Our group hikes from the visitor centre to the main viewpoint, and as we arrive the clouds part for about a minute, and then close again! We waited for perhaps a half hour for it to clear, and our patience was eventually rewarded - the clouds blew away for 10 minutes or so, giving everyone time to take photos and see this interesting volcano's main caldera.
After leaving Poas Volcano, our next stop was to see some spectacular falls along the road that follows the Sarapiqui River northward and then east over the mountains through the town of Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui. The Sueño Azul Hotel will be our home base for the next couple of days. Everyone has to walk across the river on a foot bridge to get to the hotel grounds. After dark, we leave the hotel for the Tirimbina Rainforest Center located in nearby Sarapiqui. We are given a wonderful introduction to bats which are found in the surrounding forest. 2008-02-11 – Monday – Sueño Azul Hotel – We went to La Selva Preserve today, which is nearby. La Selva is a biological research station focused on the rainforest. Our guide was a bird nesting researcher, so he was very knowledgeable about the many birds we encountered on our walk, but also had interesting stories to tell about La Selva itself, as well as the flora and fauna in the preserve. Back at the hotel, it was wonderful to just sit on the deck outside my room overlooking the lagoon, watching and listening to the rain showers come down. The wildlife in the lagoon can be observed from the comfort of my easy chair. All I have to do is keep still and quiet.
2008-02-12 – Tuesday – Sueño Azul Hotel to the Tabacón Grand Spa and Thermal Resort near Arenal Volcano – After check-out, we drive to a drop off point and spend two hours river rafting on the Peñas Blancas River. This is a Class 1 segment of river, which means we encounter no white water, and no helmets or strap-ins are needed – just a gentle float down a calm river. It rained hard for the first few minutes as we loaded, but it soon cleared and we had perfect weather for the whole trip down the river. There were three or four sections where the water ran a bit faster, but nothing I would call rapids. I think everyone had fun. I certainly enjoyed myself, since we saw lots of wildlife up close, including Howler monkeys, a snake swimming across the river, some bats, and countless birds.
The Tabacón Grand Spa and Thermal Resort is the best grade hotel we've stayed at for the whole trip. We had the buffet at the Spa restaurant for dinner this evening- their theme was Chinese. The food was very good, but it was quite noisy due to the whole spa complex being very busy (they don't close until 10pm).2008-02-13 – Wednesday – Arenal Volcano - Today started off with a hike to see a volcanic flow on Arenal Volcano. The terrain was sometimes rough and there was some rain at the start of our hike, but it was just overcast or clear the rest of the time. Unfortunately the mountain was shrouded in cloud, which is not unusual for Arenal. The last time I was here 10 years ago, Arenal was in cloud as well. We watched the volcano spit hot boulders for awhile and then returned to the bus.
The Arenal Volcano Observatory was our next stop…a sublime place which has a nice restaurant overlooking the volcano, a resort, and the observatory operated by the Smithsonian Institute. We had a leisurely lunch, observed the volcano from the deck, and had fun watching the tropical birds feeding on some fruit left out for them at a feeding station. From this vantage point I took better photos of Arenal volcano than from our hike earlier in the day. Steven O'Meara gave us a bit of history about Arenal, and then we got back on the bus and returned to Tabacón.
The rest of the afternoon was free, so I went up to the hot springs and spa and soaked in the hot pools. Some of them are very hot (41.5°C) and others are as cool as 25°C. I found a hot pool away from the crowds and alternated between hot and cool for about an hour. Our hotel room booking includes admission to the hot springs, so many of the group was also taking advantage of the facility. Normal admission is $60/person for a day pass. There is a free shuttle between the hotel and the hot springs, since they are located about a block apart.
We had a sumptuous dinner at Arenal Kioro Hotel, a resort located toward La Fortuna not far from Tabacón,. This two year old resort is situated on the mountain and has wonderful views of the area. The whole complex is quite spectacular. After dinner, we drive back to Arenal and park along an access road, trying to spot the hot lava rocks as they tumble down the mountain, but it is so cloudy we only spot a couple of rocks before giving up and return to Tabacón.
2008-02-14 – Thursday – La Fortuna to San Jose – We leave the Tabacón this morning, returning to San Jose. First stop is El Silencio de Los Angeles Cloud Forest. This is the first Cloud Forest I have visited up close - it is fascinating. We saw lots of fauna and flora, including several varieties of hummingbirds, orchids, army and leaf-cutter ants, and many varieties of philodendron. We had a very nice lunch at the adjoining Villa Blanca restaurant, and then back on the bus for the run back to San Jose. We ran into rush hour traffic as we approached San Jose, which made us late for our Farewell Dinner. I had to be the first to leave since my flight tomorrow morning leaves at 7:45am. My pickup for the airport is arranged for 5am.