14.-18.02.2012: Volcán Poás - La Fortuna - Hanging Bridges - Lago Arenal - Lago Nicaragua

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Costa Rica's most heavily visited National Park is Volcán Poás, an active volcano with its steaming, belching cauldron which is 1.3 km across and 300 metres deep and is at 2,704 meters above sea level. A veil of clouds envelops the mountain almost daily, appearing at around 10 am so it's best to arrive early. It is about 25 miles north west of the capital San Jose.

We drove over from the coast heading for Sarapique Outdoor Centre which had camping listed in our Lonely Planet which is correct but only for tents and wasn't suitable for motor homes. But they told us about their boat ramp that they use for river rafting tours where the family Chisos might let us stay.

So off we went, asking others along the way and finally found the place. We spoke to the family who allowed us to park on a grassy area near to the ramp. We were looking for a place to park Winnie so that we could all drive up the steep roads to Poás Volcano in Helmut and Agnes' vehicle but we needed somewhere safe to leave Winnie.

Early the next morning we set off and headed up along the steep, windy roads which were partly gravel due to landslide damage. The regular entrance fee is $15 per person plus $5 for parking which is far too expensive considering you only spend a short time there, so Kirsten and Helen hid in the back of Helmut and Agnes' motor home! Kirsten got the toilet with a rolling Papaya and Helen had an uncomfortable crouch in the kitchen. Good job she has good leg muscles!

Our first views were blocked by cloud cover so we went along a trail around a Laguna which we didn't really see because of the clouds. When we returned to the crater, however, the clouds lifted for a short while so that we could get some photos actually see San Jose in the distance. There were quite a few people at the viewpoint by that time and Kirsten was called on to take group photos for other tourists.

View into the steaming crater of Poás volcano.

We only spent a couple of hours there and then it was back to the toilet and kitchen crouch for Helen and Kirsten on the way out. We stopped at a waterfall on the way back down and also had an obligatory stop at a bakery.

We left our spot at the boat ramp and drove for a couple of hours to La Fortuna where we stayed on a grassy area at Hotel Sierra Arenal with views of Arenal Volcano for 2 nights.

There is a huge variety of tours in this area which can be really expensive. One recommendation was Caño Negro which would have cost between $50 and $55 per person and there were a number of other options we were looking into.

In the end we didn't do any of them because Kirsten and Agnes were taking sunset photos and met Giovanni, a tour guide who was giving a tour with some people on a parcel of land next to the hotel. When they took a look at the photos that the clients had taken they were sold! So they arranged to go on a guided morning tour for $10 per person with unlimited access to the property afterwards.

Giovanni (arenalguide@gmail.com) knew all the secret spots for certain animals which meant that, without him, there probably wouldn't be any photos! The animals are camouflaged or hidden in their habitats for example the Gaudy Leaf frog, which is nocturnal and sleeps under banana leaves during the day. They are incredibly difficult to spot but Giovanni knew under which leaves to look otherwise you could turn over every leaf and still not find one.

The video of the yawning frog is is just incredible! He is so cute!

Have you ever seen a frog yawning?

The tour is well worth the money and Giovanni has spent years maintaining and protecting this small patch of undeveloped land. There is such a variety of wildlife to see but without Giovanni you could miss all of it!

Crying toucans.

Our next stop was the Arenal Hanging Bridges which is a private reserve that has 600 acres of protected rain forest. (Regular entrance $24 per person, $19 for pensioners and $14 for students.) There are 14 bridges along a 2 mile trail. Kirsten had a migraine and needed to lie down, so Helen went with Helmut and Agnes in their motor home up the very steep but short drive to the reserve.

There was a great deal of wildlife to see including coatis, snakes, monkeys and a wide variety of birds. The longest bridge was 326 ft (98m) and the highest was 150 ft (50m) so Kirsten's fear of heights would have caused her a problem here anyway. Helen took lots of video and photos so that she didn't miss anything!

High amongst the trees.

Fortunately she was feeling better and liked seeing the videos and photos. Then we got surrounded by wildlife on the road out - first a family of coatis who were looking for food. Another car had stopped and was feeding them crisps from his window. He offered some crisps to Helmut who said no thanks because he thought they were for him! Then we stopped to take photos of Crested Guans in a tree.

We stayed the night on the car park of Hotel Heroes, owned by a swiss/costa rican couple and went for a typical Swiss meal - goulasch and roestis. Very good food but just not enough!!

The next day we headed for the border and stopped at a German bakery on the way and spent $15. We drove around Lake Arenal and then stopped for propane at a place we had been told about in Liberia. We know we can't get it in Nicaragua so we hoped it would last us until we got to Guatemala.

The border crossing into Nicaragua only took 90 minutes and the only problem was that we were overcharged for the fumigation. But we didn't realise until later! We headed north and stopped for photos of volcanoes Concepcion (1610m) and Maderas (1345).

By the time we got to San Jorge it was already dark and we were driving amongst pedestrians, cyclists, horses and carts! We found a place on the beach for $2-20 per vehicle for the night after a long and tiring day.