La Fortuna lies at the base of Arenal Volcano. It is a town full of activities and adventures. There is hiking, wildlife excursions, farm tours, white water rafting, zip lines, waterfalls, wine tasting, hot springs, ATV adventures, water parks and more. The town center has a big plaza, and the main streets are lined with souvenir shops and book-a-tour booths. Accommodations ranged from budget to the luxurious. We stayed just outside of downtown in a guest house next to a papaya farm. In the mornings and evening we were serenaded by toucan calls:
Travelling with minors has some extra challenges. We wanted to find activities that they would enjoy, that would test them, and also keep them safe. Most raft groups would not sign up both our girls as Kylie was under 8. However, we found one class I-II rapids that did. It was an early morning pickup and an hour drive to the launch location. Our family was partnered with a couple from New York. Sharleen and I had white water rafted before a few times, but our kids hadn’t and neither had the NY couple. Our guide spent quite a bit of time going over paddle drills with us. I was in the front with the gentleman from New York. Sharleen and the woman sat in the middle. Alyssa and Kylie were in the back next to the guide. Kylie’s instructions were to hold on for dear life.
We were put in a particularly fast moving section and we hit rapids right away. The gentleman from New York had some trouble with the guide’s directions and the guide had to stop several times to go over things with him again. (I’m sure it had nothing to do with the beers he had before getting in the boat). We hit a rock on my side and the boat when down and out I went. I had rafted many times before, and this was my first time getting tossed from a boat. I was more embarrassed than worried. I thought I’d just be able to hop back in — I couldn’t. I could feel my shoes coming off and my legs bounced against the rocks below. The boat was moving too fast to push off the riverbed and jump in. My shoe slipped off, and I started to get nervous. With one big heave from the guide and big pull, I landed back in and continued to shoot the remainder of the rapids. Alyssa, grabbed my shoe as it floated by and we continued like nothing happened.
We blasted through a few more rapids then pulled up on river side for a snack and break. Everyone exchanged stories and had some delicious pineapple.
In the calmer parts of the river, the guide would push us in the water for a river float. Alyssa got to bull ride through some light rapids. This means she got to sit on the bow of the boat and hang on as the boat bounced and bobbed. The guides would perform aerial jumps, told stories, and did their best to keep us focused and entertained. The guides informed us that the Balsa river flows are controlled by dam releases. They have to time their rides and their season to the releases from the dam.
Shortly after the Balsa river joined up with a larger river, we pulled out. The company drove us to a plantation where they fed us a buffet lunch and treated us to an informational lecture on sugar cane. The adults were given an option for some sugar-cane infused alcoholic beverages, and the kids got shots of sugar cane.
Only upon our return did we learn that the tour company booked us on a III-IV class rapids and we braved it all.
The Rio Chollin is a hidden gem just outside of town towards Arenal. It is feed by geothermal vents and hot springs making a hot-tub-creek. We passed several luxury hotels and according to the directions we received from a local contact, found a pull out near the Rio Chollin across from the Right next to Tabacón Grand Spa Thermal Resort. Walking down to the creek, we smelled the steamy warmth rising as we walked down the short path to creek-side. We all jumped in an thoroughly enjoyed this hot spring creek. We weren’t alone. Many locals and other visitors would come and go. The current was a little strong in places, so we most hung out by the culverts under the road. There is a nice write up in the Tico Times about it. (Click Here)
Viewing wildlife in its native habitat is sometimes challenging and often takes patience and time that is difficult with young children. Natura (click here) is a reptile and insect wildlife park that allowed us to see a great diversity of Costa Rican wildlife in a condensed area. From crocodiles, camens, and turtles, to frogs, butterflies, and snakes, we got to see and hear some of Costa Rica’s most famous residents.
We also slid into Kalumba waterside park for some fun with the kids. We chose to go after 5pm for the discount and fewer crowds. There were some serious slides and toddler section. Kylie loved the group slide where we all got to ride an big inner tube. We stayed until it got too cold into the evening.
We all enjoyed the cacao farm. For the three hours we spent there it was worth every penny! Read about it. (Click here)