Our Central America tour (5): monkeys and fumaroles

During the night of Wednesday/Thursday, it crashed with rain so that, in the morning, effectively the Arenal volcano had disappeared inside a low cloud base. Clearly we had been very fortunate with the weather yesterday. At 8 am, we left the Arenal Paraiso Hotel after two nights stay to head further north-east, starting by skirting round the northern side of the lake we had seen yesterday. Lago Arenal is the largest lake in the country and provides a significant amount of hydro-electric power as well as recreational opportunities.

As we left the micro-climate of Arenal at 8 am, the weather soon returned to bright sunshine which meant that, as the coach twisted and turned around the lakeside, we could from time to time spot various wildlife and sometimes stop for a closer look. Among our sightings were black mandivle toucans with bright yellow upper beaks and a family of howler monkeys (totally black except for dark grey faces and white testicles). Towards 11 am, we joined the Pan American Highway which would be our main route for the remainder of our time in Costa Rica, leading us all the way to Nicaragua. This highway is far from as impressive as it sounds; throughout the country it is merely one lane in each direction and in many parts it is poorly maintained.

We were now in the province of Guanacaste which is the driest in the country and we stopped for a hour at the town of Liberia which is the capital of the province. This was an opportunity to visit a local supermarket called “Jumbo Liberia” where we were able to buy food and drink for our picnic lunch and meanwhile have a coffee.

After this stop, we left the Pan America Highway to take a minor road north east heading for the national park in which is located another of Costa Rica’s active volcanoes. At a certain point the public road which was pretty basic became a private road which was in a poor state and presented a very bumpy ride to the national park which we reached around 1.30 pm.

This is the site of Volcan Rincon de la Vieja – the name means the corner of the old woman and apparently is a reference to olden times when certain local women practised dark arts. Located at a height of 1,895 metres, this is still an active volcano and indeed a series of eruptions in 2012 has put the actual crater off limits for the time being. The national park is home to around 250 bird species, plus monkeys, morpho butterflies, tapirs, and even pumas, and the location of the highest density of the country’s national flower, a rare purple orchid called locally guaria morada.

The weather was glorious as we sat at benches outside and consumed our supermarket purchases. Suitably refreshed, the hard work began as Eduardo led us on a rather demanding hike. The floor of the forest was almost totally covered in either twisting tree roots or large uneven rocks, so great care was needed. At times, it was really steep going down or (on the return) going back up. On three occasions, we had to cross the local Colorado River (not that wide but fast flowing), either on a bouncing suspension bridge or on a tree trunk with a support wire stung above it. It was really warm but the trees were so thick that the sun only penetrated so far and a strong breeze shook the upper parts of the tall trees to create quite an eerie atmosphere.

The main purpose of the walk – correction, trek – was to visit some of the smoking fumaroles of this active volcano. We saw three, each larger and smokier and more bubbly than the previous one. A sign explained that the temperature of the mud was between 75C-106C (192F-248F). The smell of hydrogen sulphide was pungent and we were regularly engulfed by the steam showers. However, as well as the fumaroles, Eduardo pointed out various flora and fauna plus birds and monkeys. Indeed we spent quite a while studying a group of white-faced capuchin monkeys who performed wonderful feats of jumping from one high tree branch to another.

We spent over two and a half hours on this hike and felt that we had acquitted ourselves well, coping with the terrain and seeing some unusual sights. Back at the coach, we retraced our route but did not go all the way back to Liberia because we were spending the night at a place called Canon de la Vieja Lodge – another case of accommodation in individual chalets with fairly basic facilities. Since we were some way from civilisation, the evening meal was a buffet dinner at the hotel.

At this point in the tour, we were joined by five other travellers (all three of the men named Robert) who had been to Panama and Costa Rica, so now – at least for a while – we are 18.

Tomorrow … Nicaragua.


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