Northern Region: La Fortuna, Arenal Volcano, Río Celeste and Venado Caves
Visitors will be fortunate to find themselves in one of the most amazing regions in the country, with cloud forests, active and dormant volcanoes, hot springs, waterways, wildlife refuges, caves, extreme sports, birdwatching and pastoral landscapes. Hence, La Fortuna is a perfect base for arranging trips to nearby locations.
A cozy village, La Fortuna is located near Arenal Volcano, one of the most active volcanoes in the world. The town has a fine infrastructure for tourists with many restaurants, hotels and tour operators to ensure trips to the region are a success.
Arenal Volcano was thought to be a mountain until 1968, when it awoke with an incredible eruption that left its western side destroyed. Since then, Arenal has remained active, producing steam columns, rumblings, explosions and constant red lava.
This 7,000 year-old giant has four craters, and it’s located between the Tilarán Mountain Range and the San Carlos plains. A national park of the same name was founded around the volcano.
The area features four distinct ecosystems, a very humid tropical forest, a mountainous rainforest, a low mountainous rainforest and a lower very humid forest. Each ecosystem has its own unique flora and fauna.
Although Arenal, with a near-perfect cone, is undoubtedly the main attraction, scores of fabulous places are waiting to be explored, and La Fortuna is a great starting point.
The idyllic La Fortuna waterfalls are located just three miles from downtown La Fortuna. During the rainy season, both waterfalls are visible, but only one is visible during the dry season.
Río Celeste springs from the slopes of the Tenorio Volcano (the second highest elevation at the Guanacaste Mountain Range) and since 1995, the area is protected by a national park. The park is home to many species of flora, such as palms, ferns, epiphytes, bromeliads, orchids and heliconias. The most common species of fauna are tapirs, spider monkeys, howler monkeys, white-faced monkeys, birds, and wildcats, such as pumas and ocelots.
The park’s main attractions are a waterfall, Los Teñideros and the hot springs.
A four-hour hike through the jungle leads to the waterfall which is surrounded by a turquoise colored pool. Then, a short walk leads to Los Teñideros, a unique river with light blue water.
The park features a relaxing pool of hot springs, where bathers can make their own mud mask and also enjoy a cold-water river that runs next to the hot springs.
Río Celeste is absolutely astonishing.
Tens of meters underground, creatures live without light and surrounded by unbelievable rock formations and the sound of omnipresent running water. Journeying into the Gabinarraca caves, best known as the Venado Caves, offer the opportunity to confront fears of darkness and to experience the majesty of this hidden habitat.
The Venado limestone caves are located on private land in the town of Venado, about an hour north of La Fortuna. The caves were discovered in the early 1940’s, and scores of tourists, scientists and speleologists have since flocked to them.
Tour guides are available to help walk alongside underground rivers, climb and descend rock walls and even crawl on hands and knees through holes and tunnels while listening to streams above and below. The caves’ impressive features include stalactites, stalagmites, fossils and amazing coral formations. According to scientists, the caves have existed for some 10-15 million years, which means that a long time ago, they were once covered by the ocean.
The unique forms within the caves are the result of millions of years of water penetration, carving into the caves’ calcium carbonate material.
This labyrinth features ten galleries spanning approximately two miles. The two most well-known galleries are the Papaya, named after a column formation similar to the fruit, and the Altar, a huge gallery full of coral stairs and walls. There’s no light in the caves, except at Boca de la Serpiente gallery, which receives a wonderful ray of light from the outside world during the dry season.
After two hours of darkness, a tunnel named “Birth Canal” leads back to the surface.
Places To Visit
Adventures can be found all over Costa Rica, and the northern region is indeed no exception.
Visitors can hike to solidified lava flows at a place called Cerro Chato, a dormant volcano with a beautiful lagoon at its peak. An easier, yet thrilling hike, is the Arenal Hanging Bridges tour. Within this 618-acre primary forest reserve, 15 “hanging” bridges are available ranging from 5 to 100 meters long. The bridges span both beneath and above the forest canopy, providing a glimpse of one of the most lively environments in the forest.
Nearby, the magnificent Arenal Lake awaits, a 75-square-kilometer reservoir at the base of the volcano.
The lake is home to the country’s largest hydroelectric energy plant making it a great spot for windsurfing. The best time to practice the sport is during the dry season, between December and April. The lake is also great for sailing, fishing or just for taking a relaxing boat trip.
The Safari Tour is a great way to enjoy the surroundings while floating in a boat in the quiet waters of the Peñas Blancas river.
Do not hike to the top of Arenal – it is very dangerous. Follow your guide’s instructions and never go beyond marked limits.
What to bring to Venado Caves? Try not to bring unneeded items with you in the caves. Don’t forget to bring extra clothes, as you will have to take a shower after the trip.
Costa Rica Travel: Travel Information & Tips
No matter how beautiful a destination may be, it needs easy access and be reachable within the limitations of an average vacation period. Costa Rica is only two and a half hours away from Miami!