Smokin’ hot

El Arenal volcano

We drove up to see the Arenal volcano which, lucky for us, was for once not shrouded in clouds. It was rainy and grey but we could see the smoking tip of the crater and wallow in our recklessness at staying so close to this deadly contraption. (I’m only half kidding – the volcano is very much active and in this century a few people have been killed by explosions already. But mostly hikers who went beyond the official paths so we were probably pretty safe at our hotel a few kilometers away.)

El Arenal had been dormant until a major explosion rocked the little town of Fortuna and surroundings in the summer of 1968. Around 90 people were killed during these eruptions and probably around the same time tourism started booming in the area. There are more volcano-themed lodges, B&Bs and resorts than you can throw a stick at.

We stayed at the vaguely fancy Volcano Lodge with superior views of the volcano and an acceptable breakfast buffet. The view from our little terrace was perfect but unfortunately the orange-glowing lava flows did not appear at night.

Smoke signals

Since there was no flowing lava to enthrall us we opted for a night bath in the river instead. Most tourists who come to the Arenal area go for one of the Volcano+Spa+Dinner packages. There are three different price levels, depending on the fanciness of the spa. Being the cheapskates that we are (or just more tuned in to the local spirit?) we went for the completely free option instead: a bath in the river that’s fed by the thermal pools.

The water is steaming hot and rushes fast over the cemented river bed. We had an approximate idea of where the river entrance was but since it was pitch dark already (6pm) it took us two passes before we found it. Getting down to the river was a whole other obstacle since we’d forgotten our torch at the hotel. But eventually we managed to run down the small gap in the wall that lead to the river entrance under the bridge. There was some climbing and cursing involved but when we made it into the hot water and submerged ourselves with just a tiny bit of apprehension, it was definitely worth the trip.

Henriikka and me at our personal hot spa

Anything could have been around us – giant waterfalls, axe murderers, venomous water snakes – but we took comfort in the locals seated nearby and told ourselves that it couldn’t possibly be all that dangerous if they were here as well, right?! It might not surprise you that when we went back the next morning and saw the place in daylight, it was rather disappointing and we were almost glad that we had come while it was dark.

The morning after is seldom pretty...

If you’re ever in the area and want to enjoy the same free bath, head to the Tabacon spa, park your car across the street and look for the little path leading down next to the bridge. Just remember to bring a torch.

Leave a Reply