Thursday, December 12, 2013

Punteranas and Arenal Volcano

We got our 3hour ride with the American and his dog to Punteranas. They dropped us off at the Hilton resort where we had booked for two nights. The American guy (Burt) was going home to Florida after living in Costa Rica for 3 years. He gave us lots of tips for when we visit Dominical as that is the last stop on our trip.

Puntarenas (Pointsands, from "punta arenas", or "sand point" in Spanish) is the capital and largest city in the province Puntarenas, Costa Rica, at the Pacific coast. The eponymous and oddly shaped province has its largest section in the South, far from the capital.

Some 100,000 live in the city and close towns. With beaches on the Pacific Ocean, it also attracts many tourists, especially surfers. It is also a possible stopover point for the tourist destination Monteverde, to the northwest.


Its port, Caldera, is one of the main ports in the country. Also, regularly scheduled ferries carry vehicles from Puntarenas to the Nicoya Peninsula.

The Hilton resort was beautiful - it is a favourite for Costa Ricans to spend one or two weeks with the family. The beach is not great but the resort grounds are lovely and being an all inclusive there is lots to do especially for families. We had a lovely dinner in the seafood restaurant and looked forward to our trip to arenal volcano and Tabacon resort the next day. The Tabacon resort is rated one of the top resorts in Central America, which you can visit for the day to enjoy the wonderful hot springs.

Another sunset

The next morning we were up bright and early to eat breakfast and be ready for our 9am pickup. By 9:30 am no bus/ van had arrived so we checked our emails for messages from grayline (tour company) and there were none. So we asked the front desk staff to call the company, well apparently they cancelled our tour (said they sent us an email?). We were extremely disappointed but not much we could do. We talked to the hotel staff and arranged to have a tour of Punteranas that afternoon. So we went off to the chairs on the beach to lay under the palm trees until it was time for our tour.

While on the beach we had a couple of local tour operators approach us about various tour options. We told them about our experience with grayline and expressed our disappointment at not getting to see the arenal volcano and Tabacon resort. One of the guys offered us a private tour to arenal volcano and although we would not go to the Tabacon resort we would go to the Baldi Resort and hot springs. So within a half hour we were off after canceling our afternoon tour of Punteranas (which probably is a good thing as this place is very seedy looking and they advise you not to go off the resort without being accompanied - funny because this place is where a number of cruise ships dock but I expect most people from the ships take guided tours).

Arenal volcano is about a three hour drive from Punteranas through the mountains. Our first stop was a lovely butterfly gardens, which also had a great souvenir store to make some purchases.

Costa Rican beautiful butterfly but hard to get them to stand still for a photo.
Two butterflies mating
Coffee bean tree
Our guide behind an old cart that use to be pulled by oxen
You may think this is an orange like I did until I put a quater in my mouth and realized it was a lime! Wow za!

Arenal Volcano, in Spanish Volcán Arenal, is an active andesitic stratovolcanoin north-western Costa Rica around 90 km northwest of San José, in the province of Alajuela, canton of San Carlos, and district of La Fortuna. The Arenal volcano measures at least 1,633 metres (5,358 ft). It is conically shaped with a crater spanning 140 metres (460 ft). Geologically, Arenal is considered a young volcano and the age is estimated to be less than 7,500 years.

The volcano was dormant for hundreds of years and exhibited a single crater at its summit, with minor fumaroles activity, covered by dense vegetation. In 1968 it erupted unexpectedly, destroying the small town of Tabacón. Due to the eruption three more craters were created on the western flanks but only one of them still exists today. Since October 2010, Arenal's volcanic activity appears to be decreasing and explosions have become rare, with no explosions reported between December 2010 and October 2012.

Driving through the mountain area the tempature dropped and we observed lots of cattle land. Apparently they do not feed the cows any hormones, however the cows need to be milked three times a day as the feed on the grass rich in minerals from the volcanic soil. Our tour guide also told us how important education is to the Costa Ricans - they learn English, French and Spanish from kindergarten. Education is free, parents pay for transportation and uniforms and can be subsidized if they cannot afford to do so. If a student achieves good marks their university education is also subsidized. The belief is better education, better jobs.

Fruit stand we stopped at along the way


First view of Arenal Volcano
Town of La Fortuna
Yes it is this magical!



Lava Rock
Man made lake where town was located before volcano erupted

As we came closer to the town La Fortuna we could see the volcano in the distance - we could not see the crater at the top due to cloud cover. We drove through the town and around the side of the volcano to watch the sunset - magnificent.

Then it was off to Baldi Hot Springs located at the feet of the volcano. its 25 Natural Mineral Pure Water Pools , with 12 different temperatures, exuberant waterfalls and tropical gardens have made of this location a reachable dream of countless comfort. This place is like nothing I have ever seen before - it is sooooo elaborate and exotic. Donna and I tested a number of the pools and falls - mostly the cooler ones under 40 degrees as they get as hot as the low 50's.

After our hot springs visit we went into La Fortuna for a wonderful dinner of local cuisine - chicken, beans, rice and fresh guacamole. Then it was the 3 hour ride back over the mountains in the dark to our hotel. The main roads in Costa Rica are what ours were 40-50 years ago.

Traditional Costa Rican clothing

We arrived home at 10 pm - it was a great day and I am so glad we got to see the volcano - tick another bucket list item done!


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