27th October ARENAL
In the morning, the sight of the looming Volcano Arenal is a majestic one, standing like a huge sentinel overlooking the serene waters of Lake Arenal and pastured green hillsides.
The volcano was dormant for hundreds of years before unexpectedly erupting in 1968, destroying three small villages on its western side. The town of El Borio on the eastern side was untouched and renamed La Fortuna (the fortunate).
Today, in its dormant phase, there is no longer any molten lava flowing down its sides or plumes of ash from the crater although views of the 1633 metre high active conical volcano are still stunning.
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We stop at the causeway to the dam which created Lake Arenal, surrounded by lakeside forest and great views of the volcano then drive up to the Arenal Observatory Lodge.
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A bumpy off-road track takes us through beautiful cloud forest to the small mountain village of El Castillo where we stop at a butterfly farm. From the butterfly cocoons at reception and then through the botanical gardens, a volunteer guide walks us through different domed butterfly habitats filled with a large variety of butterflies including the huge Blue Morpho and the transparent glass-winged butterflies.
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He then shows us a variety of poisonous Costa Rican frogs. Some Howler monkeys are also hanging about in the trees on the jungle walk.
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Instead of driving the long way around Lake Arenal to get to Monteverde, we plan to take the shorter 4×4 route (which is detailed on our GPS as 4×4 only). Driving up the road we pass the first river crossing; this is the turn off to follow the road along the western shore of Lake Arenal.
Further up we find the road ahead blocked by a digging machine and a guy jumps out to tell us in a mix of broken English and sign language that the 4×4 track is closed and we can‘t go any further.. The only other alternative is to ford the river behind us to get across.
We are quite wary of crossing as the river is wide and relatively fast flowing and we wouldn‘t want to be getting stuck in it! Martin wades across to the other side to check it would be ok! The crossing is quite bumpy with fairly large rocks and a few deep little holes but we make it over…
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The road is very scenic driving through the forest and with views of Arenal, we seem to be the only ones on it (withstanding a few horses and sheep!) The road feels safe and we comment how we would think twice about driving a deserted road like this elsewhere in Central America.
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The scenic drive takes us up a steep hill with great views of the surrounding country side. Whilst stopped, a lone Polish motorcyclist stops to ask us if this is the right way to Monteverde! He is riding around the country with no maps or GPS.
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The roads in general are gravelly and makes for slow-going, a result of local communities lobbying to stop developers from paving the road to reduce tourist numbers and subsequently protect the environment.
The Alabama Quakers came to Monteverde in 19451, drawn to the area for its cool climate, ideal for grazing cattle and Costa Rica‘s army-free constitution. They agreed to preserve the mountaintop cloud forests and named it Monteverde (Green Mountain) for the year round green plants.
We have problems with the budget accommodation we had booked as they have no parking on site, so we end up having to drive around to find a bar with internet, sort out the cancellation and book another which is stressful (especially after having driven so far) and wastes a lot of time.
On arrival to our accommodation, we arrange an early guided hike of the Monteverde Cloud Forest for tomorrow.