Having done a nice trek through Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve in the morning, we headed off to La Fortuna after collecting our bags from the hostel. The drive took a total of 3 hours and was a great drive. We had to start on a lot of dirt tracks through the hills which then arrived at the edge of the Arenal Lake. From here we had to go the long way around and also around Arenal Volcano in order to reach La Fortuna.
We booked in for 2 nights at Arenal Container Hostel. You guessed it, the rooms were in shipping containers. These were bigger than you would think and had a bathroom extension built into each of the rooms. We were in a 4 bed dorm with 2 Canadians. The hostel staff were great at explaining to us the different activities to do around La Fortuna without pushing to get us onto any expensive tours. For our 1st night we just went to the shop to get some food in and had a pretty chilled night.
For the second day we decided to go on a chocolate and coffee tour in the morning. We got picked up from the hostel at 10am in a minibus with people from other hotels and hostels in the town. The first part of the tour was all about chocolate. To start off we got shown baby cocao plants in pots and the process they go through in order to become a strong tree bearing plenty fruit later on. We can’t remember the exact process but there were two plants in one pot competing, bark transfer from a grown tree and finally cutting off the non-dominant tree. We also got to feel and taste the cocoa beans from the fruit. The beans come out slimy and the taste they leave in your mouth is rather sweet, almost like the flavour of mango. Texture very strange though!
Moving on from here we saw the fermentation process. Here we saw the cocoa beans at 4 different stages, going from straight out of the fruit all the way to fully fermented and ready to be processed. For each stage there was a jar of the beans which we could see and smell. Needless to say they stank. The inside of the beans goes from purple to dark brown when fully fermented.
The 3rd step we saw racks of fermented beans roasting up naturally in a greenhouse and we could taste them at this stage to see what the flavour was like. This was now tasting like very rich dark chocolate. The beans were still hard however so we wouldn’t recommend just eating them!!
Now came the best parts. Making our own chocolate followed by a table full of chocolate and fruit to eat. Firstly to make our own chocolate the guide got one person from the group to grind down a lot of pure chocolate. We were then split into 4 groups of 3 with one of the three being designated chef. Stu was the chef for his group, Niamh tasted and guided hers. Once we had our raw chocolate we could add the following ingredients to it: Sugar, condensed milk, salt, chili powder, and vanilla. From this we each got one ball of chocolate to take home with us. We later squished it down into a bar shape, cooled it down and ate it that evening. The one from Niamh’s group was very nice, Stu’s on the other not quite so. Too bitter and too much chili. Oh well!
Moving back to the tour it was snack time! We were given a delicious hot chocolate drink, bananas and pineapple, coffee beans covered in white and dark chocolate, white and dark chocolate dips and also mini chocolate bars. All the chocolate was amazing and great quality. We were well stuffed after a rather lengthy snack!
The second part of the tour was now all about coffee. The tour started off in a similar manner by showing us the baby plants and an actual coffee bean. We then walked around to where the trees were and looked for the actual fruits of the plants which are often called coffee cherries. The colour of these will change from green to red which is when you know they are ready. The process of drying the cherries then takes place which can take up to 4 weeks, then once dried the outer shell is taken off for the roasting process. They showed us the colour of four different coffee types and the time it takes to roast them, light roast (22 minutes), medium roast (24 minutes) and dark roast 26 minutes. Finally we got to try all of their own coffee from light to dark along with some delicious chocolate truffles.
We arrived back to the hostel just before a big storm arrived so we decided to go to Soda Mima just opposite the hostel for some lunch. Here we got thin steak strips, rice, beans, plantain, mixed vegetables and salad for 3000C which was really nice. After resting for a while we decided to drive to the free rope swing into the river even though it was raining pretty hard. We eventually found it and unsurprisingly there was no one else there. After looking at the river we decided against jumping as it was flowing quickly and instead made our way to the only free hot springs. There are hot springs all around La Fortuna mostly costing a lot as they are part of hotels or spas, however there is one free one which is based underneath the bridge of the main road into the town. Walking down the path we were thinking it looked a bit dodgy, however once we got to the bottom we were greeted by steaming water and a few others bathing in the thermal water heated by the volcano. The water was flowing down the small waterfalls at quite a pace but you could sit in the pools just below each fall and relax.
The following day we got up early to check out and then made our way to the Observatory Lodge which is a hotel where you can pay to walk around their grounds and the surrounding park near the volcano. We began the walk by going over the suspension bridge into the garden area where they have the observatory tower. Niamh made it half way up the 28 metre tower shortly heading back down, Stu made it right to the top where you had panoramic views of the volcano, park and lake.
After finishing in the gardens we left the hotel area into the forest trail that led us to a big waterfall and eventually over another suspension bridge. After the bridge we came out into an open field where we followed a trail for around an hour and half. The trail led us to the foot of the volcano and around to the path back to the hotel. All in all we were walking for 3half hours and didn’t come across one other person which was perfect.
From the hotel we started our drive to the coast.