6 days in Jaco

I think this is the longest beach vacation we’ve taken and coming right on the heels of Cerro Chatto, I was seriously grateful we planned 6 days of beach time.

It was another long haul from Arenal to Jaco and even though we left in the early afternoon, we didn’t arrive until well after dark. Costa Rica may look like a small country, but the road systems – while not horrible- are very often 2 lane windy roads which take some time to navigate.

Jaco Beach
Jaco Beach

We checked into the hotel and I was surprised at the space. I didn’t remember when I reserved it being a 2 bedroom condo, but it was and the space ended up being glorious. The only downside to our stay was while it was on the beach, it also bordered the road with a curve and an elevation change. Trucks using their brakes were extremely loud and most of the living area didn’t have windows to cut down on the noise. Luckily the bedroom we chose to sleep in was pretty quiet and away from the road. That quibble aside, it was a lovely stay.

Found Beavis and Butthead on one of our walks
Found Beavis and Butthead on one of our walks

The first day I was still a bit wiped out so it was pretty low key. A walk on the beach, a visit to the local grocery store, an afternoon siesta, drinks while watching iguanas, telehit on the tv, sleep.

Surfer headed out for some sunset waves
Surfer headed out for some sunset waves

In fact, most of our days followed that pattern and it was rather nice. The balcony we had overlooked a cluster of trees that the iguanas loved. It was highly entertaining watching them eating leaves. At one time, there were 7 we could see! There was also an iguana that hung out on our roof, his claws creepily sticking out from the roofline. We spent many hours just watching them scurrying, climb and eat.

Iguana viewing from our balcony
Iguana viewing from our balcony

We visited the grocery store a few more times, and since the condo had a kitchen, I ate many meals the first few days there. My body was rebelling against most things after the hike, so eating broth and noodles, instead of going out to eat, helped.

Our rooftop creeper
Our rooftop creeper

The beach was rather quiet and we loved watching the surfers, and the sand crabs. On the weekend, the beach really came alive and it was an amazing contrast from the tranquil mid week. It is a locals beach and I loved seeing everyone out enjoying the water. Tents were pitched, football (aka soccer) games galore – it just teemed with life.

Nothing more exciting than watching sea life slowly move
Nothing more exciting than watching sea life slowly move

We spent one afternoon soaking in the pool and learned that our sunscreen had expired years ago, making the waterproof not so waterproof any longer. Luckily it wasn’t too bad of a burn. The next day, Keith went out for a walk on the beach while I napped and came back burnt to a crisp. I swear he is still peeling from that mistake.

A crab on the beach
A crab on the beach

We visited Beer House and chatted with the owners. They had only been open a few months and the concept of local beer and European tapas, while we loved, has been a bit of a challenge with the locals. I loved the space, enjoyed the brew and dug into some seriously tasty potato pancakes.  We had a fine dining experience at Lemon Zest, and overall enjoyed the meal. I don’t think I would recommend waiting if there is a long wait list, but it was well prepared food.  We also made a stop at the Green Room and I adored this space. The beer and food were also good, and they have live music every day. It was a perfectly beachy, arty space and I almost wished we would have found this place earlier in our stay.

A local brew at Beer House
A local brew at Beer House

I found Jaco to be a perfect mix of relaxation, without being overly touristy and high end.  One note that we were rather surprised at is overall, we did find Costa Rica to be rather expensive, and on par cost wise with any beach vacation you would have in the states. The groceries, much of the food venues (even the sodas), all seemed to be pricier that we anticipated. Still worth the travel down to see a few spots in Costa Rica? Absolutely!

Happy Hour sunsets in Jaco
Happy Hour sunsets in Jaco

The Vertical Climb of Cerro Chato

Vacation self, is crazy.

Here in Texas, if someone challenged my overweight, out of shape self a nearly vertical walk up a volcano, going from 0-3700 feet in 1.5 hours, I would think you were mad for even offering.

On vacation, this sounds like an adventure!

The lodge we were staying at was a starting point for the very difficult hike up Cerro Chato. Cerro Chato seems rather tiny when compared to Arenal but take it from me, it’s not when your climbing it! On the day of the hike, I wasn’t quite sure I wanted to take on the adventure of such a difficult hike, so while we prepared for being out in nature and walking, we didn’t prepare for a 5 hour vertical trek. Mistake #1.

We started the day meandering through the trails, bird watching and enjoying the moderately cool temperatures. When we got to the starting point of Cerro Chato, I looked up the gnarly knots of tree trunks and decided – this hike could be fun! Mistake #2=not going right to the start of the trail to complete the climb earlier in the day.

That little hill? That doesn't look so bad...
That little hill? That doesn’t look so bad…

So up we went, hauling over limbs, scrambling over rocks. I quickly realized this was going to be more than difficult. After some time, we ran into another hiker headed on the way down. We asked how we were doing and he mentioned we were about 1/2 way there. yay! He also cautioned that the ‘trail’ gets worse and to find a walking stick if at all possible. boo! I quickly found a stick and sure enough, it helped tremendously with leverage.

We continued up the volcano and at a certain point I realized I was soaked. Not just a little sweaty because we are hiking, but because we are hiking a near vertical mountain in a jungle. I have gotten lazy about wearing contacts over the last few years and don’t even have a current prescription. There was so much exertion that my glasses were fogging up, which isn’t a big deal until Keith yelled: STOP. SNAKE.

A nice section of the 'trail' on Cerro Chatto
A nice section of the ‘trail’ on Cerro Chatto

Yep, a snake that I almost stepped on because I had serious foggy glasses tunnel vision. Wisely, it was decided that Keith start leading on the trail so he could point out anything.

Eventually, we made it and it really was beautiful. We couldn’t see as far into the distance as I would have liked, and there was no clear view to Arenal but it was still a treat to make it. We chatted with a few people from Switzerland, and a couple from Vancouver.

View of a beautiful volcanic lake
View of a beautiful volcanic lake

After about 45 minutes of rest, it was time to head back down. Here is where proper planning could have been better. We were down to one bottle of water, and knowing that the hike down was going to be strenuous. What we should have had was some gatorade and snack bars for the top, which would have made the end of the hike a little less painful.

Made it to the top!
Made it to the top!

Going down was, surprisingly, easier than going up. We navigated the trail well and gave thanks to the recent lack of rain the jungle was having – it would have been a nightmare in slippery conditions.

About 1/2 way, we ran into a couple that spoke French, and a little English. After we communicated to watch out for the snake that was in the trail (seriously, the cutest ever and I don’t like snakes. It was a tiny thing in the middle of the trail and was all fierce about NOT budging) they asked how far. I wish my French was better because I don’t know if they got ‘ halfway up the mountain’ in English but they did get a chuckle after I told them ‘Je suis fatigue’.

The last 1/2 hour my knees started to complain, and then my ankle. 3 surgeries on my left knee and ankle has left me a bit of a mess. I stressed my body and was actually impressed how well it did.

When we got to the bottom of the volcano, we still had about a 2km walk back to the lodge. This was actually the worst part of the trip. We were out of water, and it was midday in the heat. The walk had little shade, and I was completely wiped. When we finally got to the lodge, Keith actually went ahead (after I assured him I wouldn’t pass out) to grab some water. As we sat outside the lobby, one of the front desk clerks saw us and asked if we just finished Cerro Chatto. I laughed and said yes – which means we look pretty rough. He mentioned most hikers have ‘that look’ when finishing but offered his congratulations. He said it’s a badge of honor to have made it up & down the volcano.

After several PowerAids, a lot of water and food, we went to the room to crash. I didn’t leave until the next morning and it was a pretty rough night of shivering, then sweating, then shivering with all my limbs screaming while my body recovered from the day.

Last look at Arenal Volcano - time to head to Jaco!
Last look at Arenal Volcano – time to head to Jaco!

Was it worth it? It was a great experience. Should we have planned better so the after effects weren’t as bad? You bet. When Costa Ricans say a trail is difficult, believe it!

Arenal is Amazing!

After a few days in San Jose, we were ready to see more of Costa Rica. I booked 3 nights at the Arenal Observatory Lodge and spent the weeks leading up to the vacation drooling over photos they posted to facebook.

View from our 1/2 break during our trip to Arenal
View from our 1/2 break during our trip to Arenal

The reality was so much better. Getting there was a bit wild however.

It is a 4 hour ride from San Jose to Arenal when using a shared transportation service. We chose Interbus, and in fact used them throughout our stay. Sometimes I wish we would have rented a car, as that would have allowed us more freedom to explore, but we’re about to embark on a 4 month driving vacation in the states for the summer, so we decided against it. Overall I’m glad we left the crazy winding roads to the professionals.

View of Arenal Lake from the lodge
View of Arenal Lake from the lodge

Getting to Arenal Observatory takes an extra 11 km down a dusty, gravel, pothole ridden road that is not for anyone that might have a back injury. We were taken back to our time winding our way down the fire roads in Montana and Wyoming. Seriously – the road was nutty. Upon our arrival, and seeing the majestic volcano, it was all worth it.

Arenal Volcano
Arenal Volcano

Since we arrived before check in time, we checked our bags and immediately set off on the trails. If I haven’t mentioned it already, the humidity and heat here in Costa Rica is no joke. It’s amazing what a short hour walk in the heat of the day will do to you. The trails here are worth exploring, and we saw much of our animal sightings away from the lodge. For those that aren’t as mobile, no worries – at least on our trip. Monkeys were climbing the trees around the lodge one afternoon, and birds were plentiful.

Another view of Arenal
Another view of Arenal

Something else that amazed were the sunsets over Arenal Lake. Each night was beautiful and nearly took my breathe away. We were also lucky with plenty of chances to see Arenal with and without clouds and had very little rain.

A beautiful sunset every night
A beautiful sunset every night

One thing I was really worried about was the food. Because of the remote location, there is nothing nearby to the resort other than the resort restaurant. I had fears of bad cruise ship like food, and that would be miserable. While the lodge does offer a shuttle into La Fortuna, I had hoped to stay our entire time surrounded by nature. Luckily, even though the menu skewed way too safe for the American palate, the restaurant did a great job of preparing food deliciously.

Arroz con Pollo at the lodge
Arroz con Pollo at the lodge

We took advantage of sunset happy hours, took numerous walks and enjoyed the beauty and silence of Arenal. We even (mostly) survived without AC – a pretty impressive feat for the jungle. We quickly adopted a similar daily schedule to the local animals, wake for breakfast and a walk early. Nap in the hottest part of the early afternoon. Come out for dinner and additional walking and animal viewing. There were a number of day hikes that started from the observatory made up of groups that were staying at other resorts but came up for the views and hikes. It was wonderful to be in the park and able to access it without the shuttle ride. 

Pizote climbing down a tree
Pizote climbing down a tree
Beautiful Toucan in a tree
Beautiful Toucan in a tree
Monkey!!!
Monkey!!!
Large bird at Arenal
Pavon Norteno at Arenal

The day before we left Arenal, we decided to take a longer hike and ended up taking one of the more challenging hikes ever. But the crazy that comes with climbing a vertical volcano belongs in a post all to itself.

Entrance to Cerro Chatto
Entrance to Cerro Chatto
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