On Monday, February 15, our third day in the Arenal Volcano region, we were picked up early in the morning by a tour operator and driven into La Fortuna. There, at the tour company’s headquarters, we were outfitted with packed lunches and boarded a bus with about 22 other people — most of them in their 20s — and two tour guides.
We had signed up for a hike into the Cerro Chato, a dormant volcano adjacent to the very active Arenal Volcano. Cerro Chato last erupted, according to our guide, about 3,500 years ago. Arenal, by contrast, remains among the most active volcanoes in the world.
Only later, after the hike was completed, did I learn that it was advertised as a “super adventure” hike by the tour company, Red Lava.
Everything about Red Lava, by the way, was first rate, including in particular our two tour guides, Eric and Santiago.
Back home in Marin County, California, for the past 12 years or so I have been active with a hiking group whose leader posts it as “Adventure Hiking.” Our hike in Cerro Chato, as Brian said, was “Adventure Hiking on Steroids.” The six-hour hike was extremely arduous. Later it occurred to me why: Here in Costa Rica, they do not have switchback trails up and down the mountainsides. Instead, the trail goes straight up and straight down. Combined with the fact that this is a rainforest, the erosion makes the trail more of a vertical climb than a hike.
The natural beauty of the rainforest, and at higher elevation the cloud forest, is extraordinary. The deep lake in the volcano’s crater was serene and beautiful, and a few of the hikers jumped in and swam. Then it was a steep climb out of the crater, and a steep descent down the other side of the mountain.
I have to confess to having been a little bad humored during portions of the hike itself. It was far more strenuous than any hike I have ever attempted before. But the companionship of our diverse group and Brian’s gentle encouragement, kept my spirits up. Despite one rather dramatic fall, I kept my saw and completed the hike.
Near the end, we crossed a long “hanging bridge,” visited a beautiful waterfall, and ended up soaking in a hot river, where the water is heated by thermal springs emanating from Arenal Volcano.
We endured and survived a very challenging hike and felt great afterward!