Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Volcan Arenal: Two Different Experiences

On Friday, November 23, the group headed off to Los Lagos Hotel by the active Arenal Volcano. Arenal is one of Costa Rica's most popular tourist destinations, but it was our last group outing through Elon, so I was expecting the trip to be a little bittersweet.
Arenal Volcano is about 90 km from San Jose (but thanks to the poor roads, it takes about 4 hours to drive there). After 400 years of dormancy, the volcano erupted in the mid-1960s, coincidentally just in time for Kennedy's visit to this country. It destroyed the town of Arenal, and even today, tourists can't climb the volcano due to the potential dangers from the constant mini-eruptions. Still, the view and the natural hot springs are really popular with tourists
This was actually my second time going to Arenal because I went with my parents when they visited during fall break. The first time, my parents and I did a tour with Desafio Adventures company, which is based in nearby La Fortuna. We did a combination tour where we rode horses to a forest near the volcano, then did ziplines through the tall trees. These ziplines was perfect for my parents (my mom is afraid of heights) and the guides were very congenial, but the ziplines in Monteverde were a lot more challenging. That night, we stayed at Arenal Observatory Lodge, about 30 minutes from La Fortuna. The Lodge actually used to be Smithsonian's observation point, and is therefore the closest hotel or tourist spot to the volcano's cone. It's also very close to Arenal Lake. On premises, there is a semi-fancy restaurant, a hiking path that goes by hardened lava, and 1 cold pool and 2 small hot-spring fed pools. The view from this hotel was AMAZING, especially when we woke up at 4:45 to the sound of what I thought was howler monkeys, and my mom thought was an avalanche. It was actually the volcano grumbling, and it was beautiful set against the clear, dark sky.
This time, the Elon group and I stayed at Hotel Los Lagos, a luxury resort a little further from the volcano. It too had a semi-fancy restaurant, but it had at least a dozen beautiful, spring-fed pools (both hot and cold) and 3 water slides. It also had a crocodile farm, so we could get really close to these giant crocs, a butterfly farm, and beautiful gardens. There are hiking trails and some small ziplines on the premises too. Some of the students opted to get massages and facials from the hotel's spa, which was relaxing. The one drawback to Los Lagos is that, unlike the Observatory Lodge, it is on the inactive side of the volcano, meaning that even if there had been no clouds, we probably would not have been able to see any of the lava. Unfortunately, clouds blocked the volcano for the whole weekend, day and night. My classmates were disappointed that we had travelled so far and not seen more than just the base of the volcano.
All in all, it was a good trip. Los Lagos has everything you need; it is good for families or tourists wanting a 1-stop destination in Arenal. However, Arenal Observatory lodge definitely had better views and a more calm, private atmosphere.
Enjoy the pictures!

- Jessi

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