In La Fortuna, the tourist town at the foot of Volcán Arenal, the wheels completely came off our Costa Rican journey. We were already a bit jaded by our disappointing experience in Monteverde, but by the time we arrived in La Fortuna, we really needed a day off to take stock of our plans.
The problem is us, not Costa Rica. Costa Rica is a perfect holiday destination if you have a couple of weeks to spend in Central America, as it's got it all. It's got rainforests, it's got wildlife, it's got volcanoes, it's got beaches, it's got turtles, it's got mangrove swamps, and it's got lots going for it, but the problem is we've already seen plenty of all that on our journey so far, and when I sat down to plan our next move after La Fortuna, I just couldn't get enthused by any of it. And we figured that while we could spend a small fortune exploring Costa Rica, it just didn't feel that appealing to be paying European prices to see things that, to be honest, we're getting a little tired of. And then I realised that shooting through Costa Rica would give us more time on Colombia, which people universally rave about, and the die was cast.
So we failed to explore the sights of La Fortuna, which include volcano walks – though not to the top of Arenal, which is off-limits – and a whole collection of hot springs, from the free local springs to resorts that cost hundreds of dollars a day. Instead we booked a flight from San José to the Bocas del Toro archipelago in Panama, and made plans to take the bus to the capital the following morning. It just felt like the right thing to do, and as soon as we'd bought our flight tickets and booked a place in Bocas, the weight lifted from our collective shoulders as we realised we were going to be out of Costa Rica within a few days. Sometimes you just have to go with your gut.
Unfortunately, staying in La Fortuna for a couple of days only helped to reinforce our decision, as the food is mediocre and the prices are high, and the town itself is a charmless tourist hole strung out along a highway. The big drawcard is Arenal, which used to spew hot lava from its summit, drawing in tourists by the busload; unfortunately the lava stopped flowing in 2010, so for those of us who've seen more volcanoes than we can stomach, it no longer has any special appeal, though when the cone pops out of its shroud of cloud, it's still an impressive sight. But it wasn't impressive enough to make us hang around, so after a couple of nights we said goodbye to Paul and Jenn with a disappointing meal in a disappointing restaurant, and hopped on the bus for the capital of Costa Rica, San José, to make good our escape.