Trek to the Top: Cerro Chato

Hey everyone, I’m back! Sorry about the hiatus. Life caught up to me. But as promised, I still have plenty to say about Costa Rica πŸ™‚

One of my most memorable experiences in CR took place in La Fortuna. La Fortuna is the name of a small town located in the Alajuela Province of Costa Rica. The interesting history of the town as well as its proximity to Arenal Volcano make it a popular tourist destination. Indeed, this was very much the case, as I met people from various parts of the world during my trip there. La Fortuna is also a great place to visit, if like me, you have an adventurous spirit. Hiking, whitewater rafting, ziplining, canyoneering–these are just a few of the many activities offered in this area. So when we chose La Fortuna as the destination for one of our weekend excursions, I was so excited. I’m somewhat of an adrenaline chaser–its nice touring cities and visiting beaches, but its also nice to change things up a bit.

Three of us travelled to La Fortuna (in typical fashion for us–by bus) and we arrived on Friday around 6:00pm. After getting settled in our hostel, we ventured out to eat and explore the town a little. In the center of the town, lies a beautiful garden, with plenty of benches from which to enjoy the view and lights to illuminate the pathways when it gets dark. Across the street, is a church, also surrounded by beautiful foliage and whichever way you turn, the streets are lined with souvenir shops and cute eateries.

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Because our time in La Fortuna was limited–we had to leave on Sunday–an adventure tour was ideal to help us make the most of our time. Ultimately, we decided to go with Red Lava Tours. For $65, you can take the full day tour which typically20150808_101954 lasts about 10 hours. It includes a guided hike up the Cerro Chato, a visit to the Arenal observatory, a short trek to the lagoon, hanging bridges, the Danta river and waterfall, and the hot springs. You also get a packed lunch and a tank top.

Bright and early on Saturday morning, the three of us met with the rest of our hiking group at the Red Lava Tourist Service Center. I believe there were 20 of us in total. Our tour guides introduced themselves and then we took a short van ride to the base of Cerro Chato. Cerro Chato is an inactive volcano located to the southeast of the nearby Arenal Volcano. It stands at an elevation of 3,740 feet, with two peaks named Chatito and Espina. In addition, a large crater at its summit holds a lagoon with greenish-blue waters.

Before I begin talking about my experience, I should note that this was my first time hiking and I was woefully under-prepared, as you will see. So please, don’t judge me too harshly πŸ™‚ Also, this climb isn’t for the faint-hearted. While Cerro Chato is much shorter than Arenal, it is nonetheless quite steep. But don’t let what I’ve said discourage you. If you’re up for a challenge, you’ll enjoy this experience.

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Back to the story >> The hike began around 11:00am. The tour guides had mentioned that there would be mud and that the ground may be slippery due to recent rain showers. Still, I started out thinking “This isn’t too bad. I can handle this.” But of course, I spoke too soon. Not even 5 minutes later, we hit the mud. And I’m not talking about mud that makes the bottom20150808_143610 of your shoes slick or makes you slide a little. I’m talking about mud so thick your feet sink into the ground. In a matter of seconds, my feet, my ankles, and part of both legs were covered and I actually slid out of my shoes! Only then did I realize what I had gotten myself into. Thankfully I brought a second pair of shoes with me, though they were only slightly better than the first pair.

My shoes weren’t the only challenge. I also underestimated the physical endurance I would need to complete the hike. As I mentioned,Β the path is steep and it’sΒ not always easy to move from one area to the next. Some of the “steps” are very far apart and in some places there’s nowhere to plant your feet–you either have to pull yourself up or use the surrounding trees for assistance. So as I’m sure you can imagine, it was a SLOW climb. However, with the help of a tour guide, I did reach the summit two and a half hours later. I was so tired and my legs were killing me but I was quite proud of myself for not giving up.

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Unfortunately, I didn’t get the spectacular view that I’d hoped for. The lagoon at the top of Cerro Chato sits in a large crater surrounded by a dense forest on an incline. From where I was standing, I would’ve had a panoramic view of the green waters on a clear day, but there was so much fog that my view was obscured.Β I remained at the summit for about 45 minutes.Β While I was there, the fog did clear slightly, so I was able to get a partial view. Hopefully, I’ll be able to return to Cerro Chato one day for another opportunity to see the lagoon.

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I eventually reunited with my friends and the rest of the group and we began hiking down the other side of the volcano.Β It took our entire group longer than expected to reach the top of the volcano–about 3 and a half hours, if you include rest breaks and lunch–so by the time we began our hike down, it was about 4 o’clock. We made up for lost time on the way down, and quickly reached the bottom of the volcano. Never have I been so happy to see flat ground. To have made it to the bottom, mostly unharmed, was a huge relief.

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We rested for a bit before continuing on. The hardest part of the trek was behind us, but there was still a long way to go. We walked across large stretches of farmland, passed over a bustling creek, and made our way to the suspended bridges (a.k.a. hanging bridges). I’ve been on a hanging bridge once before, but this experience was just as fun. I find it to be both thrilling and terrifying to feel the bridge move beneath your feet with every step. Of the two we crossed, the Danta bridge was my favorite.

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By the time we finished our trek it was nightfall. Our entire group was reunited and we took another van ride to the last stop of our adventure tour–the hot springs! The hot springs were amazing; definitely a must-visit if you’re in the area. It wasΒ nice to relax in the warm waters after such a long day.

I’ll end my story there. I say this a lot, but it’s true–it really was an amazing experience. Thanks for reading. I’ll have a new post for you soon!

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