La Fortuna is known for three major natural attractions and a variety of adrenalin packed adventures. It starts with the picture-perfect cone shaped Arenal Volcano, continues with a 26 mile-long sapphire blue lake that contrasts magically with the surrounding vibrant green hills, and finally the volcanic hot springs are found throughout the community. There are a variety of ways to experience the attractions. Adventure tour guides escort tourist on ATVs, across zip-lines, on horseback, and on river-rafts. It’s a real treat to find adventures before they are popular. It fells organic.
Cavernas el Venado is located approximately 45 minutes from La Fortuna and one hour down a dirt road from Nuevo Arenal. To explore the caves, a guided tour is mandatory. Solo explorations are forbidden for your safety, and the safety of the caves. It costs $22 per person. The caves are not well known, and are off of the main tourist circuit, which may translate to a monolingual Spanish speaking guide, like it did on my recent visit. While I do speak intermediate Spanish, at times it was hard to understand his words of guidance over the sound of the rivers and echoes throughout the environment. For two and a half hours I crawled through elaborate tunnels, waded through underground rivers and crossed under sub-terrain waterfalls with my wife and two other Costa Rican tourists. It was like a whole new world. I no longer could remember if it was morning or afternoon. My eyes settled into the darkness and I was left in awe at ever bend met with a sub-terrain waterfall or river. Our guide shared with us that 17 million years prior these caves were underwater, as he showed us the sea shell fossils as evidence.
We were not alone, however. We were guests in the home of enormous scorpion-spiders, crickets, vampire and fruit bats. We observed the bats sleeping alone and in large groups. If we kept a flashlight on them long enough they flew down towards us. You need to be mindful where you place your hands while climbing, because what goes up must come down. Here, it was in the form of bat dung. The latter, is also the reason why you cannot drink the fresh spring water. There was natural quartz, limestone, and a variety of other rock creating stalagmites, and stalactites, or pointy icicle looking structures. On rare occasions, pumas and warthogs have been observed in the tunnels.
I would not recommend this expedition for the claustrophobic. One of the holes that you climb through is named, “The berthing hole.” In order to make it through you have to place your arms through first and wiggle out, similar to a “re-birthing.” One of the men on the tour with us was celebrating his birthday. It was a very symbolic gesture when he was “re-birthed.” For those without spacial phobias, this is a must do!
Two more tips that I will pass on is, bring your own flashlight and prepare to get wet. The helmets and headlamps provided serve well for protection, however, about half of the headlamps were very dim. As far as clothing and photography equipment goes make sure and wear clothing that is comfortable after it is soaked, and that your camera is shock and waterproof. As a photographer and videographer I carry my equipment in the Nanuk 915 a shock and waterproof case that floats! There were many sections that I was crawling in water where I simply let my case float in front of me, pushing it forward ahead of me.
After exiting the caves my wife and I decided that a visit to the free hot springs in La Fortuna was in order. Soaking in the warm river was a clear thank you to our bodies for getting us through each hole, tunnel, and narrow passage.
To learn more about how you can move, live, work, and retire in Costa Rica see, Becoming an Expat: Costa Rica.