In Search Of Our Final Destination, Province No. 3
Ciudad Quesada - Alajuela
Province No. 3
Ciudad Quesada is the capital district of Quesada and is located 650 meters above sea level in the canton of San Carlos, in the Alajuela Province. Ciudad Quesada is dairy capital of Costa Rica. This province is home to mountain ranges, coffee fields and volcanoes. The grass that lay on the mountains almost always a lime green from the fresh rain. It rained almost every day during our month and a half stay at our AirBnb. The chances were either several times a day, or rain days on end. There were clouds and cool air that were always sure to cover the hills and mountains from the day we moved in, up until the day we moved out. Long-sleeves and pants were a must-have when leaving the house. One thing that I think everyone enjoyed was having several fast-food options (Burger King, McDonalds) at the tips of our fingers. The town stayed busy and we quickly learned not to travel during lunch hours or after dark. Not because we anticipated things going wrong, but simply because of parking. Cars and motorbikes would sit bumper to bumper going both directions. Being a bigger town, the streets had traffic lights which often more times than not, slowed traffic way down. The parking was horrendous as the stores and restaurants had parallel parking only, alongside the streets. Even the hospital hosted street parking only. We definitely knew the difference of when it was a weekday and when it was the weekend. The weekend meant less workers and less crowded streets, which made traveling through town much more of an ease.
The town is 143km (squared), but such a huge portion is for the dairy cows and farming. The city and adjacent areas produce 65% of all the milk that the nation of Costa Rica utilizes. Quesada currently shows a population of about 42,000. It is the most populated city pf the canton of San Carlos. Although Ciudad Quesada does not have many tourists, it does have friendly locals who welcome travelers. Crime was never an issue for us, and for that we were thankful. Ciudad Quesada lies at the foot of the Central Mountain Range. Our dogs were such troopers as they were literally sitting on the side of a hill. Although they absolutely loved the cool weather, there was hardly any flat land for them to roam. The house we stayed in was sandwiched below in-between two hills. The kids got to enjoy what seemed like a private soccer field in our little valley, while the adults got to enjoy the outdoor hammock and the running river that sat behind our property. Although we were in town, per say, being below in the valley offered us the opportunity to be one with nature and wildlife in the tropical trees and forest that surrounded our house. It almost felt like being in a desolate jungle. We heard sloths mating calls almost every day. On our last day there, we actually were able to spot the sloth we had heard making the mating calls during our stay. We knew it was a male because of the brown stripe across his back, along his spine. Females, however, do not carry this same trait. Scarlet macaws would swoop in and sit atop the few houses that were amongst ours. You could hear them coming from a mile away. The echo would beam off of the trees and walls of the valley as if the macaws had their beaks in a megaphone. We could hear them loud and clear like they were right next to us.
Another thing we took advantage of while our stay in Quesada, was the grocery stores and restaurants where prices were much lower than in a touristy town lining the beach. During the right season, pineapples could be found at roadside stands for 5x1000 colones; which calculates - 5 pineapples totaling $1.65 USD. Whereas, near the coast they can be found 2x1000. We loved our store we shopped at weekly. Like most Costa Ricans, they too, treated us like family. From explaining the rewards card (sort of like a Kroger Card), even if in Spanish, to helping us out with our groceries.
What happens when you move to a city that offers pizza delivery? You get pizza delivery! Most people think that when you relocate to a country in Central America, Spanish should come easy. Well, we did too. However, living in provinces or areas that have locals mixed with expats (foreigners to Costa Rica), English is frequented more often times than Spanish, which is a downfall for those wanting to learn the language. Picking up the phone and ordering pizza is not as easy as it may seem, especially while living in a non-tourist town, thrown in with lack of knowledge for Spanish. Google Translator saved the day. After getting hung up on three times, the fourth was successful. We had no clue what they were saying back to us after placing our order. We assumed something along the lines of when they would be arriving. So we waited, not knowing if we’d end up having pizza for dinner or not. Low and behold, about 20 minutes later, a motorbike pulled up to the front of the house and honked. We quickly high-five’d each other with smiles smothered on our faces before we ran out the door to retrieve our dinner. (This phone order remains the most winning to date.)
Having visited Costa Rica many times before in the previous years, we knew of La Fortuna, a big tourist town, which we fell in love with our first visit and located just one hour from Ciudad Quesada. La Fortuna is known as a gateway to Arenal Volcano National Park. Arenal Volcano is located at the center of Arenal Volcano National Park in the northern zone of the country. Arenal Volcano, which is visible from everywhere in the village, is still laced with lava flows. The volcano measures at least 1,633 meters high and is conically shaped with a crater 140 meters in diameter. As Costa Rica’s youngest and most active volcano, Arenal is something of a celebrity. According to scientists, at the National Seismological Network, Arenal is resting, not dead - process that is natural for active volcanoes. The volcano was dormant dormant for hundreds of years and exhibited a single crater at its summit, with minor activity, covered by dense vegetation. In 1968 it erupted unexpectedly, destroying the small town of Tabacón. Twenty years ago there were hiking tours based out of La Fortuna de Arenal where it was possible to visit the west ridge to the crater rim. Tourists were frequently injured and occasionally killed by ash, falling cinders and toxic fumes. In 1998, a 4km exclusion zone was created and access is restricted and only permitted to park officials and scientists.
Hot springs dot the foot of the volcano. There’s a little known free public hot spring in Arenal National Park located on the Rio Agua Caliente. Locals have piled up rocks over the years to create little pools. Outside the park there has been an explosion of hot water parks pumping from wells drilled into an underground volcanically heated aquifer. There are now almost a dozen hot water based theme parks, many with associated resort hotels. One of our favorite parks to visit is Baldi Hot Springs. The slides, walk-in caves, and numerous hot pools are out of this world. Baldi Hot Springs is the word’s largest hot springs. Amidst the tropical rainforest, 25 thermal water pools are filled by crystalline waterfalls. The purity of the water makes you feel like you are floating in a oasis of healing, with birds singing all around. The natural mineral pools are set at varying temperatures with several swim up bars and a hot waterfall set in tropical gardens.
The community of La Fortuna is the closest town to Arenal and is located in the valley of the volcano. La Fortuna has a population of 15,000 and is about 300 meters above sea level. The region of La Fortuna is very fertile. This makes it possible to grow a variety of crops, such as papaya, ginger root, oranges, pineapples, sugar cane, beans and cassava root that are being exported to the United States and Europe. Agriculture, milk and meat production are important sources of income besides the growing tourism industry. This area is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Costa Rica. Something very special and unique about La Fortuna is the the Arenal Volcano is visible from everywhere in the village. In La Fortuna, all kinds of facilities can be found such as post office, banks, ATM and Internet services. This area has a wide selection of good hotels as well as a great number of restaurants serving both traditional and international food. Hotels near Arenal range from very luxurious to very modest.
La Fortuna Waterfall
Just set outside the town of La Fortuna is the 200 ft waterfall - La Fortuna Waterfall. The waterfall is located in a biological reserve with an area of 210 acres of transition premontane tropical wet forest and is 520 meters above sea level. To observe this splendid 70 meters high waterfall, visitors must pass a path of aprox 530 steps, which offers comfortable areas for rest and hydration through a forest with native trees of the area. The waterfall is fed by the Tenorio River that goes through the rainforest in the Arenal areal until it reaches a cliff to create this waterfall. It truly is magical to witness this massive waterfall, hearing the roaring sound of the water and seeing the white ribbon cascading down surrounded by deep green rainforest. The Fortuna waterfall hours of operation are 7:30am-4:00pm, open every day. The entrance fee is $15 adults / $5 children.
Next … Please.
As much as we enjoyed a break from 100 degree weather and clouds-a-many, I think we were all ready to make our way back towards the coast. One thing we grew up doing was going to the beach. The thought of being 3 hours away seemed horrific for me. For that reason, Central Valley was out.