Costa Rica – Cerro Chato
Rebecca and I were both a little nervous about this hike. We did extensive research and found mixed reviews on the difficulty, which is how we decided to allow ourselves 3 hours each way and no rushing whatsoever. The morning of the hike, we were eating breakfast with two friendly couples – one from Italy and the other from the Netherlands. We were all speaking English, which was impressive for everyone at the table, except Rebecca and myself. The Italian couple said they tried to take the hike the day before, but had to turn around due to the rain. This did not help our nerves.
We decided to park at Arenal Observatory Lodge for an additional maybe $10 (I cannot remember now). This was mainly due to the fact that we were driving to the next location following the hike, but I am unclear how they would reach the trail. There were other cars near the entrance gate to the hotel, but you would need to allow for more time. Because we had arrived early, we had our choice of parking (not the case when we returned). An additional benefit of paying for parking was access to the bathrooms…
We went through the hotel in order to get to the trailhead, which felt odd, but we didn’t see any hotel guests. We went with the flow and waved at the friendly gardeners. There was about a mile of walking before we reached the base of the volcano with gorgeous open fields on either side of the paved and dirt roads. The volcano looms above, with a semi-permanent floof of clouds surrounding the top.
After a few small stream crossings, we reached the bottom of the volcano. Then we headed in to the dense foliage. The trail itself did not have switch-backs, but simply takes you on the most direct route to the top. The trail is basically a stream bed of muddy, slippery crevasses. Some steps are normal stair height, many are knee height, and some required all four limbs and a balancing branch. It was very dramatic.
Upon reaching the top, there is a viewpoint to see the lake from above. It was overcast and windy, which didn’t allow for much of a view. Every now and then we would glimpse the green water, so we decided to head down the extra half mile to the lake itself. This was more of a scramble, with possibly actual rock climbing involved.
At a Glance:
- Rating: 4 Stars, would do it again in a heartbeat
- Intensity: Bra to sweat in and running shoes
- Duration: 4 hours
- Cost: $10 optional for parking (less than a Lapu Lapu cocktail at Ventiki)
- Location: La Fortuna Area
- Restrooms: Available if you pay for parking, none if not
- Luscious green lake at the top of a volcano, need I say more?
- The full rainforest experience, complete with Jurassic park vibes
- Difficult, but not unmanageable with a stunning reward
- Hikey Climby types on the trail (including our #mancrush)
Recommended for this hike:
- Go early!
- Good shoes – hiking shoes wouldn’t hurt
- Good weather - I would not recommend if there is even as slight chance of rain
- Start early
- Pack plenty of water and snacks
- Don’t feed or engage with wildlife
When we reached the lake, there were a group of generally good looking Canadians (Montreal) to welcome us, while standing waist deep in the water. The lake was a dark green color due to the low hanging fog, with a dense amount of trees from the rim of the volcano to the water, moss hanging into the water. We gingerly took off our shoes and were warned about the nibbling fish in the lake. EEEEEE!! The fish began nibbling almost immediately. To this day, I have no idea how the Canadians made it waist deep with those nibbling fish.
I wouldn’t call going down easier. With the dramatic mud and uneven surfaces, new muscles were activated in no time at all. About halfway down the volcano, Rebecca stops as someone approaches. It is a man, in a skin-tight bright red racing kit, complete with helmet, bike strewn across brawny shoulders, and Herculean leg muscles sculpted by the gods. I took a beat to take it all in and realized a bit too late that he was talking to us. Thank goodness Rebecca was there to answer questions while I mentally caught up. Instant #mancrush. We found out #mancrush was Austrian, had rode from La Fortuna to this spot and was potentially interested in riding down another trail on the other side of the volcano to complete the circle. #mancrush kept smiling at us, so he must have enjoyed the unabashed oogling. At the end of our conversation #mancrush asked us a favor - to tell his friend to “hop hop” and catch up to him. About 5 minutes later, we ran into the friend and passed along the message.
The small streams were suddenly convenient to clean the mud off and we made it back to the car with a bit of energy to clean up before hitting the road again. Although challenging, this hike was not unmanageable and would do it again in a heartbeat, pending the weather.