Eco Termales Hot Springs A soak is one of the most relaxing ways to pass the time in the Arenal area, and these natural volcanic hot springs are open during the day and in the evening. La Fortuna; ecotermale fortuna.cr.
La Fortuna Waterfall It's 500 steps down to the falls. A dip in the chilly waters is the best way to cool off from the hike, so make sure to bring a bathing suit. arenal.net/la-fortunawaterfall-costa-rica.htm. Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park This wooded refuge has walkways suspended high above the rain-forest canopy, each with a bird's-eye view of the greenery below. misticopark.com. Nayara Springs, our villa had its own plunge pool complete with volcano views, and it was even more fun to walk out onto the porch and slip into the magmatic water in the nude.
Having skinny-dipped to our heart’s content, we were ready for the after-dark rain-forest walk at Arenal Oasis Wildlife Refuge. It wasn’t long before we realized that a jungle at night is unsettling for a stroll. At every turn our flashlights were met by spooky green animal eyes, shining back at us through the leafy gloom. Trying to repress a host of creeping phobias, we took cues from our guide—a laid-back local naturalist—and eventually found it was indeed possible to relax in the presence of bristly, striped-legged tarantulas, blue-jeaned poison-dart frogs, and venomous yellow snakes.
By the time we visited Arenal’s La Fortuna waterfall the next day, we were so relaxed we had no problem signing a release form acknowledging that the hike down would bring us “in direct contact with nature which can pose implicit dangers…including death.” Cooling off in the pool beneath the 75-meter-high falls, we could feel the immeasurable energy pouring into the frothing water.
During our time in Arenal, we realized that confronting one’s fears is in itself a form of pura vida. This understanding hit me at Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park, where I faced my longstanding dislike of heights by walking over a series of rickety bridges suspended high above the forest canopy. Michelle, wearing a wicked smile on her face, had described the activity as a “trust game”—knowing full well how intense my vertigo can be. While I was certainly nervous, I also managed to surprise myself by loving almost every minute of it. It was strangely calming to stroll across bridges spanning an unsortable mess of flora, above trees drenched in epiphytes strangling one another in a death embrace and leafcutter ants marching by in solemn parade, carrying off their phytoremains. Everything was either eating something or being eaten by something. Despite being so high up, we felt like we were deeply immersed in the circle of life of this incredible place.
Our final activity of the journey was also our most anticipated: the time had come to meet the sloths, the poster animal for pura vida indolence. We had signed up for a volunteering session at Proyecto Asis, a wildlife-rehabilitation and education center not far from La Fortuna. There was only one hitch: they had no sloths in the sanctuary at the time of our visit. We fed cubes of papaya to tie-dyebilled toucans and ornery peccaries and monogamous macaws. But no sloths. “We often get injured sloths in here,” the coordinator, Adriana Aguilar Borbón, explained. Sloths in these parts often get burned when they mistake power lines for tree branches. Once their wounds have healed, the team at Asis sends them back into the forest, where they belong. “It’s actually good news that there are none at the moment, as it means they all got better,” she said.
Over dinner at Nayara Springs that evening, our last in Costa Rica, I consoled Michelle about the fact she hadn’t been able to hang out with any sloths. After our meal, as we crossed the sky bridge over the forest that connects one section of the resort to another, we noticed something shifting in the trees, just a few feet away. “A sloth!” Michelle cried. “A sloth!” I cried. The creature looked back at us, curiously, with its robber-bandit eyes. Symbiotic algae camouflaged its back. Entire colonies of insects appeared to be thriving in its fur. That sloth was an ecosystem, all of Costa Rica reduced to a single shaggy-coated tree dweller. In that moment, sharing a gaze with that amazing creature, we’d found what we came for: Michelle got her sloth, and I got a richer lesson in pura vida than I could ever have imagined.