Arenal Volcano was on the top of both Chelsea and my list, but we didn't have the time or money to stay overnight. After a lot of back and forth and weighing our various options, we decided to book a day tour with Grayline Tours. Sure, it wasn't as adventurous as taking the bus ourselves, but it also meant we wouldn't have to take a 4 and a half hour bus at 6am only to turn around and catch the last bus out at 2:30pm. It was going to cost more, but we decided it would be worth it.
Why it's better to go into it with no expectations
Part of travel is making tons of snap decisions and accepting whatever you get.
About 20 minutes into our drive we picked up the last handful of guests. There were people of all backgrounds and the final guest to board the bus was a shaky older man that had trouble walking to the next open seat. Our expectation that the day was going to be an active day of exploring Arenal was coming into question. Then our guide, Ricardo, gave us the lowdown.
We would have lunch in La Fortuna then head to a view point where we would have plenty of photo opportunities. After that we would drive to Tabacon and spend 3 hours at the hot springs. Then we would have dinner and head back to San Jose.
Everyone in the bus kind of nodded their heads and we were off. Meanwhile Chelsea and I (as well as the young couple in front of us) looked at each other incredulously. 3 hours at the hot springs? Was there to be no hiking? No exploring? Where was the adventure?!
Totally worth it... Eventually
The lunch was good, but nothing worth writing about. The view of Arenal however... The minute we reached the lookout point The clouds melted away and we were blessed with an incredible view of the entire volcano.
Chelsea was out of her mind excited to see a volcano for the first time and I was filled with awe gazing at its immense power and beauty.
We had just finished taking pictures and were settling in to enjoy the view when Ricardo told us it was time to get back on the bus.
It was with an unnecessary amount of grumpiness that we left. Neither of us were anywhere near done enjoying the view.
We shared our grumpiness with the couple sitting in front of and the four of us became fast friends as we all complained about the disparity between what we were expecting and what we got.
Then we arrived at Tabacon and we all shut up. Because when you are in a place that stunningly beautiful, all you can do is gape in wonder.
Every inch of the hot springs was covered with luscious trees and plant life and the different pools were designed to replicate nature with waterfalls, sand, rocks, and naturally hot and healing water.
We were like kids in a candy shop, running from spring to spring, yelling too loudly about the iguana we saw, and giggling every time we sat under a powerful waterfall.
After the four of us tested every single pool we tried out the water slide which conveniently ended at the poolside bar. Inevitably we took a moment to "nourish" ourselves before doing it all again.
The three hours went quicker than we expected and pretty soon we were drying off and heading to dinner. The dinner buffet was massive and delicious. The four of us wasted no time stuffing ourselves full, which is probably part of the reason we all fell fast asleep on the bus.
When Chelsea and I got back to our hotel we climbed straight in to bed, totally exhausted and with another long day ahead. But when we fell asleep, we both had content smiles on our face-the kind that only come from a wonderful day full of fun and adventure.