Exploring The Small Towns of Panama

After getting through the holiday rush we arrived in Santa Fe. Santa Fe is a less developed version of Boquete, however, with real estate buildings popping up it looks like it won’t stay that way for too long. We stayed at Hostal La Qhia in the small mountain town. The hostel was a beautiful Swiss style home with an outdoor kitchen. The wood beams and rock decor was a nice change from the cement rooms we were getting used to. We spent most of our time relaxing in the hammocks; looking out at the mountains. Our best meals came from the small restaurant attached to the bus station offering chicken, rice and beans for around $2.50. On one sunny afternoon we went tubbing down the local river. There were some intense rapids… The closest thing we’ve come to white water rafting thus far!

After a few days in the mountains we were in need of some salt water and warm breezes. We headed to the popular beach town of Santa Catalina. We were told by many books and people that this was the place to be. However, we were greeted by black sand and rough waters abundant with jellyfish, not ideal for us non-surfers (Santa Catalina is the top surf destination in Central America). We had plans of staying many days in Santa Catalina but decided it wasn’t for us after 2 nights. The town offered over priced rooms and a depressing 2 isle grocery store with dusty shelves.

After going back to our guide book, We headed to El Valle in hopes of better luck. El Valle is another beautiful mountain town. In fact, the whole town is inside a volcano crater. The town offers a wide range of hotel options mostly in the upper markets. We were able to rent a room in the back of a local restaurant. The town is a landmark for hikers and bird watchers. We spent the day at the local market and hiking to the waterfall, Charros Las Mozas. The waterfall was a local hotspot and the teenage boys were crazy jumping off everywhere possible into the small but deep pools below the falls. Willy was brave enough to go for a jump as well! We also ventured to the hot springs where we were able to apply healing mud to our faces and then soak in the warm waters.

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La Fortuna

After a quick pit stop in San Jose, we made the 5 hour journey to La Fortuna(Arenal Volcano). Once we arrived we were greeted with lush vegetation and cooler temperatures. After shopping around for 30 minutes,  we decided to call Hostel Backpackers La Fortuna home and ventured out around town. The massive Arenal Volcano can be seen from almost everywhere in town when it is not covered by clouds. The best views of the volcano can be had early in the morning. Although the lava is no longer visible, there is still smoke coming out of the top. The main street is lined with tour centers, restaurants and hostels. La Fortuna is an adventure paradise. There are tours for zip-lining, white water rafting, volcano hikes, waterfalls and hot springs just to name a few.

After a good nights´rest in the great orthopedic beds of our hostel, we decided to take on the day! We woke up early and caught a glimpse of Arenal before the cloud coverage. We then headed to the La Fortuna Waterfall. We choose to take a cab to the park entrance because it is quiet the hike up. The falls cost $10 to enter and can(and should) be done without a tour guide. After hiking down over 400 steps we arrived at the pristine falls. With a 200ft drop and beautiful green-blue water below, it was very breathtaking.  We jumped in the water to cool off. The current and force from the falls was very strong but very refreshing. We hiked back up the steps and back down to the town. After the long hike up and down our legs were feelings like jello so what better way to refresh them, than with the local hot springs.

There are plenty of tour groups that offer packages to the Baldi Hot Springs. We shopped around and found the best deal from Red Lava Tours. They offered us transportation to the springs, pool access and dinner for $38 per person. The Baldi Hot Springs are one of four hot springs options in the area. We chose Baldi because they have over 25 pools ranging in temperatures and water slides. The whole place was like an adult water-park complete with swim up bars. We spent the evening exploring pools ranging from 93 to 116 degrees! 

Our stay at La Fortuna is short but well worth it! We are off to Manuel Antonio.

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Arenal

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La Fortuna Waterfall

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Baldi Hot Springs

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Baldi Hot Springs