The town of La Fortuna, a little village at the base of the Arenal Volcano in the jungles of Alajuela, Costa Rica, got its name for a very unusual reason. At 7:30 a.m. on a very normal day in 1968, after sleeping for more than 450 years, Arenal woke up, spewed its angry lava over three of its closest villages, took the lives of 87 people, and pummeled rocks and ash over 15 kilometers of homes, farms, livestock, and families. The silent volcano—which had taken on the name of “cerro,” or “hill,” since it hadn’t erupted in so many hundreds of years—had taken back its status.
And for some inexplicable reason (geologists are still debating the reasons today), the sleepy fishing village, which was originally called El Borio, was left untouched, and the people immediately renamed it after them, La Fortuna, the fortunate ones.
The three villages that were destroyed–Tabacón, Pueblo Nuevo, and San Luís—have never fully recovered from the devastation, even though it appears Arenal has done its work and is asleep again. It hasn’t even stirred since 2010, and the Ticos now speak warmly of the volcano that towers over their town. Though it took nearly 100 lives on that fateful July day almost 50 years ago, Arenal has given back in more ways than perhaps it took—it has gone from feared to revered as it is now one of Costa Rica’s most visited natural attractions, bringing in more income for the area’s people than any other industry, crop, or agricultural investment.
So this brings me to the Arenal Kioro Resort, and this is the first thing I am learning about the area we’re headed to this evening. Though there is certainly no real comparison, we are the fortunate ones, too, tonight—my husband and I have just arrived in Costa Rica for our adventurous honeymoon, and we’re starting with a four-hour ride at midnight through the jungle on our way to the resort.
As two people never satisfied just sleeping on the beach drinking cocktails (though we would do this later in the week after an exhausting few days of ziplining, river kayaking, hiking over hanging bridges, and boating), Ryan and I have been waiting for this moment since we’d gotten engaged over a year and a half ago. The quintessential traveler that I am, I had excitedly asked Ryan where he wanted to honeymoon even before I asked him where we should get married (this did not surprise my future husband at all). After rattling off a few ideas, we knew the answer: the fantastic Rich Coast, the biodiverse and inexplicably gorgeous Costa Rica, would be our first international destination together. So here we are—a year and a half later—leaving our families behind on Thanksgiving and traveling together to Central America to spend a week in the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica.
To get to where we’re going, though, you have to curve left and right, go up and down mountains, take switchbacks around a volcano, move from dirt roads to two-lane highways to paved streets. You might have to drive through tropical rainfall, avoid muddy puddles, and watch for cows and horses. The reasons, however, far outweigh the long voyage, as the Arenal Kioro is smack-dab in the middle of plenty of national parks (such as Poás Volcano, Arenal Volcano, and Rincón de la Vieja), impressive wildlife refuges (Cano Negro), and nationally protected areas and reserves. Partly because of Costa Rica’s dedicated passion for the environment and its careful investment in adventure tourism within these protected areas, there is no shortage of hiking, boating, kayaking, swimming, ziplining, and bird watching. We are here to do all of these things—and all are a short drive from the Arenal Kioro.
And yet—we’re not just here to be adventurous.
We’re also here to relax, and be honeymooners. That kind of romance can happen on a zipline, I suppose, but it also helps to have a peaceful respite to return to in the afternoons.
Arenal Kioro isn’t exactly easy to get to, but don’t let that dissuade you—the four-hour drive from Liberia International Airport (even in the middle of the night during a torrential downpour) is nothing compared to the stunning magnificence of this resort or of the quiet, misty beauty of the early mornings in the Costa Rican jungles. Located on over 27 acres of green hills, fresh gardens, natural hot springs and thermal pools, and marked hiking paths, the Arenal Kioro is just the kind of respite we’d been dreaming about. With 53 rooms (all of which have a 180 degree view of the majestic Arenal Volcano), the resort feels small enough to be intimate yet grand enough to feel luxurious in a way many larger resorts lose by having too many rooms and too many guests. The clientele, too, is diverse and international—during our stay, we heard English, Spanish, Dutch, French, and a number of other languages buzzing around the pools, restaurants, and hot springs.
And, though I’ve said this before, any hotel room with a hydro-massage Jacuzzi in it has my vote. (We were too exhausted our first night to actually use it, but still–it was there).
The full buffet breakfast, which is included in the nightly rate and held in the mornings at the Heliconias Restaurant (one of the resorts’ four restaurants), is a phenomenal mix of local and international cuisine. The restaurant, too, is stunning, with floor-to-ceiling windows, tropical birds of paradise in artisanal pots, coral stone tables and handwoven chairs, and more fresh fruit than I’d seen in a long time. From 6:30 a.m. til 10:00 a.m., there is even a chef cooking different dishes each morning—from omelets to fried potatoes, she will take orders and create whatever your heart desires. We try salsa lizano over shredded chicken for the first time (the nearly ubiquitous condiment that is a blended mix of local green chiles and tamarind sauce), try a ham omelette, fill up on the country’s rice-and-bean staple, gallo pinto, and finish off our breakfast with freshly grilled plátano maduro and tropical fruits.
Oh, yes, and the coffee—the coffee. Dark, bold, and delicious.
Though I didn’t know all of this during our stay, there’s something else very special about this place: the resort recently received Costa Rica’s coveted “4 Leaf” award for environmental sustainability. The staff carried out extensive environmental studies in order to learn how to best minimize the impact their resort has on the region’s ecosystem—from its inception to its construction to its daily maintenance. They have their own sewage treatment plant on-site, energy-saving lights and appliances, an extensive recycling program, water-saving initiatives, and lots of strategically-placed windows to let in as much natural light and ventilation as possible. When I do take a tour with the owner in order to do my hotel inspection, he tells me that Arenal Kioro’s mission is to take care of Alajuela’s natural resources as much as it is to take care of its guests, as both are critical parts of an ongoing ecosystem.
I like everything about this place: its misty mornings, its rich coffee, its long paths and private thermal pools, its commitment to the environment, its stunning views of a sleeping volcano, and even its almost mythic history.
And, of course, in this moment, we are indeed the fortunate ones.
Rates for the high season (December – April) range from $335 to $445 per night, depending on the size of the room. All rooms have a 180 degree view of the Arenal Volcano (the last picture here is a view from the window of our bedroom). To book a trip to Arenal Kioro Resort, you can contact the amazing folks at TAM Travel Corporation to arrange everything for you (toll-free number from the U.S. is 1-877-826-8785) or you can book directly from the resort’s website at www.hotelarenalkioro.com.
Hotel Arenal Kioro
11 km noroeste de la Iglesia Católica, La Fortuna
Article and photographs by Kristin Winet.
A special thanks to Ana Yancy Chaves and the rest of the team at TAM Travel Corporation for hosting our beautiful honeymoon in Costa Rica.