Getting Lost in a Costa Rican Jungle

01/10/2011 11:59 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Matt Kepnes Award-winning budget travel site, Nomadic Matt's Travel Site

"Let's go hiking." I said.

"OK, we'll go after lunch." my companions replied. They were too busy by the pool to do anything at the moment. I was eager to go.

Hours past and I grew anxious. "Let's go! Let's go!" I said repeatedly, "the day is being wasted!" We were all on the same tour traveling around Costa Rica, leaving La Fortuna tomorrow. This was our last chance to hike the volcano and I wanted to get a good day of hiking. Finally, they relented, we hailed down a cab, and were off to Arenal National Park.

It was mid-afternoon by the time we arrived, and I was bitter so much of the day was gone but, the sun set over Arenal lake and I would at least get to watch that. Arenal is Costa Rica's most famous active volcano. During the day, the smoke creates a haze over the area like dust cloud wrapping a city. At night, flashes of red fiery lava can be seen oozing down the sides. It's quite awesome. Sometimes big eruptions take place allowing the tourists to "oo and ahh" over nature's own fireworks. (Sadly, I never got to see something like that.) The area around the volcano is surrounded by old lava fields and thick forest. There are lots of great hiking paths.

We told our cab driver we would be back at the entrance at 6pm and started off on our adventure. We wandered old lava fields, across giant lava rocks, and followed weird local animals around. Soon it was getting dark and we wanted to be at the lake for sunset. Looking at our map, we realized we had made ourselves quite lost and unsure of what trail we were on. According to where we thought we were, the trail ended soon and there was a turn around. We were very, very wrong.

Instead of doubling back, we decided to finish the trail and take the another trail back to the lake in order to see as much as we could. Alas, it was not meant to be. Our passerby guide had misinformed and soon we deeper into the forest. As the sun continued to set, we got more and more lost. We continued down trails until they ended, doubled back, went on new trails but soon we were totally lost. As day turned to night, the mosquitoes came out to hunt on their confused prey. As the forest grew absent of man, animals came out to frolic. Then there was us, three lost and confused tourists. Our stomachs were hungry and our flashlights were out of batteries. All we had to guide us was a pen torch and the light from our cameras.

Our situation grew worse by the minute as soon the sun was gone and darkness enveloped us. Though we were seeing nature as it was, with hidden animals appearing, no longer scared by the quaking steps of a thousand tourists, our joy was tempered by the thought of spending a night in the jungle. Our tour group was back in town soon to feast on a great dinner while we fought for our freedom.

After what seemed an eternity, we found a dirt road. We weren't sure where it went or which way town was. The road was on the map and luckily, a science station was marked on it. But which way was the science station? If we went the wrong way, we could be walking pointlessly even longer. So we took a chance and began walking. Luckily, it was the right way. Soon we came to the gate and the guard, informing us we couldn't call a cab from there, pointed us back the other way and said the main road back into town was a 20 minute walk.

We hit the main road. It was empty. No cars, no lights. The security guard told us where the town was and we began our long walk home. Tired, haggard, and hungry we marched silently, everyone contemplating our experience in their own way. Soon a car pulled by and picked us up. Suddenly, we were animated again, talking and laughing about the whole experience.

We joined our tour group, over an hour late and still dirty from the forest. Everyone looking at us and asking "Where were you guys?"