Rio Aguas Calientes + Le Bistro: Arenal Part II

In case you missed it: Volcano Land aka Parque Nacional Volcan Arenal

After chugging water in the humid car, we decided to ask the park ranger for directions to this supposed warm river I'd read about on TripAdvisor. There are plenty of resorts with private thermal pools, but since a part of me was really interested in staying away from resorts, I was definitely hoping this mysterious river was real. His directions were: go back the way you came, the road will dip, then climb and then dip again. At the bottom of the dip you'll see cars parked along the road. The river will be on your left.

I had no clue if it would work. Not because of the directions, but because I doubted whether I could decipher them. A dip to me could be a bump to him, you know? But I worried for nothing. Sure enough, we found the parking spots at the bottom of the second dip. We paid a guy 1 mil (about $2) to assign us a parking spot and watch the car then headed down.

We walked maybe 50 feet before getting to the river. I let Andrea step in first because I wanted to watch her reaction to the warm water. She told me after that she expected it to be lukewarm and was surprised at the actual warmth of the river. Success! We walked under the overpass and across the river to the opposite bank.

We settled on a small, shallow pool with it's own tiny waterfall as our spot. The atmosphere was lively but relaxed (I guess that kind of describes the vibe of Costa Rica in general, too). I set our backpack down on the bank and in we went. The experience was amazing.

Have you ever enjoyed something so much that you physically lose your ability to articulate it? That's how I felt about this place. All I could say was "OH MY GOSH. I'M HAVING SO MUCH FUN." Over and over and over again. I couldn't believe that something so awesome existed in nature. Maybe more than that, the fact that it's a public space that belongs to everyone. I feel lucky that I was able to experience the thermal waters in an authentic way. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the resort pools with the magnificent view of the volcano during my last visit to Arenal. They were gorgeous and impressive. But this river gave me a glimpse into what pre-resort life in Costa Rica must have been like.

I've written a little about how my dad has these amazing stories of growing up in El Salvador. They'd go camping at the beach every summer and pick fruit off of wild trees and swim in the ocean all day. I've secretly always wished for an experience like that and I feel like a got a little bit of one at the Rio Aguas Calientes (literally meaning Hot Water River or River of Hot Waters if we're going Game of Thrones style).

I heard later on that this place is completely different at night. People (mostly couples) come down, light candles all over the place and hang out in the pools. I wish we could have stayed to see what it looked like, but we had to get on the road to get to Monteverde before dark. I'd had an interesting experience on my ride there on my program's bus thanks to nasty rain mixing with dirt roads. Seriously, the possibility of us tumbling off a cliff was real that day. I wanted to do what I could to avoid driving on a dirt road in the dark, so we reluctantly skidaddled.

Getting ready to probably break a law.
Hoping a fence to a warm river? Priceless.
We climbed back through the hole in the fence and made our way back to the car. Although Monteverde is actually less than 30 miles (or something like that) from Arenal, the drive time is closer to three hours because you have to drive around Lake Arenal to get to the cloud rainforest. Our local friend from the night before had mentioned that a 45 minute shortcut exists, but that you have to drive through two rivers. Our little rented sedan would have never stood a chance, but if I ever make it back to Arenal I want to see this road for myself.

We passed a sign advertising this restaurant called Le Bistro at the start of our drive. I kind of immediately decided that's where we would eat, mostly because of the panoramic views it supposedly had. Even though over 100 signs for the "famous" Toad Hall tried to sway our opinion (we didn't get a photo of these signs but they were absurd), we held out for Le Bistro, which oddly enough was right next door to Toad Hall. Anyway, Andrea and I decided to eat outside so we could fully appreciate the view.

I figured I should order something relatively filling since we'd skipped lunch and were eating our dinner at like four in the afternoon. Andrea and I both ordered the same pasta dish and pretty much fell in love with it when we tasted it. The alfredo sauce was homemade and holy crap did it hit the spot. There was spinach and chicken...I want to recreate it at home because it might be the best pasta I've ever had.

We heard some howler monkeys in the distance while we ate and enjoyed the true panoramic view of the lake. It was so serene and it reminded me of the kind of place my mom would really enjoy staying. Heck, would have liked to stay there, too! The rain sprinkle came soon enough, but we didn't get hit with the strong rain since we were driving away from the storm. The rest of our drive went fine. I not saying smoothly because the road was anything but smooth. We're talking winding, rocky dirt roads here. But we made it without damaging ourselves or the car. More on Monteverde in the next post!

I leave you with a photo of me and Andrea under our personal waterfall and this thought: if you ever get a chance to get away from your resort and see a place through a local person's eyes, take it. I promise you the experience will be way cooler than the beauty of the resort.

♥ A

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