Getting Lost in Costa Rica

By Nomadic Matt | Published April 21st, 2008

“Let’s go hiking.” I said in the early morning.

“Ok, we’ll go after lunch.” my companions, Yolanda and Maria, replied.

Hours passed and I grew anxious, “let’s go! Let’s go!” I said repeatedly, “the day is being wasted!” We were all on a tour of Costa Rica, leaving Arenal National Park tomorrow and I wanted to get a good day of hiking around the volcano. Finally, they acquiesced, 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 we had wasted so much of the day, but the sun set over Arenal Lake and we would get to watch from up high on the old lava fields. That made up for their tardiness. Arenal is Costa Rica’s active volcano. During the day, smoke rises into the sky creating a haze like dust cloud around it. At night, flashes of red can be seen oozing down the sides as nature displays her glory. Watching it is a sight to be seen and, on occasion, big eruptions take place allowing the tourists to “oo” and “ahh” over nature’s own fireworks display. The entire area is surrounded by old lava fields and thick rainforest making it a wonderful hiking destination.

We told our cab driver we would be back at the entrance at 6 and started off on our adventure. We wandered off trail down old lava fields, wandered on trail through giant lava rocks, and followed weird local animals around. Soon it was getting dark and we wanted to get back to the lake to see the sunset. Looking at our map, we realized we had no idea what trail we were on. Asking a passerby where we were, we thought we found our location. According to where we thought we were, the trail ended soon and there was a turn around.

Instead of doubling back, we decided to finish the trail and take 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 us and soon we were 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 as 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 had 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. The mountain, as if welcoming us home, exploded with joy and we stopped, “ooo” and “ahhed” and took photos.

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?”

If only they knew…

For more information on traveling Costa Rica, visit my country and city guide to Costa Rica.

comments 6 Comments


Hi Matt!
No I get that but stay tuned cause I’m redesigning my blog and will start writing in english or french aswell.
Wow, you’re some globetrotter! Do you work in travel or are you just obscenly rich and travle for fun?? :)
See you’re coming to Sweden. Nice.
Take care and stop by again cause I sure will! Mia

PS. Why didn’t you like Atlanta??

Hey Matt, you sure are a Nomad! – I like your writing style. I’ve added your site to my blogroll as a link that would be great and I’ll be checking out your central america posts as I’m headed there next week. What’s your all time favorite place visited?

Cheers, Quickroute


Why Sundsvall of all places?? I live far from there, I’m in the south.

Be well, Mia

rubin pham

i was hoping some wild animal like a tiger would come out and eat you alive.
well there is always another time another place.

Holy crap, Matt! I had an interesting experience getting lost in the midst of the night with a friend in a remote part in the mountains in Israel. Definitely fun to laugh about AFTER the fact, but very scary during.

I’m going to Costa Rica at the beginning of May for an indefinite amount of time, and I want you to know that I REALLY appreciate all your tips. I love that you’ve got such a win-win business model, too. Great site :)


Sounds like you had an adventure for sure.

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