Getting Lost in Costa Rica

“Let’s go hiking,” I said one early morning.

“OK, we’ll go after lunch,” my companions replied.

Hours passed, and I grew anxious. “Let’s go! Let’s go!” “The day’s being wasted!” We were all on a tour of Costa Rica, leaving Arenal National Park the next day, and I wanted to get in 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 midafternoon by the time we arrived, and I was bitter we’d wasted so much of the day, but when the sun set over Arenal Lake, we’d get to watch from up high on the old lava fields. Arenal is Costa Rica’s active volcano. During the day, smoke rises into the sky, creating a hazy 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 see, and on occasion, big eruptions allow the tourists to “ooh” and “ahh” over nature’s own fireworks display. Old lava fields and thick rainforest surround the area, making it a wonderful hiking destination.

We told our cab driver we’d be back at the entrance at six 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. After asking a passerby where we were, we thought we’d 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 wasn’t 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. We doubled back and went on new trails, but soon we were totally lost. As day turned to night, the mosquitoes came out to hunt their confused prey, and animals came out to frolic. Then there was us. 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 really was, with hidden animals reemerging, no longer scared by a thousand tourists, our joy was tempered by the thought of spending a night in the jungle. Our tour group would soon be back in town feasting on a huge dinner while we fought to find our way out.

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. Tired and hungry, we began our long walk home, each of us silently contemplating our experience. 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, “oohed” 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 guide to Costa Rica.

  1. mia

    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??

  2. 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.

  3. 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 :)

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