1,000 Little Waterfalls: Steps to Cerro Chato
On a clear day hikers can relax on the banks of Cerro Chato's emerald green lagoon. Wooden benches offer seats in the shade under the rainforest canopy looking out 1,600 feet across the dormant volcano's main crater. The air is crisp, refreshing and good for catching your breath after a challenging 3,700 foot hike up the slopes of Cerro Chato.
The hike is an audacious vertical ascent up the Cerro Chato's slopes. Settled in the Guanacaste Mountains, the hike starts at the base of Cerro Chato; an ancient volcano that last erupted about 38,000 years ago and sits beside the towering Arenal Volcano. With more forest and less volcanic rocks than Arenal, the trail to the volcano's main crater takes hikers through verdant green pastures and misty cloud forest.
That's on a clear day though, and this is rainforest where there's always a chance for rain. Far from spoiling a trip however, a hike in the rain is a glimpse into the rainforest in its natural state: wet, green, and vibrant. The forest seems more alive in the rain; there's the echo of a million water droplets dripping onto the forest floor and little clear-water streams flowing down the trails.
In the rain, the steep slope of the volcano became slick with mud and wet grass. Curtains of fog shrouded the trail's edges. Ghostly, leafless trees overgrown with moss and bromeliads crept up through the haze. In front of us, the grassy ridge extended upward toward a sign nailed to a tree with the words 'Cerro Chato' scrawled across it.
Farther up the slope, the forest emerged from the fog like some ancient, magical forest in a children's fantasy. All those days spent playing in the mud as a child came back to me as I trudged through the puddles and up the steps. Exposed roots formed the stairs. Little pools of rainwater filled each step and trickled down in tiny cascades over the hiking trail. In the clearings, the brilliant green foliage contrasted the grey skies.
It's a mile from the forest to the lagoon. Winding upward, the trail's natural staircase made the hiking intense. Each stair was a different size, the roots were slippery and after a while I stopped trying to step around the puddles. Soon though, we reached a clearing. Supposedly, it's a view point looking out onto the green lagoon, but for us it was like staring into the ethers; the world outside the forest a mysterious blank page.
We hiked down into the central crater and after a few minutes reached the lagoon. Water calmly lapped against the shore. We set our bags on the benches. The guide took out a bag of bananas and we each ate a couple. I stood in the water and cleaned the mud off of my shoes. Ahead of me, white billowing clouds settled on the lagoon's surface. Standing inside the main crater of Cerro Chato, I stared into the dreamscape trying to distinguish what I'd imagined as a child comparing it with rainforest's true brilliance.