Costa RicaCosta Rica

Day 12: La Fortuna Waterfall and Tabacon Hot Springs

Destination: Arenal

Mother horse and foalA big day ahead of me, I indulged in several helpings at the breakfast buffet before my morning horseback ride to the 70-meter high La Fortuna Waterfall, a popular tourist attraction. I was riding with Desafio Adventure Company, a tour operator reputed for its safe horseback trips from La Fortuna to Monteverde (and vice versa), and scrupulous choice in local ranches that use only healthy and well-rested horses.

At the stables, I was excited to see a few familiar faces from yesterday's volcano hike. Tours are a great way to meet other travelers, swap stories and make new friends. While we waited for the rest of our group to arrive, I enjoyed the antics of a mare and her day-old foal. We laughed as the foal bucked wildly, nudging her mother constantly, getting used to her wobbly legs. The horses were a mixture of criollo, palominos, quarter horses and pintos, all tacked and raring to go.

Horse roundupOur personable guides, Rudy and Miron, were both competent horsemen and gave us each a riding helmet while they went about assigning horses to riders. I had eyed a beautiful large grey mare and hoped she'd be my ride for the day. Sure enough, Rudy handed me the harness to Shakira who stood next to Bombero, Melissa, Gitano and Seven Deaths.

We headed out in the light rain, looking suave and sleek in our giant daypacks and neon ponchos. There were 12 of us in total, including a fun group of rowdy Aussies that rode in little more than bathing suits and helmets.

Horseback riding in the rainThe 45-minute ride traversed small streams and beautiful pastures that in the dry season would be ideal for a full-out gallop. Shakira was a spirited ride and I'd hoped that we would canter. She was also smarter than me and opted to delicately trot around the muddy holes that pitted the ground.

Our horses jostled for space during river and fence crossings and all got along, save for a cheeky palomino that always had to be first in line. We parked our horses and hiked down a very steep, well-marked path to the towering La Fortuna Waterfall. Although the water was downright chilly, the Aussies jumped in, soon followed by several others for a refreshing swim in the churning waters.

La Fortuna waterfallThe 20-minute hike back up got the blood flowing, and I was ready to get off my feet and on my horse. Tequila, the ranch's sweet cattle dog, ran alongside us the whole way back, and Rudy showed off his cowboy spirit with a little lasso action.

We took our time returning to the stables, enjoying the scenic ride and good conversation. Our strong and sure-footed steeds were a pleasure to ride, and our Desafio guides' cheerful spirits added sunshine to the day.

I had time for a quick change of clothes before heading to Tabacon Grand Spa and Thermal Resort. Above and beyond their well-appointed rooms, one of the perks of staying at Tabacon is unlimited access to its legendary hot springs. Straight out of the Garden of Eden, the springs are the sexiest spa experience I've encountered on my travels.

Swimming in La Fortuna waterfallNatural river pools and mini-waterfalls fed by the volcano-heated waters of Rio Tabacon are spread over lush grounds, where visitors can wander from one pool to the next, pina coladas in hand. Folks can mingle in the swim-up bar, or treat themselves to an outdoor massage at the resort's grand spa.

I changed into my suit and took turns soaking in the various pools, the hottest around 102 degrees F. By dusk the place was hopping, as large tour groups arrived for drinks, dinner and a swim. Relaxing at Tabacon hot springsWith so many trails leading to different river pools, I had no problem finding a quiet sanctuary where I could soak in peace.

The evening's festivities were well underway, but my pink skin and tired eyes signaled my return to the room. Tabacon offers its guests free shuttle service to and from the hot springs, but the air was cool, and I felt like walking the few minutes back to the hotel. The steamingmineral waters had relaxed every muscle in my body, a perfect precursor to a blissful sleep.

Day 12: La Fortuna Waterfall and Tabacon Hot Springs in Pictures

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