Mountain Biking at Lake Arenal
There's a simple joy that comes with riding mountain bikes in the countryside; the bike's wheels rolling over the pebbles on a dirt road, the wet grass, the breeze. It's finding that comfortable speed, faster than walking but slow enough to feel part of the scenery -- rather than just driving through it.
The art of planning a good trip lies in the mastery of getting from A to B. Whether it's by boat, bike, bus, car, plane, kayak or horseback, Costa Rica's got it but fitting it into the trip is a different story. While it's always possible to take a day tour, there's a certain fulfillment that comes with getting to the next town by an alternative means– with bonus points awarded for using as many different methods as possible.
So naturally taking an 11-mile bike ride around Arenal Lake to a boat that takes you to Monteverde is worth some serious points.
Over the Hill
The tour starts where route 142 meets Lake Arenal's northeast inlet. From there, our guide Jose unpacked the bikes while three fellow riders and I applied sunscreen and prepared our cameras. Leaving our bags in the van (which followed us on our ride) we got on our bikes and headed up a dirt road skirting the lake.
Getting up the first hill was definitely the most challenging ride, but having a 24-speed mountain bike takes the edge off (or at least, it did once I figured out how to downshift). At the top we stopped to rest our legs and have a drink of water.
Dirt Roads and Furry Visitors
The road was bumpy, filled with small pebbles and half-buried volcanic rocks leftover from the Arenal's big eruption in 1968. Passing through rainforest once suffocated in a layer of ash, Jose explained how the nearby town of Tabacon was destroyed by the eruption.
We stopped to take a break beside the Agua Caliente River. With beautiful views of both the Volcano and the lake, we ate bananas and took pictures. Intrigued by the smell of fresh fruit, a furry creature rustled out of the undergrowth. Jose explained it was a coatimundi, related to the raccoon, but with a long nose. He tossed him a piece of fruit and the little fuzzy guy happily scarfed down, though not before peeling it.
Through Town & to the Lake
Back on the road, we passed by a soccer field through the small town of El Castillo, an old farming community. We rode over bridges and around bends where small glimpses of the lake were visible behind the undergrowth along the side of the dirt roads. Reaching the bay, we rode into a small village with a terraced hill scattered with houses. On our right, there the lake's low water had left an old boat stranded in the tall grass. Riding down past the boat we parked our bikes as the van pulled up behind us.
Overlooking the lake, the volcano and the bay we'd just crossed, we drank a celebratory beer and dined on fresh pineapple and watermelon looking down on the boat that would lead to Monteverde.