My second day in Arenal began with a morning bike ride through the countryside, near the shores of Lake Arenal. Now cycling is not my thing. In fact, I loathe it. However, I’d had a good time cycling through the countryside around Hue in Vietnam the year before, so I decided to give it a go, thinking it would be fairly similar. Big mistake.
I got on my bicycle, and right away, everyone else was off in the distance and I was left straggling behind. The ground was uneven and I struggled getting up the many hills. By the time I’d catch up with the rest of the group, who’d stopped for a break, we were off again and I was lagging behind.
Our cycle guides were really nice and sympathetic, and sweetly kept insisting it wasn’t me, it was the bike. So much so, they swapped my bike twice, which unsurprisingly, given I was the problem, made no difference and I stayed miles behind everyone else.
After cycling for a good hour, my thighs could take it no more and I found myself hopping off the bike whenever I reached a hill and walking up it instead. I also didn’t have the thigh power to push myself through some really muddy parts of the path and I ended up wading through the mud with my bike.
By now, I’d had enough and had decided the next time we stopped for a break I was going to excuse myself from any more cycling and join one of our guides who was driving behind the group in a truck carrying our spare equipment. But when I got to the next rest stop, I discovered this was the end of the trip, and that somehow, miraculously, I’d made it to the end.
The bike ride was a gruelling, painful experience and I hated pretty much every second of it. But I was proud of myself for persevering – despite lagging miles behind the entire time – and making it to the end. I’m glad I did it, if only for the experience, but the next time someone asks me to go cycling the only word leaving my lips will be “no”.
After going back to our hotel and changing (for I was covered head to toe in mud), I spent the afternoon in the much more genteel surroundings of Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park. The park, which is situated in the rainforest close to Lake Arenal, is home to six hanging bridges that provide spectacular views over the jungle below and as far as Arenal Volcano (above).
We followed the marked trails through the rainforest, which was hot, humid and dark. The lack of light in the jungle made it difficult to take photos and I was reluctant to use my flash as I didn’t want to disturb the animals. There were lots of interesting flowers and plants, in particular numerous orchids and miniature orchids that I would have missed if it wasn’t for our knowledgeable guide, Pedro.
The jungle canopy painted a pretty picture across the sky, the swirling shapes of the branches and leaves making for a picturesque scene. As we hiked through the forest we came across lots of different creatures, including venomous vipers, a tarantula and other spiders who’d weave huge webs between the trees.
The most spectacular creatures in the park were the birds. There were lots of small birds, many with brightly coloured feathers flying around or perched in the trees. We had to be really still and quiet when we encountered them because any sudden movement or noise would cause them to fly away. It was amazing to watch such beautiful birds in their natural environment and we all got very excited whenever we spotted a new species.
Towards the end of our trek, as we were approaching the park’s Blue Morpho Waterfall (above), we heard howler monkeys calling out to each other. The primates made an incredible racket as they staked out their territory before nightfall, but unfortunately, despite sounding as though they were within touching distance, we didn’t see any.
By the time we got to the end of the trail, it was dusk and we were lucky enough to see a beautiful pink sky peeking through the canopy. As we stood by the park’s entrance, we stopped to look out over Arenal Volcano as the sun was going down – it was a breathtaking sight.
The day may not have started out quite as I’d hoped, but I had a fantastic time that afternoon at Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park. I really enjoyed seeking out the park’s varied fauna and flora, and becoming an excited wildlife nerd whenever we saw another new species. The park’s beautiful and calm, and a great place for encountering Arenal’s native wildlife. I’d recommend it to anyone visiting the area.