It’s a Monday morning in 1968. You’ve just had a great weekend with your family and friends in your local town. You live in San Carlos which is a county in the province of Alajuela, Costa Rica.
There are four districts in San Carlos: Tabacón, Pueblo Nuevo, San Luis, and El Borio or La Fortuna. You live in “The Fortunate,” La Fortuna. It is rumored that your town was named for its good luck long before this Monday in 1968, but some tell a different story because you were the only location left untouched when boulders and lava shot through the air.
A history lesson
Around 7:30AM on a Monday in July of 1968, Arenal Volcano which had been dormant for nearly 500 years, since 1520, decided to awaken from its slumber. In doing so, it managed to shoot boulders and lava through the air at 600 meters per second (Costa Rica Highways). The devastation killed 87 people and destroyed most of San Carlos, Tabacón, Pueblo Nuevo and San Luís, but left La Fortuna or “The Fortunate” untouched.
Arenal Volcano is relatively young, about 4,000 years old (PBS).
The eruption in 1968 made Arenal Volcano into a twin. Overtime a second volcano formed (Eco Terra Tour Guide).
Volcanoes do not always spew out lava when they erupt. As is the case with Volcan Irazú y Volcan Poas, they most often let out out ash, vapor (gas and liquid), sulfur and other gasses. Volcanic excrements can be extremely hot, but can also be cold.
Volcanoes have four stages: extinct (RIP to the Volcano that is now just a mountain); dormant or sleeping (like a hibernating bear waiting to rumble awake); active (it’s like when your doctor asks if you’re sexually active — sometimes here and there, waiting for it to happen again); and erupting (actually throwing rocks, boulders, gassing it up, hot lava — all happening right now).
Nicaragua’s Masaya Volcano is apparently active and you can see lava.
What to do
Absolutely everything you can imagine, especially if you enjoy adventure. There was so much to do I felt like I could have stayed in Arenal for a full week and actually regret not having booked a longer stay.
What I did: a tour of Arenal Volcano park (lots of animals); La Fortuna Waterfall (freezing cold but quite refreshing); Hanging Bridges (super wobbly); and Hot Springs.
What I wished I had time for: cave exploration, ATV riding, horseback riding and spa massages.
I recommend booking your tour through Eco Terra Costa Rica. My guide was Julio. He was funny, knowledgeable, an interactive presenter, kept the group together, took great photos (below), and helped make the experience what it was.
Where to stay
I booked my stay through AirBnB. My hosts, Hernan y Alejandra, were amazing, click here to book.
The AirBnB is located on the same property as Arenal Volcano Inn and only cost a fraction of the price, but I guarantee that you will not receive a fraction of their incredible service.
The staff is friendly, helpful when it comes to booking tours or calling taxis (no Uber in this region), and quite responsive.
Their is a restaurant on property, Que Rico. The name does not lie, it is in fact delicious. Everything on the menu is delicious, but if you are a pizza lover definitely order a pie — there is a brick oven on property. Remember to ask for Salsa Lizano!
The actual room is very clean, has two comfortable beds, a TV with many channels, AC, a table, couple stools and other pieces of furniture. A great view right outside the door.
The woman who warned me that “las mujeres nunca están seguras,” when I inquired about how safe it is for me to walk around at night in San Jose is not just the owner of an introspective quote for a blog post. Yogurt isle lady from the Automercado is part of a tribe of women who understand what it is like to walk around in our bodies. How we rarely feel safe in streets, no matter if the sun shines. Despite what Vice-President Mike Pence believes, women play a greater role in the workforce than temptress, so we often travel for business. Other times, we travel for pleasure — to discover what else that is out there. When we want to explore; go out at night, lay out on the beach, read a book in a sunny park, dance to music from a new culture, or perhaps shop, get our nails done, find a sexy dress, we do not always feel safe doing it alone in a foreign country although as long as we are women our native communities also do not offer complete safety.
That sad reality is why Founder of Sola Travelers Valeska Toro started her company Sola Travelersa few months ago; to give women a friend in every city in case they want the safety of companionship.
“During one of my travels last year, a stranger at a bar harassed me. I didn’t think that it would affect me that much, but the next day, I was still pretty upset about it. That day, I met a woman over lunch and told her about the incident. I had never met her before, but she understood exactly where I was coming from. It was in that moment that I realized that women around the world share a common understanding and connection. It made me think about a world where women could support each other and help each other travel.”
The man who assaulted Valeska is not unique; he is also part of a band, this one is made up of sick men who believe a woman’s body is made to please them. These men have hands that know no limits, dirty lips that cat-call, and eyes that search for vulnerabilities. This gang is one many women fear.
So what’s the solution?
Women, like myself, enjoy travel and there are times when we prefer to or have to do it alone. There are countless articles out there about how to stay safe in a foreign country — I read quite a few on BuzzFeed, TripAdvisory, Travel Noire, Independent Traveler, etc… before booking my trip to Costa Rica, my first solo viaje. If you plan to travel alone, I suggest you do some research as well.
There’s also Valeska’s budding company, Sola Travelers. It is now based in four locations: New York City; Orlando, Florida; Washington D.C.; and Costa Rica (San Jose and Playa Hermosa).
“It’s interesting. During one of the women’s marches, we found a picture of a woman holding up a sign that read ‘I don’t want to be afraid to travel alone’ and when you think about it, it doesn’t have to be this way. We, as women, have the power to change this. With Sola, we want to give women a platform to become an Insider and help other women travel to their city while at the same time earning extra income on their terms. Alternatively, we want to give women around the world the ability to travel freely and have piece of mind knowing that they have a network of amazing women to support them.”
Given Valeska’s vision and the tribe of intelligent women she has on her team, I’m sure Sola Travelers will find a way to keep you safe, empowered, and exploring wherever you are as the company continues to grow.
My experience with Sola Travelers
Sola Travelers has recently expanded to Costa Rica (San Jose and Playa Hermosa), and I was their first trip. What are traditionally tour guides, Valeska has deemed Sola Insiders, women who consult, create an itinerary for you, and/or take you out. My Sola Insider is Andrea Pacheco.
The beauty of Sola Travelers is that it matches you with a friend in every city. It truly feels like I have company in Andrea. Before taking me out on Saturday, she and I Facebook messaged and spoke on the phone. From our conversations, she determined my interests and sent me three options for our field trip. This social media and phone personalized process was unique to me. Normally, travelers will go to Sola Travelers’ website, find what they want to do, and book it there. The Sola Insider then reaches out to the Sola and they plan from there.
After Andrea and I hung out on Saturday, we stayed in touch. I’m the kind of person who likes to go with the flow in my personal life so I don’t have a solid itinerary. When I see something interesting, I forward it to Andrea. Typically, she’ll tell me whether that area is on the safer side, how accessible it is by taxi or Uber, and whether she knows a friend nearby. If you prefer consulting before you arrive to your respective city, that can also be arranged through your Sola Insider. How cool is all this, right!
Andrea and I at Irazú
That’s great, but how much does all this cost
According to Valeska, Sola Insiders have control over what they charge and it varies by city.
“Our experiences currently range from $50-300 depending on what city you’re in and what you’d like to do.”
No matter what experience a Sola chooses, she will receive real-time support from a Sola Insider during her stay.
My afternoon with Andrea
Andrea picked me up from the Feria Verde Organic Market where I spent my morning eating, strolling, speaking Español, and writing.
I selected option 3: a trip to Irazú Volcano in Cartago and a late lunch. The drive up to Irazú was about 40 minutes. On the way up, Andrea and I spoke about our experiences traveling, work, culture, family, and Costa Rica. One of the benefits of going on a trip with a Sola Insider is that you get a one-on-one course on the city you’re exploring.
When we arrived at Irazú, I actually had no idea I was inside of the volcano; Andrea made that known. She showed me where the craters are, told me about the Coati, a small animal that lives in the area, took photos of me, and when I wanted room to roam alone and write, she gave me my freedom.
On our way back down to San Jose, we stopped at Linda Vista, a local town restaurant best known for its delicious food and walls covered in business cards. At Andrea’s recommendation, I had a sweet cup of warm agua dolce and we shared a plátano maduro con queso. I topped that off with a lomito encebollado.
Andrea had also planned a nighttime outing for us, but I decided to skip out given I have been fighting a cold all trip. What’s important is she was prepared to continue our day as planned.
As Andrea drove me around, she answered difficult questions with facts and passion; I got the feeling she truly believes in Pura Vida.
“I really like my city and my country, and by showing it to others I think it makes me be grateful. Its a reminder to not take things for granted.”