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February 2002

Fire And Rain On Costa Rica’s Volcanoes

Deep in the cloud forests of Costa Rica, you'll learn to dodge fireballs and poisonous frogs while tracing a circuit around a living volcano.

Take the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, separate them by just 60 miles and a range of 10,000-foot volcanoes, and what do you get?

A) perverse weather patterns

B) ecological habitats with multiple-personality disorders

C) treks that can drown you with rain or bomb you with fire

Answer: All of the above, in just a

5-day walk through Costa Rica.

Inhabited by 350,000 species of insects, 12,000 different spiders, 17 kinds of venomous snakes, and various poisonous frogs, Costa Rica’s jungle landscape is a hard place to maintain human life, let alone trails and campsites. That explains why a country that’s protected more than 25 percent of its landmass in the form of parks and preserves has escaped attention as a prime backpacking destination. It also explains why you need to be a brazen adventurer–maybe even a little crazy–to bed down in these parts.

The jungle, however, is only part of the story. To experience Central America at its wildest, throw an active volcano belching boulders and lava into the mix. That’s what will greet intrepid hikers who brave the classic 24-mile (one way) hike from the rain forests of the Atlantic, past the smoking flanks of the volcano Arenal, through the cloud forests of Monteverde, and up to Costa Rica’s Continental Divide.

The route from Vulcan Arenal to Monteverde starts near the tourist town of La Fortuna. You’ll leave the crowds behind and disappear into the rain forest, tunneling through palms, ficus, and plumerias as you ascend the northeastern slopes of dormant Cerro Chato.

The rain forest envelops you in its humid twilight and the wall of plants beside the trail seems chokingly thick, but the battle for space and light is three-dimensional. Above your head, life flourishes in the canopy, and each broad-leaved tree supports long, creeping vines of philodendrons, vertical fields of orchids, gardens of bromeliads, colonies of leaf-cutter ants, flocks of toucans, and more.

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