My husband and I had passed through La Fortuna’s central park area several times travelling to various excursions. While I was excited for each adventure, every time we passed through, I was a little more tempted to scream “Stop the van!”, jump out and spend the day exploring. Through the van’s window I’d see laughing couples sharing ice cream on park benches, shopping bags in tow and marveling at the Arenal Volcano. After a day of adventure, it seemed like a fun way to pass a lazy late afternoon.
La Fortuna de San Carlos, a picturesque town in Costa Rica’s Alajuela province, basks in the shadow of Costa Rica’s most active volcano, Arenal. As a whole, the town is a hotbed for tourist activity, both adventure-based (waterfall excursions, hiking, ziplining and canopy tours) and relaxation-centered (hot springs and top-tier resorts). The central park area, however, caught my eye immediately.
The central park is essentially a few blocks of touristy stores and restaurants situated around a lush green park. Meticulously manicured, a variety of tropical plants, brilliantly hued flowers and vine-covered trellises line the park’s paths. In the center is a stone fountain, a perfect place to sit and gaze at the towering volcano while sharing ice cream from one of the many casual restaurants, or sodas.
My first order of business at the park was to visit Don Rufino’s, a restaurant widely reputed to be the best in the area. It’s a charming venue, mostly open-air (there is a roof, but several walls are raised during the day) with a bar on the street, a popular feature in Costa Rican restaurants and sodas. We entered the dining room, warmly decorated with Spanish tiles and rich woods, and were presented with menus—written in both Spanish and English. The service was efficient and hospitable; the food impeccable. My husband ordered Pollo al Estilo de Abuela (Grandma’s Style Chicken), a generous barbecue-honey mustard glazed portion prepared in a folded banana leaf. The presentation was equally impressive: our server opened the parcel tableside for my husband to approve its doneness. My vegetable platter was a monumental step above the frozen vegetable medley often served in the states. A veritable garden of fresh grilled vegetables were artistically and liberally styled on a large platter. With some Salsa Lizano, a popular Costa Rican condiment, on the side, this was easily one of the best (not to mention most affordable) meals we enjoyed in Costa Rica. My husband insists it was one of the top five meals he’s ever eaten.
I was now ready to explore the shops lining the park. Treasures and trinkets made of mango wood-lined store shelves, displayed popular items like placemats, coasters, serving pieces and traditional Costa Rican drip-coffee makers. Several art galleries boasted work in all mediums and price ranges from small ceramic pieces to high-end oil paintings. The selection of jewelry was plentiful and included everything from precious gemstone pieces by local artisans to hand-beaded necklaces. After thoroughly perusing the stores, a purchase under my arm— a hand-carved rosewood serving piece—I had to stop at the main street’s grocery store to stock up on my favorite Costa Rican foods: Salsa Lizano, 1820 Coffee (Britt is the pricier coffee that resorts hock, but locals will tell you 1820 is superior), and, admittedly, Choco Zucaritas (chocolate Frosted Flakes).
My husband and I further explored the park itself, weaving through the paths, posing for photos amidst the plentiful flowers, petting the amiable stray dogs who call the park home and conversing with the locals convened there. Sitting in the central park on the fountain’s edge, gazing at the volcano towering overhead, I was content with my afternoon in La Fortuna.
“Ice cream?” my husband asked, knowing that was my original plan.
I was still too full from our late lunch.
It was nearly 6:00 and the sun was beginning to set on Costa Rica. Lights illuminated the park and clouds settled in at the peak of the Arenal, obscuring it from view. As I boarded one of the numerous taxis parked in La Fortuna’s streets, I hoped that one day I’d be fortunate enough to return, and this time, I’d save room for ice cream.