Thirdeyemom

Costa Rica Family Adventure: Horseback Riding at the Foothills of Arenal Volcano

“Live, travel, adventure, bless, and don’t be sorry.” – Jack Kerouac

We woke up early to the sound of chickens and life on the farm at our stay in El Castillo at Parrot Hill Ranch. The morning fog was rising over Arenal and the surrounding jungle was coming to life with the roar of howler monkeys and constant squawking of scarlet macaws. Outside, morning dew caressed the closed petals of flowers and the ground was wet and moist. It had rained hard last night.

We only had one full day in Arenal and with so many exciting, adventurous options, we had to make a family decision on how to best use our time. Besides the volcano, Arenal is known for its hot springs and spas as well as its incredible zip line park and aerial tram that sweeps you hundreds of feet above the jungle. Since we had already done zip lining and canyoning in Manuel Antonio, we opted to spend the day at Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park, a stunning property on the foothills of Arenal filled with lush tropical rainforest where you can hike, horseback ride, go birding and more. If we had time, we’d go for an afternoon swim at one of the many hot springs.

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Before breakfast, we made the mistake of attempting a morning hike on a makeshift path near the farm called the “Monkey Trail”. We heard about it from the American neighbors who also run an Air B&B just down the gravel road from Parrot Hill Ranch. The owner boasted how he made the trail by hand and it was almost complete. He told us to go early in the morning for a chance to see howler monkeys and other nature. We were unable to convince our 12-year-old son Max to get out of bed however 10-year-old Sophia was game for the hike. Thankfully so were the farm’s two dogs, one of them a tiny Chihuahua named Bobby who was spirited and had a big dog personality.

Parrot Hill Ranch, El Castillo , Costa Rica

Our morning hike

Parrot Hill Ranch, El Castillo , Costa Rica

The homemade path

In my eyes, a morning hike with monkeys sounded like a dream come true!  Yet little did we know, the trail would be very dark, narrow and literally inside the thick of the jungle. With a hesitant start, we entered the dark,deep jungle and the first thought that came to mind was I hope we wouldn’t see any snakes. The dogs went first and it made me feel a little better (I jokingly thought of them as “snake bait”) yet after about twenty minutes we turned around not wanting to take a chance with fate. Costa Rica has many species of venomous snakes, spiders, frogs, and other insects. Oftentimes you cannot see them until it is too late. If you are attacked and can’t reach medical attention soon, it can be fatal. We heard way too many spooky stories to mess around so we decided to hold off our hiking until we were at the park with an experienced guide. Looking back, I’m glad that we trusted our instincts as our guide pointed out three highly poisonous snakes at the park later that day and we never would have seen them due to their meticulous camouflage.

El Castillo, Arenal, Costa Rica

We were so glad we had a heavy-duty 4WD SUV

We left the farm a little after nine and headed to the park. We thought we knew where we were going but after about twenty minutes of driving we realized we were back in the town of La Fortuna and had completely missed our turn. We stopped at a little shop in town and got better directions but our little mishap cost us to miss the first tour of the hanging bridges and no time to spare for the hot springs later that day.

When we arrived at Mistical, we were surprised to see the large parking lot relatively empty. A bus filled with tourists was pulling out and we realized they were there for the early morning bird walk. We smiled and took it all in. For once we would have almost the entire place to ourselves which felt like a luxury after spending a few days in crowded, touristy Manuel Antonio. A young man with a clipboard came up to us and helped us plan our day. We chose to do horseback riding in the morning followed by lunch and a three-hour tour of the hanging bridges. It was going to be a ton of fun!

Mistical Arenal Hanging Bridges Park, Costa Rica

The spectacular Arenal Volcano

I grew up horseback riding spending my summers taking riding lessons and going to a sleep away camp where I’d get my own horse for an entire week to care for and ride. I always enjoyed it. My daughter had been on a few trail rides with me however surprisingly, my son had never been on a horse before. For some reason, I forgot! I thought he had gone with us before but as we were putting on our helmets and getting paired up with our horse I realized my son was standing back a little timidly.

He confessed that he was a little nervous but our trip to Costa Rica had been all about stepping out of our comfort zones. For my son, it was getting on a horse and riding for the first time. For my daughter, it was attempting to ride a boogie board in the ocean. For my husband, it was driving in Costa Rica on the crazy roads and for me, zip lining proved to be the most discomforting thing I’d done. I had never gone before and thought it sounded like a lot of fun. We had signed up with a local company based in Quepos near Manuel Antonio National Park. We met at their base near the rainforest and boarded the back of an open-air pick up truck which corralled us to the heart of the jungle. There, we walked to the first platform well over one hundred feet up in the air and I nearly passed out trying to climb up the ladder. Yes, I love to hike and climb mountains! But when it comes to heights, I am petrified!

For the next two hours, we zip lined from platform to platform, each one getting more daring and crazy than the last. I went upside down zip lining, I swung out like a monkey and did the famous “monkey drop” into the water. I repelled down a waterfall and then did the superman zipline. By the end of our excursion, I was ready to pass out. It was a little bit too much adrenalin for me but the kids loved it. Horseback riding would be calm and relaxing. Peaceful after the other crazy things we did on the trip including all the driving.

Mistical Arenal Hanging Bridges Park, Costa Rica

Heading out on the trail

Mistical Arenal Hanging Bridges Park, Costa Rica

View of Lake Arenal

Mistical Arenal Hanging Bridges Park, Costa Rica

Mistical Arenal Hanging Bridges Park, Costa Rica

A beautiful flower

We set off with our guide Augustin from Paco’s Horses and enjoyed the verdant countryside and breathtaking views of Lake Arenal and the volcano. It was the perfect day, not too hot and thankfully not raining. They get a lot of rain in this part of Costa Rica which is why it is so incredibly lush while the Pacific side of Costa Rica is hot, barren and dry. It is a sharp contrast.

Mistical Arenal Hanging Bridges Park, Costa Rica

Mistical Arenal Hanging Bridges Park, Costa RicaWe reached the highest point and took a few family photos. Everyone was all smiles. We were having a ball!

Mistical Arenal Hanging Bridges Park, Costa Rica

Mistical Arenal Hanging Bridges Park, Costa Rica

Mistical Arenal Hanging Bridges Park, Costa Rica

Heading back for lunch

We finished our ride just in time for lunch. The park has a beautiful A-frame building with large windows affording a stunning view of the volcano. The restaurant is lovely and the food is very good. My only regret is that we never took a family picture here. It would have definitely been a keeper.

Mistical Arenal Hanging Bridges Park

The restaurant at Mistical Arenal Hanging Bridges Park has delightful food and a stunning view of Arenal Volcano.

Once our bellies were full, we were off to our next adventure. A three-hour tour of the hanging bridges! I could hardly wait.

If you go:

Mistical Arenal Hanging Bridges Park is open seven days a week and is located 2.5 km East of the dam of Lake Arenal on the pave road, La Fortuna de San Carlos, Alajuela, Costa Rica.

 

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35 comments

  1. If I die with Costa Rica before me, let it be as I peacefully look at the beautiful pictures you and your family risked your lives and spent your money sending me. I have been in the neighborhood long ago and loved it, but I was more detached from the dangers related by you.

    • It is a wonderful place isn’t it? Funny we saw a snake here in Minnesota just the other day but it wasn’t poisonous. Reminded me of writing this post!

  2. Pingback: Costa Rica Family Adventure: Horseback Riding at the Foothills of Arenal Volcano | necltr

    • It was Janet. Can’t believe it was already three months ago now. I am that behind in blogging. But fun to relive it all now! 🙂 Hope France is going well! Have enjoyed your IG pictures.

  3. Looks like a wonderful trip- with just enough excitement to keep the adrenaline going, but not so much that anyone was in danger. I especially liked the photo of the flower. I wonder what species it is?

  4. Thanks for sharing. I really enjoyed your pictures. I was looking at the pictures of the family on the horses and hoping that I could some day convince my family and or friends to go horseback riding with me. They only enjoy being up close with the horses during mardi gras season in New Orleans.

    • Thanks so much! I have a few of your posts waiting in my inbox. Can’t wait to sit down and read them as I wanted to hike in that part of NZ.

  5. Wow! Love your post! Thanks for the tour and zipline sounds like so much fun! Waiting to read more of your adventures! 🙂

    • Yes it was! Now we have to figure out what to do next year! Next month we are going up to northern Minnesota which is always lovely and relaxing.

  6. I remember well our first time zip lining in Costa Rica … my fear was all about the kids! I felt fine being up on the platforms and flinging myself off, but every time the kids came into the next platform, the guides would lift them up and unhook them before they walked to the other side to catch the next line. Those few minutes getting unhooked and re-hooked froze me with fear every time! I am enjoying re-living our trip through your posts.

    • I can imagine! Yes I kept worrying about the “what if the line broke!”. Terrible to think that way but I too was relieved when they were safely on the platform and we were all done. Glad you are enjoying the posts Lexi. So, I know you have done a ton of travel with your kids. After Costa Rica, where would be the next best place for a family adventure?

      • For culture, we thought most of western Europe was easy and fun with young kids. For more adventure, what about Iceland? Have you been there? I went with one son a few years and wished we had taken the whole family – so much to do and see outdoors! Finally, it’s terribly expensive, but a fantastic family adventure was a safari we took at about your kids’ ages. I’m glad we did it when we did because prices have become crazy in recent years.

      • Thanks Lexi! I went to Iceland myself a few years back. Yes Europe is something we’d love to do with the kids. Thinking of some kind of castle tour. Would love to do Africa someday too. 🙂

  7. Laura

    Hi! We are in arenal now and started our stay at Parrot Hill. It was a no-go for our group. Way to rustic and we have a 2 year old traveling with us so we need more civilization. We did get some amazing pictures up there though. We did the SkyTrek Ziplining and Hanging Bridges today. We are off tomorrow to Tamarindo. Back to the beach! We also live in Chandler, Arizona and traveled down here with our Costa Rican friend and his mom lives in San Jose, so we have a tour guide, which had really helped us. I’m so glad I found this blog! You really answered some questions I had.

    • Hi Laura! Thanks so much for the update. Yes I can see how the Parrot Hill Ranch is definitely rustic especially with a two year old! Did you have the upstairs unit or down? The down was what we had a not that nice but it was the view at sunset and the experience that sold us. I have done quite a bit of local home stays and wanted my kids to experience it finally. Glad you got to see the view and hope you loved the Hanging Bridges! I never did the beach area there on the Guanacaste side but heard it is very nice. How are you getting around? We hired a driving service and it was fabulous! In January I was actually on a solo trip to the remote Osa Peninsula so I really experienced some rugged remote places. Enjoy! Btw my parents live in Tucson so I’m in AZ all the time. Like a second home to me!

      • Laura

        Hi! We are getting around in a 12 passenger van and a small car. The drive up the road at Parrot Hill was crazy for us. It was pouring rain and the small car got stuck so we all had to get out and push the car out of the rut. Then my sons and I walked up the hill in the lightening. We stayed in the bottom part of the house and our friends had the top part. You’re right, we heard them above all night long! The next day was bright and sunny and the view was amazing and the volcano was pretty clear to the top. We found a little hotel in town owned by a couple and their son, Haywern, runs the place. It’s called Villas Vista Arenal. Had free breakfast and free wifi, so all the teens (we have 7 traveling with us) were happy! We are now off to Tamarindo!

  8. It is so wonderful to have a day to catch up on some of my favorite bloggers! I couldn’t help feeling a bit nostalgic for Costa Rica as I read this post. We stayed in a cabin overlooking Arenal Volcano and it is where I fell in love with the country. When you talked about hiking that trail, the first thing I thought about was the fer de lance snake. We did a hike out back from the grounds where we stayed and at one point I had to squeeze underneath a fallen tree, covered with ferns. All I could think about were poisonous snakes. Your photos are heavenly!

    • Thanks LuAnn! So glad you have stopped by! Yes I have a deep love for Costa Rica. All the nature and beauty and culture. It is a place I could live! The snakes are scary. We eventually saw some vipers pointed out to us while hiking. We never saw one on our own thank goodness.

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