La Fortuna Costa Rica and El Arenal Volcano – amazing things to do

La Fortuna Costa Rica offers the green rainforest scenery that I expected from this beautiful country. Wherever you look you see rolling green hills, partially covered in clouds. La Fortuna has a small-town center with a pretty park and church. There you can find many restaurants within walking distance and enquire about tours in the tour offices. This makes La Fortuna a lot easier to navigate than Monteverde. If you are short on time, I would therefore suggest only visiting La Fortuna. Here you find hanging bridges in a mystic forest where clouds hover low. Zipline adventures, hot springs, kayaking, and of course Arenal volcano are other attractions in La Fortuna.

la fortuna costa rica

How to get to La Fortuna Costa Rica

From San José, take a bus from Terminal 7-10 in the morning. From Monteverde, best take the shuttle-boat-shuttle transport for 25 USD. It’s easy to buy at the tour offices. From Liberia, you can travel via Upala but since there aren’t many connections, it might be better to travel via San Jose instead. From Jaco, you travel via San Jose and the trip takes about 6 hours.

What to do in La Fortuna Costa Rica

The bad news is that any kind of activity in La Fortuna Costa Rica will cost you a fortune. So, mentally prepare yourself because the good news is that the trips around La Fortuna are absolutely amazing. First, let’s have a look at the only two free things to do.

Take a bath in El Chollin hot spring river

That’s the same river that flows through the (expensive) Tabacon Hot Springs Resort. The free pools are situated just on the opposite side of the road. You can drive there yourself and park the car along the road or take an Uber for about 4500 CRC one way. You will have to climb down the forest a little but who cares for free hot springs, right? Don’t worry about not finding them. Many other people will be there as well.

El Salto rope swing and waterfall

Bike or walk the 2 km to El Salto (marked on and see if other people are jumping in the river from a rope. If not, I wouldn’t do it as you don’t know the area and should first see how it’s done safely before jumping in the river yourself. When it’s not raining, it’s a nice area to hang out a couple of hours.

Soak in an official hot spring

The only hot spring with natural water is Tabacon Resort. Therefore, they are crazy expensive! Check on their website if a day pass is cheaper than an organized combo tour and decide whether you want to go there on your own or as part of a tour. All the other hot springs vary in price from 8 USD upwards. The only price difference lies in the prettiness of their design, so check the pictures online before you go. They all use normal water that is heated up by underground heat. The cheapest hot springs I found were Las Termalitas de Arenal. It’s either a 1-hour walk from downtown or a cheap Uber ride.

To save on the entrance fee to the hot springs, you can also just stay at one of the beautiful resorts with hot springs and swim in them for free.

Visit La Fortuna waterfall

la fortuna waterfall

The waterfall is a single, powerful stream that plunges into a pool. Be aware that you have to descend 500 steps to get to the waterfall (and later get up again). It’s quite a good workout, and especially tough when it’s hot. The humidity doesn’t make it any easier either.

In the dry season, the water has a green-blue hue, and you can swim at the brim of the pool. However, during my visit, it only was a strong, muddy current and I couldn’t imagine anyone ever swimming there safely. Surely don’t swim under the waterfall as it would push you down and big rocks might fall and crush you. Due to all the rain during the past days, there even was a secondary waterfall visible.

Even I as a waterfall-lover found: if you haven’t seen too many waterfalls, the trip here is worth it but otherwise, you might sit out on this one and rather do a different activity.

La Fortuna waterfall is fairly close to town, and you could walk there in 1hr 20 mins, ride by bicycle or take an Uber. So, there really is no need to visit it with a tour group.

Do a hike at the base of Arenal volcano

dart frog

When the clouds clear up, you have a great view of Arenal volcano from several spots in town and from some resorts. So, you don’t necessarily have to go on a muddy hike to enjoy the good views. However, it’s just something else to feel like you can touch the volcano and hold lava rocks in your own hands. If you don’t want to hike, you can also join a horseback-riding tour.

There are several volcano hiking areas and all of them are good. We went to El Silencio trail, which costs 8 USD to enter. So, it’s cheaper than Arenal 1968 park. If you come on your own, you need a 4wd. The drive to the parking area on a pasture is steep. If you don’t have a car, you need to book a tour for this hike. It’s simply too much of a hassle to take the only public bus to go there and then have to walk far. Plus, if you go on a tour, you will be chauffeured there and have a guide who explains interesting facts about the area. Daniela, our guide, also gave us useful hiking poles.

We were lucky on our hike at El Silencio reserve as for 24 hours the volcano had been hiding in such thick clouds that you wouldn’t have guessed that there was a mountain at all. And then, during our hike, the fog gradually cleared until the volcano was completely uncovered. Even our guide was surprised as this doesn’t happen often. The perfect cone shape of Arenal towered in front of us with a small steam cloud at the top. Our guide said that the month with the best chances of seeing the volcano is in September. Which actually is the worst time of the rainy season for the Pacific coast.

Be amazed in Mistico Hanging Bridges Park

hanging bridge cloud forest

If you have a car, you can, of course, easily drive here. You will still like the experience of the 15 bridges, 6 of which are suspension bridges (some longer and higher than others) as you have a wonderful view above the rainforest. Yet, you might miss the animals that a trained guide would spot. Plus, the guides will take pictures with your phone through the telescope, and I now have perfect photos of blue jeans dart frogs. I would never have spotted them on my own. We also saw toucans and bats.

By the way, the rainforest here is green even in the “dry” season as this region does not really have a dry season. Even when the rest of the country is hot and dusty you find agreeable temperatures up here.

Note that closed shoes are obligatory for the hanging bridges park and also very much recommended on the other hikes.

My combo tour with Eco Terra

Since I didn’t have a car, and it’s worth it to go with a guide on walks where you wish to spot animals, I booked a combo tour with Eco Terra. They offer all kinds of tours and I opted for the hanging bridges, volcano hike, and La Fortuna waterfall combo. They provided free water, snacks, and a delicious three-course lunch with several options to choose from. We were even lucky enough that two beautiful toucans visited the trees next to the restaurant. After lunch, we had a 45-minute break in La Fortuna downtown, while they picked up new people. This break was welcome as we needed to digest the big lunch and gain new energy for the volcano hike in the afternoon.

A big thank you to our guide Daniela who was extremely knowledgeable and a fun person to spend the day with. She learned all our names and spotted awesome animals for us.

What to bring on a day exploring around La Fortuna Costa Rica

  • a rain jacket or poncho (it is the rainforest after all and the weather changes from cloudy, to sunny to torrential downpour in seconds.)
  • hiking boots (that’s recommended to keep your feet dry, but sports sneakers work too).
  • long pants (you might walk through the undergrowth and probably want to keep the bugs and thorns away from your body.)
  • mosquito repellent (there weren’t too many mosquitoes, but since zika is still present, it’s better to protect yourself)
  • towel and swimsuit if you go to a hot spring or want to swim in the waterfall

How to pick a tour company

Prices are cheaper in town than they were online. For my combo tour with the three stops, the starting prices were 100 USD. Some tour companies include more than others though. For example, they might visit the free hot spring river or El Salto rope swing.

It was no problem to book my tour the day before doing it and since there are so many tour companies, I think that even in high season, you would easily find a spot.

Where to stay in La Fortuna Costa Rica

la fortuna hot springs

To get the most out of your stay in La Fortuna you should pick an accommodation with hot springs and a volcano view. I found the perfect marriage of this at Arenal Manoa Hotel. It’s a pretty, green property. You can spot exotic birds in the trees or if you are lucky even a small caiman in their pond.

I had a nice welcome fruit basket in my room which I enjoyed in a rocking chair on my private terrace. To top all that, I had a perfect view of the volcano from my bed and the terrace (if it’s not too cloudy). The big plus of this hotel is the beautiful hot springs pool (they also have a second, nice pool with normal water, in case you prefer to swim). Especially when it rains it’s lovely to soak in the hot water or enjoy a drink at the pool bar. Oh, and have I mentioned the jacuzzi in my room?! Arenal Manoa is the perfect place to relax your sore muscles and unwind your mind and soul after a strenuous volcano or waterfall hike.

More travel tips for Costa Rica

Check out my Costa Rica travel guide on Amazon. The travel guide is available in English and in German.

costa rica travel guide

Costa Rica Travel Guide (click for the English version).

Costa Rica Reiseführer (klicke für die deutsche Version).