A Quick summary

Accessible – La Fortuna/ Arenal is quick to get to from both San Jose and Liberia and it’s an easy destination if you’re driving or depending on private tours!

Adventure – Excellent variety of adventure sports, from ziplining to ATV biking to canyoning to rafting.

Waterfalls – Some of the most picturesque waterfalls are a short drive away from La Fortuna eg Rio Celeste and Blue Falls of Costa Rica.

Wellness – La Fortuna/ Arenal has been crowned with the honour of being a wellness destination owing to its numerous hot spring spas and wellness retreats.

Volcano – The hot springs are a result of the active volcano, Arenal, which last erupted in 1968. Most people visit the area to view the volcano and experience the hot springs.

The amazing flora in Costa Rica

Top Things to Do

1. Mistico Hanging Bridges

Explore the renowned hanging bridges of La Fortuna, weaving through lush tropical rainforests—a must-visit in the region. The short 3.2km trail, accessible to all, leads you across six suspension bridges, offering captivating views of the rainforest canopy. Take your time to capture photos and admire the scenic beauty, including a distant view of the Arenal volcano. Be mindful that some bridges have limited capacity, so a brief wait may be required. Keep a lookout for abundant wildlife during your stroll!

Cost: $32

Timings: 6am to 3.45pm

Tip: When planning to visit attractions with views of the Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica, be prepared for the possibility of cloud cover at the volcano’s summit. In many instances, the Arenal volcano is shrouded in clouds, yet it still presents an impressive sight.

The Arenal Volcano shrouded in the clouds from Mistico Hanging Bridges

2. Hiking in the Volcan Arenal National Park

There are several trails in the national park that provide the most awe inspiring views of the Arenal Volcano. I suggest exploring either the Arenal 1968 trails or the Mirador El Silencio trails.

Arenal 1968: Named after the last eruption of the Arenal volcano in 1968- a pivotal event in Costa Rica’s history. This route guides you through the lava fields, showcasing the aftermath of the eruption and offering remarkable views of the volcano. The park features two trails: the “1968 Forest” route and the “Arenal Lava Flow” route, both doable in a single day with a combined distance of approximately 7km.

Mirador El Silencio: The Mirador El Silencio reserve sits outside La Fortuna but has six different trails that circle close to the Arenal volcano offering diverse vantage points. The trails are longer than the Arenal 1968 routes and hence recommended for anyone looking for a slightly more challenging hiking experience, through shaded rainforest canopy.

Cost: Arenal 1968- $25, Mirador El Silencio- 5000 colones ($10)

Timings: Arenal 1968- 8am to 5pm with last entry at 4pm, Mirador El Silencio- 8am to 4pm

Tip: In Costa Rica, most national parks and reserves open early and typically close around 4 or 5 pm, with last entries accepted around 2 pm. To maximize your time in these natural wonders, I recommend beginning your day with hikes or visits to waterfalls or national parks. Early mornings are particularly advantageous for wildlife spotting, as this is when many animals are active and visible.

3. Visit one of many hot springs in the area

La Fortuna proudly wears the crown as Costa Rica’s wellness destination, and it’s easy to see why. Nestled near the volcano, the town is dotted with natural hot springs. Among the plethora of spas, Tabacon Hot Springs and EcoTermales stand out as favourites. However, nearly every hot spring hotel in La Fortuna offers spa services often complemented by the option of a day pass for visitors seeking a rejuvenating experience.

Cost: starts at around $45

Timings: EcoTermales offers 2 slots- 9am to 4pm and 4pm to 9.30 pm

Hanging Bridges in Arenal

4. Pump your adrenaline

La Fortuna isn’t just a haven for wellness; it’s also an adventure enthusiast’s paradise, offering a thrill-packed menu of activities. Be it zipling, canyoning, rafting, rappelling or my personal favourite, ATV biking, there are plenty of adventures to choose from. Among the myriad choices, ziplining steals the spotlight, allowing you to soar above the lush rainforest canopy for an adrenaline rush and unparalleled views. Did you know that ziplining was invented in Costa Rica?

Cost: Most activities cost around $100

5. Spot wildlife on a night tour

For wildlife enthusiasts, a night tour in La Fortuna is a must-try. The region’s rainforests draw a diverse range of wildlife, with a particular abundance of amphibians owing to the generous rainfall. Night tours typically commence around dusk, spanning a couple of hours as the guide and group navigate a short trail at a slow pace. I recommend EcoCentro Danaus for an exceptional night tour experience in La Fortuna, with the flexibility to book on the same day and three timing options to suit your schedule.

Tip: the EcoCentro ticket would also include entry to the centre next day if you’re keen to visit two days in a row!

Cost: $55

Timings: most start at around 5pm but have 2-3 slots

Spotting amphibians at EcoCentro Danaus

6. Chocolate Tour

Costa Rica is known for its cacao cultivation and a chocolate tour is a must do when in Costa Rica. In La Fortuna, there are plenty of chocolate tours to choose from with several time slots so you can work this around your busy schedule. These immersive experiences typically span around 2 hours, encompassing a farm tour, tastings of diverse fruits, chocolates, and other cultivated plants, along with an informative presentation on the cultivation process.

Cost: around $25 but may vary

7. Bogarin Trail

The Bogarin trail located in La Fortuna is known to be a great place to spot sloths. While sloths are pretty much all over the country, they may not be the easiest mammals to spot as they usually tend to be perched high up in the trees. I would recommend getting a guide who will almost certainly spot sloths and other wildlife along the trail. Additionally, the Bogarin trail offers night tours, providing a unique opportunity to witness nocturnal creatures in their natural habitat.

Cost: CR 8,500 ($17) for self guided tours and CR 25,000 ($48) for guided tours. CR33,000 ($62) for the night tour.

Timings: 7am to 4pm and after hours access for the night tour

Tip: Costa Rica’s abundant wildlife is a major draw, but it’s important to note that spotting animals may not be guaranteed everywhere you go. Wildlife observation requires knowledge and experience, and it’s often best left to experts who understand the specific habitats and behaviours of different species. To enhance your chances of spotting wildlife, many attractions offer guided tours led by experienced professionals. I highly recommend opting for these guided tours, especially if observing wildlife is a priority during your visit to Costa Rica.

A sloth snoozing in La Fortuna

8. La Fortuna Waterfall

La Fortuna waterfall is the most popular waterfall in the Arenal region. A brief 30-minute hike guides you down a series of steps, leading to the waterfall and its inviting pool—perfect for a refreshing swim.

Cost: $18

Timings: 7am-5pm

9. El Salto Rope Swing

The El Salto rope swing is a free activity you can do a short drive outside of La Fortuna on Route 702. Beneath the bridge lies a stream, accompanied by a simple rope swing and a cozy spot to unwind by the waters. It’s an ideal option for those seeking an alternative to La Fortuna Waterfall, offering a quieter experience as this hidden gem remains off the radar for many tourists.

Note: this is an unmanned site and jumping into or swimming in the waters is at your own risk.

Cost: Free

Tip: Parking your car when visiting attractions usually includes a small charge paid to an individual who will oversee your car. This charge is normally unofficial and may not be included in your ticket. I recommend carrying loose change, especially colones for this purpose. The charges tend to be around 1000-3000 colones ($2-$6).

Day Trips from La Fortuna/ Arenal

1. Bajos del Toro

Bajos del Toro, a reserve just a 2-hour drive from La Fortuna, beckons with its extraordinary waterfalls, notably the renowned Catarata del Toro and the Blue Falls of Costa Rica—the prime attractions in this sanctuary. To access these natural wonders, traverse through the wild rainforests, with most waterfalls just a 30-40 minute hike from the entrance.

As it is situated at a higher altitude, the hike allows you to witness Costa Rica’s misty cloud forests. Other waterfalls within the reserve include Rio Agrio and Catarata Tesoro Escondido.

Cost:  Catarata del Toro – $14, Blue Falls – $15, but you can get a combo of both for $25. Other waterfalls vary in price but are around $10.

Timings: Monday to Saturday 7am to 5pm.

The enchanting Rio Celeste Waterfall

2. Rio Celeste (Volcan Tenorio National Park)

About a 1.5 hour drive north of the Arenal Volcano lies the Tenorio Volcano national park, home to the mesmerising Rio Celeste. This river and its namesake waterfall are famed for their vivid blue hues.  The journey to the waterfall is an easy 30 minute walk from the entrance, involving a descent down a series of stairs. Beyond, you can continue hiking into the untamed and less developed sections of the park, tracing the soothing sound of the stream until you reach a tranquil lagoon. The complete hike, leading you through the park’s diverse landscapes, spans around 3 hours.

Cost: $12

Timings: 8am to 4pm with last entry at 2pm

Tip: Hiking in Costa Rica offers both adventure and unpredictability. Trails can vary from well-paved to extremely muddy, and the weather can switch from sunshine to sudden rain. It’s crucial to be prepared, so consider carrying the following essentials for your hike – Waterproof jacket or poncho, closed shoes, preferably hiking boots, a cap or hat, sunscreen, and plenty of water.

How to Get to and Around La Fortuna

The optimal way to reach and navigate La Fortuna is by renting a car, preferably a 4×4 for flexibility. It’s approximately a 3-hour drive from San Jose and 3.5 hours from Liberia, making it a convenient starting or finishing point for your Costa Rican journey. While the roads are generally in good condition, frequent rainfall may result in muddy or potholed stretches.

Tip: While a 4×4 vehicle isn’t strictly necessary for navigating the area, it’s worth noting that the region frequently experiences rain, resulting in muddy paths. While it’s possible to manage with a regular car, there might be instances where having a 4×4 could prove advantageous, especially during periods of heavy rainfall.

For those not keen on driving, shared shuttles offer a great alternative from San Jose, with two daily departures costing around $50-$100 and taking about 4 hours. Private shuttles are also available, priced around $150.

The most economical choice is the public bus from San Jose, a 4-hour journey costing around $5, with one daily departure at 8:40 am. An indirect option, via Ciudad Quesada, is available as well.

When in La Fortuna, renting a car is recommended for flexibility. Alternatively, taxis or private tours are another option. If you prefer not to drive, basing yourself in the town of La Fortuna is ideal, as most activities are easily accessible from there.

The butterfly garden at EcoCentro Danaus

Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit La Fortuna is from December to April. However, it is worth noting that La Fortuna receives rainfall throughout the year, so expect rain even during the drier season from December to April.

Sample Itineraries for La Fortuna

1 day – For a perfect day in La Fortuna, make the most of your time with an early morning hike through one of the suggested routes or the Mistico Hanging Bridges. Following the adventure, indulge in a quick lunch in La Fortuna before treating yourself to the rich flavors of local handmade chocolate during a chocolate tour. Wrap up your day in rest and relaxation with a visit to the hot springs at a spa in La Fortuna.

2 days – Kick off your first day with an early morning hike, choosing between the 1968 route or the Mirador El Silencio before moving onto a chocolate tour in the afternoon. As the day winds down, immerse yourself in the soothing waters of a hot spring spa. The next day will start with the Mistico Hanging Bridges followed by a visit to La Fortuna Waterfall and ending your day with a night tour.

Tip: For those seeking an adrenaline rush, consider swapping day activities on the second day with adventurous options like ziplining or ATV biking.

3 days – Follow the 2 day itinerary above and the third day will encompass a day trip to either Bajos del Toro or Rio Celeste.

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