The Arenal area is one of the best places to go in Costa Rica if you’re looking for adventure. With a home base in the small town of La Fortuna, you can soak in natural hot springs, rappel down waterfalls, go white water rafting, and hike through lava fields. Here is our list of amazing things to do in La Fortuna, Costa Rica!
Costa Rica has been on my bucket list for 10 years. When Aaron and I were planning our honeymoon back in 2009, Costa Rica was at the top of my list. We ended up picking a different destination, then life got busy, and then it was a decade later and we still had not made the trip. As we were coming up on our anniversary, we decided to finally do it and plan a trip to Costa Rica.
I dreamed of lush green jungle, exotic animals, and epic adventures. And Costa Rica did not disappoint. The first stop on our trip was La Fortuna, a small town in northwest Costa Rica built at the base of Arenal volcano and surrounded by verdant jungle and natural hot springs. Our days in La Fortuna were a mix of hiking to waterfalls, soaking in hot springs, and spotting monkeys swinging through the trees.
If you’re looking for amazing outdoor adventures, then La Fortuna is one of the best places to go in Costa Rica. It seems like if there’s a high-adventure activity you can think of, then you can do it in the Arenal area near La Fortuna. We’ve narrowed our list to the best things to do in La Fortuna, Costa Rica.
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How to get to La Fortuna
From Liberia: If you’re coming directly from Liberia Airport, it’s about a three-hour drive to the center of La Fortuna. The roads are paved and easy to drive, so you don’t need to worry about having four-wheel drive for this route.
We added a stop at Rio Celeste in Tenorio Volcano National Park which only added a few extra minutes to the drive. This waterfall is definitely worth the stop! We opted to rent a car while we were in Costa Rica so we could have the flexibility to go at our own pace and make stops like this. If you’re thinking about renting a car, read this post with 11 things you should know about renting a car and driving in Costa Rica.
You can also book a shared shuttle from the airport for USD $54, or a private minibus for USD $270 if you’re traveling with a group.
From San Jose: La Fortuna is also about a three-hour drive from the San Jose airport in the capital city of Costa Rica. A shared shuttle costs USD $55 and a private shuttle costs USD $200. There is a direct bus route from San Jose to La Fortuna, which you can learn more about here.
When to Visit La Fortuna
The most popular (and busiest) time to visit La Fortuna and the Arenal area is the dry season, which runs from December through April. The high temperature is usually in the mid 80s F (30°C). We visited at the end of April, which meant it was shifting to shoulder season. We had some rain on and off, so we just made sure to pack rain jackets and panchos. Shoulder season (May through mid-August) is a great time to visit because, while there is rain, there is also sunshine and the area is not as busy as the peak dry season.
Hotels in La Fortuna
Since La Fortuna is a popular tourist spot, there are plenty of hotel options for every budget. Quite a few of the hotels have on-site hot springs, which are included as part of your night stay.
Tabacón Thermal Resort & Spa: We opted to stay a night at the Tabacon Thermal Resort and Spa, which is a 5-star hotel and also one of the most popular hot springs in La Fortuna. It’s easy to see why once you enter the grounds; it felt like we were soaking in a natural tropical paradise. Our night stay gave us access to the hot springs for two days, as well as early access from 8 am – 10 am before day visitors arrived. We loved every part of our stay at the Tabacon; the staff was super friendly and attentive, the rooms were spacious, and the beds were amazingly comfortable. Rates start at $300, which is more than we typically spend on a hotel, but when we added up the cost of day pass tickets for the hot springs ($85 for full day) and what we would spend on another hotel, it didn’t end up being too much more to stay at the hotel. The Tabacón Resort does sell out often, so book early if you want to stay here.
The Springs Resort & Spa at Arenal: This Springs is another luxury resort with one of the best views of Arenal Volcano. As a guest of the hotel, you have access to both the hot springs on the property as well as the Club Rio Outdoor Center, which is about 1.5 km from the resort along the banks of the Arenal River. You can book adventures for an additional fee, like kayaking, tubing, horseback riding and rock climbing, or simply hike the trails and enjoy the additional natural hot springs. Rooms start in the low $400s. A 2-day pass to the hot springs costs $68.
Baldi Hot Springs Hotel & Spa: Booking a night at the Baldi Hot Springs Hotel & Spa gives you access to one of the world’s largest hot springs resorts. There are 25 thermal water pools surrounded by lush vegetation. There is also a special kid’s area with slides. Rooms start in the high $100s. Day passes are $32.
Hotel Arenal Kioro Suites & Spa: This is another hotel with a phenomenal view of Arenal Volcano, plus amazing hot springs on the property. Many of the spacious rooms have floor to ceiling windows to highlight the views. Rooms start in the high $100s.
Casa Luna Hotel & Spa: This rustic hotel set among peaceful gardens has great views of the other volcano near La Fortuna – Cerro Chato. The property does feature a pool and several hot tubs; however, these are not fed by the natural hot springs in the area. Rooms start at $70.
San Bosco Inn: Check out the San Bosco Inn if you’re looking for a great deal. Rooms are basic but clean and start at $30. While there aren’t hot springs on the property, your room rate includes access to the hot springs at their sister hotel, the Volcano Lodge, Hotel & Thermal Experience. It’s hard to beat a private room, full breakfast, and access to hot springs for $30!
Things to do in La Fortuna
1 Soak in natural hot springs
One of the biggest draws to La Fortuna is the abundant natural hot springs in the area. Underground aquifers and rivers are naturally heated by Arenal Volcano, bubbling up into steamy hot mineral baths. There are over a dozen hot springs resorts in La Fortuna, so the hardest part for us was narrowing down which ones we wanted to visit. We opted to visit the hot springs at Tabacón Thermal Resort and Spa by booking a night at the hotel as I mentioned above. See the hotel section above for a list of the best resorts with hot springs in La Fortuna along with the day pass rates.
2 Hike through the lava fields around Arenal Volcano
We’d heard that you could see Arenal volcano from the town of La Fortuna, but we didn’t get a glimpse of this famous, perfectly conical-shaped volcano until the last day of our visit due to the foggy skies.
Arenal Volcano lay dormant for almost 500 years until it unexpectedly erupted in 1968. This explosion destroyed three small towns at its base. Steam and intermittent lava flow continued to spew from the volcano’s crater up until 2010. Arenal volcano has been dormant for almost 10 years so you can hike around it for great views in either Arenal Volcano National Park or the Arenal 1968 Volcano View and Lava Trails. Both parks cost $15 to enter and take you through the lava fields around Arenal Volcano. Since the parks offer similar landscape and views, you’ll probably want to do one or the other, not both.
We decided to go with Arenal 1968 based on the pictures we saw while researching the trails beforehand. There are two loops within the Arenal 1968 Volcano trails, and we took the shorter one due to timing. While it was cloudy and foggy when we started the hike, some of the clouds started to clear so we could see the bottom of the volcano throughout our hike. The trails here are easy to follow, but you can book a guided tour to get in-depth information on the flora, fauna, and history of the area.
3 Take a Safari Float along the Peñas Blancas River
The safari float along the Peñas Blancas river with Aventuras Arenal is a fun, laid-back way to enjoy the lush surroundings. The only way to access most of the river is by boat, so we got to see a whole other part of Arenal that we otherwise would’ve missed!
The Peñas Blancas river weaves through Costa Rica’s Tilaran Moutain Range, and we hopped in our raft at a spot about 20 minutes from La Fortuna. Most of the river is very calm, which is why this tour is a float and not a rafting trip. If you want something more heart-pounding, opt for one of the white–water rafting trips that will have you rushing through class IV rapids.
Our guide from Aventuras Arenal did a great job of spotting animals we definitely would not have otherwise seen – we saw lots of birds (including a glimpse of a toucan!), bats, crocodiles, and a Jesus Christ lizard. Our guide did an amazing mimic of the Howler Monkeys roar (he said they call them the Costa Rican lion) which got all of them talking.
The Safari Float tour with Aventuras Arenal doesn’t end on the river. We made a stop on our way back to La Fortuna at a chocolate farm to learn about their organic process of growing cocoa beans and making chocolate. It also included tasting their varieties, from 100% chocolate to milk, all of which were delicious!
This is a great half day trip if you have limited time in La Fortuna. We only spent two days in the area, so we didn’t have time to take the popular day trip up to Rio Negro, which is about 2.5 hours away. Aventuras Arenal also does this tour, so if you have more time you can book that tour here.
4 Go White Water Rafting
There are a few rivers near La Fortuna that have great white-water rafting. If you want something fun but still relatively easy, book a trip down the Balsa River. The Balsa river has class II and III rapids.
For a more adrenaline-pumping ride, go rafting down the Toro River. Here you’ll paddle through challenging class III and IV rapids. We weren’t able to do a rafting trip as all of the tour operators have age minimums at least a few years older than our three-year-old, so this is on our list for the next time we visit Costa Rica!
5 Visit La Fortuna Waterfall
One thing we quickly realized while planning our trip to Costa Rica is that most things cost money, and kind of a lot of money. While we’ve spent days hopping from waterfall to waterfall in Bali, that would quickly get expensive in Costa Rica. The entrance fee to the La Fortuna waterfall is $18. There are nice facilities at the entrance including bathrooms, showers, and an orchid walk, which I imagine looks spectacular when the orchids are in bloom (there were no flowers when we went).
Before you head down to the waterfall, check out the stunning 75-meter drop of La Fortuna waterfall from the viewing platform. There are 400+ well-maintained stairs with handrails that take you to the bottom of the waterfall. You can usually swim at the pool below the waterfall, just be extra cautious as the rocks are slippery and the current can be strong. You can also swim a bit further down the river.
6 Jump from the rope swing at the El Salto swimming spot
El Salto is a popular local swimming spot right outside of town. This swimming hole on the Fortuna River has a rope swing and a small waterfall. And best of all, it’s free! El Salto is about 2 miles from the church in the center of town. You can walk, take a short taxi ride, or park your car right before the bridge and walk a few minutes down to the river.
7 Walk above the rain forest at the Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park
One of the best places to see wildlife in the Arenal area is the Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park. The 3.2km trail takes you above the rain forest, where you can spot sloths, monkeys, birds, butterflies, snakes, and frogs. You can do this walk self-guided (entrance fee is $26 per person), or book a tour ($65 per person). People tend to have better luck with animal sightings earlier in the morning. There are several other tours you can book in the park, including a horseback riding tour.
8 Rappel down waterfalls on a Canyoning Tour
If you’ve been rappelling before and thought that was fun, then check out a canyoning tour that will have you flying straight down a 200-foot waterfall. Be prepared to get wet as you make your way down and through some amazing canyons in the Arenal area.
9 Take a walk through the rain forest at night
The majority of animals in Costa Rica are nocturnal, so you have a better chance of spotting them at night. Book a guided night tour at the Arenal Oasis Wildlife Refuge to see nocturnal animals like sloths, armadillos, snakes, and the vibrant red-eyed tree frog.
Thank you to Aventuras Arenal for hosting us on the Safari Float Tour. Next time we’re in La Fortuna, we wouldn’t hesitate to book another tour with them!