Welcome to our 4 day tour of La Fortuna, Costa Rica. We hope you enjoy traveling with us and are inspired to take your own trip. This trip was part of our seven month journey around the world which began in Flores, Guatemala. See a summary of the destinations we traveled to over our seven months here: link.
Livin’ the “Pura Vida”
Pura Vida – A Costa Rican phrase meaning “pure life” or “simple life”. Not to be confused with Ricky Martin’s Livin la Vida Loca. To the people of Costa Rica, it is more than just a phrase, it is a way of life. You can use the phrase whenever. For instance, we use “cheers” here in America, or “Hakuna Matata” if you are a talking warthog. Similarly, they say “Pura Vida” for almost anything and everything. Use this phrase with a local and I guarantee it will make them smile.
Costa Rica is a country of luscious rainforests, abundant wildlife, endless activities, great food, and volcanoes. It is widely known as one of the most visited countries in Central America, despite being more “expensive”. We wanted a piece of the action, so we decided to give La Fortuna, Costa Rica a try.
Why Travel to La Fortuna, Costa Rica?
La Fortuna is another popular tourist destination where you can’t go wrong. You can visit an impressive waterfall, explore the rainforest through a system of hanging bridges, and get a guided tour through a small eco-habitat teeming with wildlife. Adrenaline junkies can zip line, rappel down waterfalls, and go whitewater rafting. All of this is done around stunning views of Arenal volcano. Those looking to relax can book a stay at one of the many resorts, most which have access to natural hot springs heated by the energy from the volcano. Going here seemed like a no-brainer to us.
How Did We Get to La Fortuna, Costa Rica?
Coming from an island in Nicaragua (Ometepe), we honestly did not know exactly how to get to La Fortuna, Costa Rica. We had spent hours the previous night scouring the internet for bus time tables to no avail. The best information we got was our hostel receptionist saying it was possible.
After countless hours of unsuccessful research and lack of sleep we decided to just wing it the next morning! With my broken Spanish and Kurt’s good sense of direction, we decided to just take one bus at a time, hopefully in the right direction.
After a ferry ride from the island of Ometepe and short taxi ride to the bus terminal, we were fortunate enough to meet Luis on the first bus ride of many transfers. Luckily, he was visiting his grandma in Nicaragua and was going all the way to our final destination, La Fortuna. Talk about good luck! Without him the trip would have been much more stressful (and less fun). Four (or more) bus transfers, one VISA checkpoint, and 13+ hours later we finally reached our destination.
How Long to Stay in La Fortuna, Costa Rica?
La Fortuna is a city with an abundance of activities and ways to relax. The three days we spent felt sufficient, gave us a feel for the atmosphere, and didn’t feel rushed. We could have easily spent more time here and added a volcano hike, a trip to the plentiful resorts with hot springs or more. However, if we had more than three days to spare we would have tried to visit another city in Costa Rica.
Top Things To Do in La Fortuna, Costa Rica
Wading through the tour and activity options was difficult. We felt several of them sounded overrated or overpriced so we tried to stay away from those. We’d recommend doing your own analysis to figure out what you think is best, but here are some top things we did end up choosing:
1) Visit the Famous La Fortuna Waterfall (“Catarata Fortuna”)
The Catarata del Rio Fortuna (the Fortuna River Waterfall) was one the main attractions for us when visiting Costa Rica. The lush forest within the Arenal Volcano National Park contains a beautiful 70-meter (229 foot) waterfall.
Walking throughout the forest and down the 530 steps we saw many native trees and these funny sloth motivational sayings encouraging you down to the waterfall. They’re quite entertaining. I mean look at them, how cute and inspiring?!
After making your way to the bottom you can look up in awe at the power of the surging waterfall. We look like ants.
During our time of visit, we were prohibited to swim in the pool at the base of the waterfall as the currents were too strong and due to a recent visitor’s unfortunate death as he attempted to safely jump from the top
While swimming wasn’t permitted in the pools of the waterfall, there was swimming further down stream. These waters will certainly entice you, considering you just descended roughly 530 (well-paved) steps through the thick of the jungle to get here.
- Admission is $18 USD
- Hours of operation: 8 am – 5 pm
- Tips: Arrive early in the day to avoid crowds; Bring water, snacks, swimsuit, and a towel
- There is also an orchid garden (unfortunately not in bloom during our visit) and butterfly exhibit (unfortunately not active during our visit) included with park entry
2) Ecological Center of Danaus (Ecocentro Danaus)
This private self-sustaining ecological reserve puts Costa Rica’s native flora and fauna on display. The best decision we made was hiring a naturalist guide who provided us with a plethora of information on the plant and animal species in the reserve and also spotted out wildlife we did not see with the naked eye.
Scroll below to see our amazing shots we got with my Samsung Galaxy Note8 by placing my phone camera up to the telescope lens! These shots alone were well worth the tour price!
We were crossing our fingers, hoping to be lucky enough to see this next animal:
Here are a few more nice shots from our tour.
We thoroughly enjoyed our trip here. What made the reserve even more intriguing was that around 20 years ago, the park was barren farmland. Conservationists began the program to plant native trees and this self sustaining habitat then flourished in such a short period of time. The grounds are small but are packed with wildlife and fauna. I wouldn’t recommend trying to walk the grounds without a tour guide. Without a guide it would be a one-star trip (“where the heck are all the animals”?), with a guide…five-star trip.
- At time of our travel – admission with private tour guide was $44USD for two.
- Various tours are offered including a night-time tour.
3) Hot Springs, Zip-lining, Rappelling and Maleku Presentation
La Fortuna and Costa Rica for that matter is known for zip-lining, jungles, and hot springs (amongst many other things). So when in Rica…we felt the need to check out what all the hype was about. Our fun began at the Montana de Fuego Resort & Spa which had a swim-up bar and some natural hot springs. We then proceeded with a zip-line through the Arenal River Canyon.
After zip-lining through the jungle for 30-45 minutes. The final adrenaline rush was a 50-meter (164 foot) rappel down this natural rockface (my favorite part)!
After finishing the zip-line and repelling adventure, we partook in a brief presentation with the Maleku tribe, an indigenous people of Costa Rica. One of the tribe’s main source of income is through their artwork and craftsmanship. By simply purchasing their artwork you help keep their history alive. If you are interested you can take a more detailed tour to learn about their culture and visit their villages. Below, you can see Kurt and me sporting traditional Maleku wooden masks and musical instruments.
We booked this fun (approximately three-hour) Canopy Tour with Seven Tours. (Our local friend Luis’s sister worked here).
4) Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park
Experience the Arenal Rain Forest atop the trees like the local Howler monkeys. At this nature preserve are 16 bridges, several of them suspended in the canopies above the steep jungle floor.
We opted for the self-guided hanging bridges tour as we felt we had received a considerable amount of knowledge from the naturalist guide at Ecocentro Danaus the previous day. The hiking trails throughout the reserve are well-paved and marked. However, we recommend first-time visitors wanting to delve deeper into the landscape and history to go with a guide as they will point out plants, flowers, and wildlife that we surely missed on our walk.
With Volcán Arenal within sight, a hike through the park is a perfect way to spend several hours. Many different activities are available to visitors at Mistico Arenal including hiking, canyoning, and horseback riding.
- Admission: $26USD
- Hours: Monday-Sunday 8am-9am-10am-12pm-1pm-2pm. This requires a previous reservation.
- *We are aware there is an option for a night walk which will allow you to see species that are nocturnal.
Check this out- on our drive, over to Mistico, we came across the CUTEST Costa Rican native-the Coatimundi (AKA-Coati). It’s like a cross between a bear/raccoon/anteater.
5) Free Hot Springs in La Fortuna (Río Chollin)
Want to swim in a volcano-heated thermal water or cool river water? How about for free? Great, this is the perfect place for you! Often referred to as “Río Chollin” or “Mini Tabacon” or just “free hot springs La Fortuna” this is the perfect spot for a break. While the entrance is free and parking is limited there are random locals wearing safety vests that ask for parking money. I say random locals because I don’t believe they work for a company that offers this service at a free watering hole. Unwilling to pay, as we were only staying for a brief time, I told them we were only going to check out the area and insisted on not paying to park.
Where To Eat in La Fortuna, Costa Rica
La Ventanita (Little Window)
THIS IS A MUST STOP. Got it? Minutes’ walk from our Hotel Castillo Del Arenal, we enjoyed some of the most delicious local food with a twist. Here you can try the local patacones (fried plantains). This place is quaint and cozy with an excellent choice for anyone with taste buds. You place your order through a window (hence La Ventanita), where you will most likely meet (owner) Kelly. Kelly is a California expat with a Costa Rican background. Not only does he serve up some of the tastiest food, but he also has plenty of information for you on the area. If you are looking for a delightful meal without sacrificing your wallet, eat at La Ventanita!
*Pair your meal with a fresh smoothie or shake, and for those looking for a “boost”, ask Kelly for a spiked shake. You’re welcome.*
-BONUS! VEGETARIAN, VEGAN AND GF OPTIONS AVAILABLE–
Where To Stay in La Fortuna, Costa Rica
Hotel Castillo Del Arenal (Castle of Arenal)
You can enjoy breathtaking views at this budget hotel. Located only 25 minutes from the town La Fortuna, staying at Castillo de Arenal puts you within a reasonable distance from many nearby activities of the Arenal area.
At the hotel restaurant, Fusion Grill, we enjoyed their specialty – Gallo Pinto (spotted rooster), a scrumptious Costa Rican traditional breakfast. Gallo Pinto is a dish consisted of rice and beans mixed with spices and some vegetables. No rooster included.
See sunrise pictures from our accommodation below:
- Make sure you ask for a room with a view of the lake and Arenal, no obstructions, we liked room #7, full view. (We were originally put towards the back and the views were obstructed).
- If you order the pancakes, make sure you try the homemade jam.
- If you’re at the restaurant and bar, be sure to try the alcoholic beverage Long Island or one of their homemade cocktails, the bartenders are sure to take great care of you.
- One downfall: Wi-Fi was not available inside the private bungalows, so we had to walk to the lobby and it was not open all night.
Other Recommendations of Things to Do
These are all adventures that we unfortunately didn’t have time to do on our own but would have considered if we had more time:
- Night Walk at Mistico Park- This gives you an opportunity to see the nocturnal fauna of the jungle. The nightlife becomes awakened.
- Volcán Arenal Hike- There are many tours you can take that will let you explore the rainforest and observe it’s animals. (We met a local who has taken dozens of trips to the crater, but it is illegal and not safe, but we didn’t want to withhold information from you). 😉
- Canyoning- Think of being in a canyon, surrounded by a a lush rainforest, rappelling down rushing waterfalls. This is one for the adrenaline seekers. We need more of this in our lives, a bit disappointed we didn’t make time for this as Costa Rica is a premiere spot for a sport like this.
- If you’re looking for beaches, perhaps try a different town. Most beaches are about a 3-4-hour drive from La Fortuna. La Fortuna is certainly not a beach town, there are many, many other activities to keep you entertained and satisfied.
- Volcán Cerro Chato Hike- (Arenals neighboring dormant volcano)- Check for availability of hiking this volcano within the Arenal region as this area has mixed reviews. Between getting super muddy, having tough trails to follow, and possibly crossing over private property, it’s important to be in the know before you go.
- Tip: It is suggested to visit Río Chollin’ (the free hot springs) during the daytime as it may not be safe at night. Also, just imagine the bug situation at night. EEK. No thank you, enjoy yourself during broad daylight. Water shoes are recommended as the rocks are sharp.
Questions for you
Did you know that between 1968 and 2010 Volcán Arenal was considered extremely active? It erupted back in 1968 and decimated three villages killing almost 100 people. It is prohibited to hike up this monster, although we did meet a local who knows the back way up and has gone dozens of times. Truth be told, I would love to go up the summit, I don’t think Kurt would agree. Ugh, safety first.
Have any of you been daring enough to summit Volcán Arenal?