The Emerald Playground of La Fortuna, Costa Rica
Fortune truly favors adventurers coming to La Fortuna with endless outdoor activities both on land and in the water. Situated nearby active Arenal Volcano, the area is bursting with nature hikes, hot springs, and exotic wildlife.
Travelers will appreciate the accessible beauty in every direction. Brad and I stayed in La Fortuna for two weeks to experience as much of this epic playground as possible. The natural magnificence will leave you inspired!
You'll find everything in town to fuel your expeditions including restaurants, cafés, produce markets, and grocery stores. Tour operators are easy to spot and can help organize excursions if you don't want to go the DIY route.
Costa Rica is generally more expensive compared to the rest of Central America when it comes to tours, transportation, food, and accommodations. Be prepared to fork over a bit of dough to access the popular attractions. Luckily there are a few free things to do as well.
Below I've compiled a list of our favorite escapades with a separate section covering a few transportation options. If you are planning a trip to Costa Rica, La Fortuna deserves to be on your itinerary!
Arenal Volcano National Park
Costa Rica boasts over 200 volcanic formations, but Arenal Volcano is a symmetrical giant with a hypnotizing effect. The steaming peak pierces the sky with an elevation of 5,436 ft (1,657 m). Although this volcano has a history of violent eruptions, there hasn't been any significant activity since 2010.
One of the best ways to discover its geology is via the hiking trails of Arenal Volcano National Park. There are two sectors of the park included with entry: Volcán and Península (see map below). We focused our attention solely on the Volcán sector due to time, but depending on your pace it's possible to do both in one day.
Along the well-maintained trails you'll encounter tall grasses, lush rainforest, and jagged lava rocks. Keep an eye out for snakes, bats, lizards, fungi, and orchids. The viewpoint at the end of the #6 Camino Vehicular trail is exceptional, weather permitting.
Birdwatchers will fall in love with the #5 El Ceibo trail. Brad and I saw Great Kiskadees, Collared Aracaris, Crimson-fronted Parakeets, Yellow-throated Toucans, Bicolored Antbirds, Crested Guans, Great Curassows, and several species of trogons.
TIP: The park is open every day, 8:00 AM-4:00 PM. Tickets cost $17 USD per person. Bring a rain jacket and plenty of bug repellent. I highly recommend wearing hiking shoes due to the sharp volcanic rocks and critters; I had a green snake cross directly in front of me!
Arenal Oasis Frog Sanctuary
My favorite activity in La Fortuna was a night walking tour to find frogs within the protected habitat at Arenal Oasis Eco Lodge & Wildlife Refuge. Approximately 40 species of amphibians inhabit the spring-fed ponds and surrounding native plants.
Our small group was led by a trained naturalist along flat gravel trails for two hours in the darkness. We all did our best to locate camouflage frogs and insects on the foliage with our flashlights. The excitement was palpable as we listened to various croaks in every direction.
Mother Nature rewarded our enthusiasm with 13 species, including the iconic Red-eyed tree frog, Hourglass tree frog, and Translucent glass frog! Another highlight was finding a yellow Eyelash pit viper hunting in the canopy. Don't miss out on this spectacular adventure!
TIP: Although the tour is expensive at $54 USD per person, it is worth every penny. Round-trip transportation is included. Reservations are available every day at 6:00 PM and 8:00 PM. Bring your own flashlight or headlamp if possible since the ones provided weren't very reliable.
La Fortuna Waterfall
A spectacular and powerful place to feel the Pura Vida spirit is at the base of the 230 ft (70 m) high La Fortuna Waterfall. Vibrant ferns and vines sway in the wind caused by the water plummeting into the turquoise pool below. Breathtaking is an understatement!
Follow the river to find clear pools with curious fish. Large rocks warming in the sunlight offer relaxing spots to sit in between refreshingly cold dips. Whimsical butterflies and dragonflies will keep you company as you soak in paradise.
Beholding this marvel requires a steep descent of 530 steps, which also must be climbed to exit. Several vantage points along the path offer a place to rest and admire the rainforest. The leg workout is worth the prize!
Brad and I enjoyed some delicious tuna tacos and a berry milkshake at the restaurant before taking a stroll through the orchid garden. Unfortunately, most of the orchids weren't in bloom during our visit in December, but we did find two kinds.
TIP: The La Fortuna Waterfall is open every day, 7:00 AM-5:00 PM. Tickets cost $18 USD per person. Watch out for sharp rocks in the water. Get an early start if you want to enjoy the waterfall before the influx of crowds during the afternoon.
Mistico Park: Arenal Hanging Bridges
Trade in a ground view for an exhilarating canopy perspective at Mistico Park. The pristine trail is 2 mi (3.2 km) long with 10 bridges and 6 hanging bridges. Explore the treetops from as high as 148 ft (45 m)!
Share the rainforest with adorable coatis sniffing for food, rainbow lizards basking in the sun, and delicate butterflies. Hear the commanding and permeating calls of male Howler monkeys while gazing at the serene Blue Morpho Waterfall. Take your time looking at moss-covered branches and puddles to find hummingbirds, leafcutter ants, and tadpoles.
Even though Mistico Park has a lot of tourists, the glorious trees and intricate flowers engulfing the trail help to provide an intimate atmosphere. Plus, the hanging bridges are a ton of fun and there are two stunning viewpoints to see Arenal Volcano!
TIP: Closed-toed shoes are mandatory. Guided nature and adventure tours require an online reservation made in advance. Self-guided entry is $28 USD per person. Mistico Park is open every day, 6:00 AM-4:00 PM.
Take a break from exploring and immerse yourself in a natural oasis. Rejuvenate your body and mind at one of the several hot springs in La Fortuna. Arenal Volcano is the geothermic source which heats the water to cozy temperatures.
Many resorts, such as Tabacón and Baldi, offer day passes if you want facilities such as bathrooms, towels, or restaurants. Brad and I opted to enjoy the free El Choyin hot springs and instead spent our money on canned cocktails. Bring a few candles to set the mood if you desire a romantic nighttime soak.
TIP: The public El Choyin hot springs are open 24 hours, every day. Please bring out what you bring in and leave no trace, including biodegradable food which can harm wildlife.
Mirador El Silencio
Get off the beaten path with a visit to an affordable park exploding with wildlife. Mirador El Silencio has 7 trails with unique topography nearby Arenal Volcano. Take in stellar views as you traverse open pasture, dewy rainforest, and lava rocks.
The protected land covers 550 acres (225 hectares) with primary and secondary forests. A primary forest is an unaffected ecosystem with mature tress and no human interference. Whereas a secondary forest is an environment with previous deforestation, fires, or infestations. A secondary forest needs approximately 150 years to resemble a primary forest!
Brad and I were absolutely ecstatic to see our first and only anteater foraging in the canopy. We also observed a Three-toed sloth, pit viper, Rufous Motmot and several Capuchin monkeys. The friendly cows were an added bonus!
Prioritize the #3 El Tabacón, #4 Manantial, and #1 Los Araña trails to see wildlife and primary forest. Check out the #6 Lava del 68 trail to see lava flows from the 1968 eruption. Although the #2 Los Sainos trail was a nice hike, we didn't encounter any animals.
TIP: Bring sunscreen, bug repellent, plenty of snacks, and a rain jacket. Wear hiking shoes for the rugged and muddy terrain. Tickets cost $8 USD per person. El Mirador Silencio is open every day, 8:00 AM-5:00 PM.
El Salto Rope Swing
Ready for an adrenaline rush? Head to the free 20 ft (6 m) high El Salto rope swing to make a thrilling splash into a picturesque pool. Build up your courage by watching from the surrounding rocks as other tourists and locals show off their tricks.
Brad had a blast jumping into the warm water below. He almost lost one of his Tevas due to the impact! Meanwhile, I safely watched on dry land with a bag of chips and a cold drink. It's just as much fun to be a spectator if you don't want to channel your inner daredevil.
TIP: Jump at your own risk and watch out for strong currents around the waterfall. El Salto is walkable from La Fortuna. Brad's advice is to not psyche yourself out; just go for it!
The most convenient way to explore La Fortuna is with a rental or private car. Public transportation to the main attractions is infrequent and Uber is expensive in the small town. Most of the sights aren't walkable making it difficult for budget travelers to get around.
Luckily we found an affordable and reliable solution! There is an unlimited shuttle via La Choza Inn Hotel for $20 USD per person which is valid during your stay in La Fortuna. The shuttle runs every day and allows for multiple rides throughout the day. You don't have to be a guest at the hotel to use the service. Staff will take your information and issue a wristband for you to wear.
The timetable above shows the departure times from La Fortuna and estimated arrival times at the attractions. Meet at the hotel and hop onto the white van after showing the driver your wristband. You can ask to be dropped off at an attraction that isn't on the timetable, such as Mirador El Silencio, as long as it is along the route.
If Monteverde is also on your itinerary, which I highly recommend, consider taking the Jeep-Boat-Jeep from La Fortuna. Additionally, you can choose to do the journey in reverse, from Monteverde to La Fortuna. A shuttle will pick you up from your hotel and take you to a port on Lake Arenal where you'll board a boat. After a scenic cruise, you'll take another shuttle to your final destination. Easy!
Jeep-Boat-Jeep companies can be found online and in town. Tickets on average cost $30 USD per person per way. There are two departures every day: morning and early afternoon. It's a hassle-free way to transit between two of the most popular destinations in Costa Rica!
La Fortuna checks all of the boxes for travelers looking for a grand adventure in Costa Rica. Serene hot springs, fantastic nature, inspiring views, and exotic animals await your arrival in the shadow of Arenal Volcano.
To wake up each day knowing the wondrous possibilities was intoxicating. I was eager to surround myself in the resonating pulse of the landscape and fully appreciate every single wildlife encounter. I felt a magical buzz fill my heart with gratitude during my time in La Fortuna. I have a sense you will too.