La Fortuna and Arenal Costa Rica Travel Guide
I remember the first time I made my way to the town of La Fortuna in Costa Rica’s highlands. I was told of a volcano that stood tall above the town, hot springs that flow from the heated mountain, and of a hidden waterfall hidden among the cloud forest. It seemed like a dream destination, the thing out of storybooks, the type of place only the very fortunate get to visit. However, when I got to La Fortuna, fresh off a visit to the sunny coast, I was met by cold air, rain and the view of nothing but clouds which touched to the very altitude I walked along.
Rather than tucking my tail between my legs and letting my luck get to me I decided to explore through the rain. I hiked down to the waterfall in the rain and as I arrived the sun popped out giving me ample opportunity to go for a swim. And I’ll never forget the moment when I walked into town to notice the clouds were separating for a moment allowing me a glance at the great volcano. It was glorious, although it disappeared back into the white shelter after just a short cameo.
When I first visited La Fortuna it was a sleepy town with just one hostel and a bunch of 5 star resorts. It has now erupted to a cloudforest getaway in the mountains. Still, there are few places in the country where you’ll get such a great feel for the cloud forest environment.
Time Needed: 3-5 Days
Backpacker’s Budget: $50-55 a day (less if you don’t plan on rafting or visiting the hot springs)
Things to do in La Fortuna
- Volcano Trekking:
- Waterfalls: My favourite thing to do in Arenal is to hike down to La Catarata de la Fortuna. There are two waterfalls that stream out of the valley wall and a bunch of swimming holes just down stream (you can’t swim directly under the falls). At last check the price to get into the falls area was about $7
- Canyoning: One of my favourite activites in the world, and the perfect setting for it. Explore the canyons from the waters. It’s almost like rafting without a raft.
- Rafting: If you prefer to be in a raft, there are some great rafting rivers nearby. But like most activities in La Fortuna, it’s quite over-priced. You’ll be paying about $65 for class 3 rapids and $90 for class 4 rapids. That being said, the rapids are awesome and the trips are exceptional.
- Hot Springs: After all that activity you’re probably due for a soak. However, for most backpackers, taking in one of the hot springs is a bit of a splurge, but it is worth it. The most amazing hot springs are Tabacon which you’ll have to catch a taxi or mini-bus to since they are about 15km out of town. The cost of entry at last check was about $60 which is a bit insane. However, if you visit after 7pm you get a discount of about 25%. If you can’t afford that, try to make a reservation at Eco-Thermales nearby which only charges $25 but is far less extravagant.
Where to Eat in La Fortuna
If you’re eating on a budget in La Fortuna there are lots of places that serve the traditional dish of Casado at a good price. If your budget has a little bit of room to play then the options are quite vast.
- Soda La Parada: Right on the edge of central park this is a great place to eat on the cheap while still having great people watching capabilities. Most of the fare is local.
- Chelas: This is almost like a Costa Rican version of a tapas bar. You can get meals, but most of the things on the menu are small dishes. It is quite good and wont trash your wallet either.
- Mirador Arenal Steakhouse: If you’re craving steak this is the best bet in town. However, it is a bit more expensive as a steak dish and a side with a beer cost me $14 with a tip.
Where to Stay in La Fortuna
Like I mentioned in the intro, the first time I visited La Fortuna there was just one hostel. What’s more, is that hostel was still under construction. Now there are a number of other options, but what is amazing is that the best place in town is still the first. The Arenal Backpackers’ Resort is a great place with a cool vibe and, best of all, proper warm showers.
Getting out of Town
La Fortuna is most often visited from San Jose or Monteverde.
- There are regular buses to the capital which is about 4 hours away.
- If you are going to Monteverde it’s much farther than it appears on the map because of the volcano and lake. It will take you about 8 hours to get there by bus. However, there are lots of options to take a mini-bus then boat then mini-bus to get there in about 4 hours (they call it jeep-boat-jeep). If you’re really on a budget though you might want to do as I did and just suck it up and take the bus.