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.

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