8 Tips for La Fortuna & Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica

La Fortuna is a unique place as it’s one of the most beautiful destinations to admire the lush jungle of Costa Rica. This village is located next to the active Arenal Volcano, which had a major eruption in the year 2000. The Arenal Volcano stands at a height of 1633 meters (5357 feet), often shrouded in clouds at its peak. Unfortunately, climbing Arenal is not allowed, but the many exciting activities in the area more than make up for it. Welcome to La Fortuna, the jungle of Costa Rica!

Tip: La Fortuna is also a popular destination for locals looking for a weekend getaway, so it’s a good idea to avoid the weekend if possible. The area tends to be busier during weekends. If you do visit during the weekend, consider starting your activities early in the day.

How to Get to La Fortuna?

Most people travel from Monteverde or San José to reach La Fortuna. Below are the options for getting there from these destinations.

From Monteverde to La Fortuna

By local bus: Taking the local bus might take a bit longer due to the transfer times not aligning well. The total journey could take around 5 to 7 hours, depending on waiting times. Start by taking the bus from Monteverde to Tilaran. Then, at the Tilaran bus station, catch the bus to La Fortuna.

By minivan: Opting for a minivan will take you directly to your hotel in La Fortuna. The total journey takes around 3.5 hours. Check the current departure times and secure your ticket in advance.

By rental car: If you’re driving a rental car, expect to spend about 3 hours on the road. The route covers around 100 kilometers, but due to mountainous terrain, it takes a bit longer. Take your time and enjoy the beautiful drive!

From San José to La Fortuna

By local bus: There’s one local bus departing from San José to La Fortuna daily. This bus leaves from this bus station, operated by Autotransportes San Carlos. This bus makes multiple stops, so the journey takes around 4 to 5 hours, depending on traffic. Check the current departure times here.

By minivan: Traveling comfortably from San José to La Fortuna is possible with a minivan. This journey takes about 3.5 hours, and you’ll be taken from hotel to hotel. Check the current departure times and reserve your ticket in advance.

By rental car: If you’re driving a rental car, expect the journey to take around 3 hours.

The Differences Between La Fortuna and Monteverde

When you’re preparing for your trip through Costa Rica, you might think that La Fortuna and Monteverde are two destinations that are quite similar. Both places are known for offering various outdoor activities like zip-lining and walking across suspension bridges. However, there are clear differences in terms of nature and the quality of activities. For instance, the zip-line experience is better in Monteverde, while the suspension bridges in La Fortuna are more picturesque. In Monteverde, you can admire the unique cloud forest, whereas La Fortuna is home to more tropical plants that thrive in warm temperatures. If you have the time, it’s definitely recommended to visit both places.

What to Do in La Fortuna?

La Fortuna offers several amazing attractions. Here are some activities you definitely shouldn’t miss.

Swimming at La Fortuna Waterfall

Costa Rica is abundant in waterfalls, and La Fortuna Waterfall is no exception. Standing at 70 meters tall, it’s nestled within the tropical jungle. From the entrance, it’s a 600-meter descent down a long staircase. This approximately half-hour walk leads to a natural spectacle as you fully experience the waterfall’s power. To the left of the waterfall, you can swim in the refreshing and clear green water, so make sure to bring your swimsuit. The waterfall is open from 7:00 AM to 5:00 PM (last entry at 4:00 PM). Wear good shoes for the walk, as the steps can be slippery. The entrance ticket is relatively expensive ($18), but part of the proceeds contributes to trail maintenance and nature preservation.

Tip: Avoid swimming too close to the waterfall, as the current is strong.

Walking Across the Mistico Hanging Bridges

No matter what else you choose to do in La Fortuna, don’t miss out on the Mistico Hanging Bridges. We’ve visited several parks with hanging bridges in Costa Rica, but nowhere have we found nature to be as impressive as at Mistico. Walk through the treetops of the jungle and marvel at the tropical rainforest. The bridges are not too wide, which gives a more adventurous feeling compared to many other parks.

With a bit of luck, you might encounter snakes, monkeys, colorful frogs, and tropical birds along the way. Especially if you go with a guide, you have a good chance of spotting wildlife. With this guide, you’ll enjoy a 2.5-hour walk through Mistico, learning a lot about Costa Rica’s wildlife and nature. The entrance fee ($28) for the park, the guide, and transportation to and from your hotel are included in the price. If you prefer exploring the park on your own, arrive early to avoid crowds and fully enjoy the beautiful nature. The walk takes about 1.5 hours in total, and it’s a half-hour drive from La Fortuna.

Enjoying the Free Hot Spring at La Fortuna

Thanks to the Arenal Volcano, there are many natural hot springs around La Fortuna. Many of these hot springs are part of expensive resorts where you have to pay a significant amount to relax in the warm water. Luckily, there’s also a free hot spring where you can bathe in the river amidst nature. A unique experience and pure enjoyment.

This is the location of the free hot spring. From the road, walk through the bushes downhill until you reach the river. Then, you can follow the river on both sides of the road and find a nice spot. The left side has a calmer river flow, while on the right, natural jacuzzi-like pools have formed due to the current. The free hot spring can get quite busy in the afternoon, so for the best experience, it’s worth going early in the morning. We were there at 7:00 AM and had this beautiful spot all to ourselves, making it extra special.

Adventure Bag: Unfortunately, some people leave litter at such places, and because it’s free, there’s no one to clean up the waste. Want to earn some karma points? Bring a plastic bag and collect the trash you come across. This way, these spots stay beautiful for everyone, and you’re helping nature out.

Wellness at Tabacon Spa & Hot Springs

Pamper Yourself at Tabacon Spa & Hot Springs. If you want to treat yourself, La Fortuna is the perfect place to do so. Thanks to the many hot springs, there are numerous spas and luxury resorts to choose from. The most beautiful spa is Tabacon Spa, offering various pools with different temperatures. The hot spring water is natural, but the pools and the garden are designed for a more comfortable and relaxing water experience. Of course, you can also indulge in massages and other wellness treatments here. It’s the ultimate enjoyment! Entrance starts from $70, including lunch or dinner.

Tip: If you want to pamper yourself even more and have a generous budget, you can also stay at Tabacon. It’s certainly not cheap, but it’s exceptionally beautiful, and access to the spa is included with your stay.

Take a Day Trip to Rio Celeste

About a one and a half hour drive from La Fortuna, you’ll find Tenorio Volcano National Park. This beautiful park is home to a unique river called Rio Celeste. The river has an azure blue color due to two different rivers merging with volcanic minerals in the water. This creates a chemical reaction that gives the water its almost unnatural blue hue. There’s a single hiking trail in the national park, about six kilometers long, which takes around three hours to complete. During the hike, you’ll encounter beautiful spots, including a bright blue lagoon and a viewpoint. The highlight is the breathtaking Rio Celeste waterfall, often considered the most beautiful in Costa Rica. The trail has some elevation changes and a bit of climbing, so a basic level of fitness is required.

If you’re interested in learning more about this unique natural wonder and want to spot wildlife along the way, it’s great to hike with a guide through the park. The enthusiastic guide will provide you with a wealth of information about the nature and this unique place. The entrance to Tenorio Volcano National Park, transportation to and from La Fortuna, and a delicious lunch are included in the price. You can also visit Rio Celeste independently if you have a rental car and prefer not to have a guide.

Note: During heavy rainfall, the river’s color can temporarily turn brown, which might affect your visit. If there’s prolonged rain in the days leading up to your trip, you can cancel the above tour free of charge up to 24 hours in advance.

Hike Around Arenal Volcano

While you can’t climb Arenal Volcano itself, there are beautiful trails around the volcano. Arenal National Park borders the volcano and offers several different-length hikes. Many viewpoints provide excellent views of Arenal Volcano.

The Arenal 1968 Trail is a stunning trail to explore. During the hike, you’ll traverse through a cloud forest, walk over the lava from the 1968 eruption, and come across a fantastic viewpoint. The trail is a total of 4.7 km (2.9 miles) long. It’s one of the most famous trails, so the entrance fee is a bit higher. The Mirador El Silencio hike takes you to one of the most beautiful viewpoints in the area. It’s a lesser-known trail, meaning you’ll encounter fewer people while hiking. The entrance fee here is also lower. There are multiple routes of varying lengths. You can hike both trails without a guide.

Adrenaline Kick: Rafting or Canyoning Through the Jungle

Another exciting way to experience Costa Rica’s wilderness is by rafting on the wild river. Get ready to paddle through rapids and enjoy the lush jungle on the calmer stretches. For even more adrenaline, you can join the canyoning tour. This involves walking, climbing, and scrambling through a river, encountering multiple waterfalls, and rappelling down them.

Tip: Both activities are not too extreme and are fun for families with a healthy dose of bravery.

Best Restaurants in La Fortuna

Organico Fortuna – This is the place to go if you want to eat delicious and healthy food. The sandwiches, bowls, and smoothies are delightful, and it’s a cozy place to sit. Unfortunately, the food is a bit pricey, but the quality is excellent.
Red Frog Coffee Roaster – Order the best coffee in La Fortuna (and perhaps all of Costa Rica!) here.
Soda Viquez – Enjoy delicious Costa Rican food at a very reasonable price.
Restaurante Nanku – This is a cozy restaurant to enjoy a meal or cocktails in the evening, often accompanied by live music.
Kappa Sushi Fortuna – Delicious sushi and friendly service.

Our Favorite Places to Stay in La Fortuna

Looking for a cozy accommodation where you can easily connect with other travelers? Then Selina is the best choice in La Fortuna. It exudes a super relaxed vibe, has a nice pool, and is located right in the town. Every morning, you can join a yoga class, and in the evenings, there’s often live music or a DJ. If you prefer a tranquil hotel, then Roca Negra Del Arenal is perfect. The hotel offers a fantastic view of the volcano, and there’s a beautiful garden with plenty of flowers, plants, tropical birds, and other animals. You’ll stay in a spacious room with a small terrace and a hammock. For warm days, there’s a pool, and for cooler days, a jacuzzi. La Tigra Rainforest Lodge is also among our absolute favorite places. Here, you’ll sleep in a unique treehouse in the heart of the jungle with a fantastic view. At night, you can admire the starry sky, and in the morning, wake up to the sounds of the jungle. What an unforgettable experience! The lodge organizes exciting excursions for exploring the jungle.

Please note: La Tigra Rainforest Lodge is not located in the town itself but in the vicinity of La Fortuna, so it’s recommended to book this lodge only if you have a rental car.