With La Fortuna waterfall, natural hot springs, wildlife trails, Arenal volcano hikes and Mistico Hanging Bridges there’s a whole lot to do in La Fortuna, Costa Rica’s volcano town. Did I mention the sloths….? Yes, there’re sloths too. Read on for the best things to do in La Fortuna.
La Fortuna was the first stop on our Costa Rica road trip after spending our first night in Costa Rica’s capital, San José. We had one night at Aurola Holiday Inn Downtown San José. It was the perfect place to recover from our long flight and the time difference before setting out on our Costa Rica road trip. After a good night’s sleep we collected our hire car from near the airport and drove from San Jose to La Fortuna which took around 3.5 hours.
Check rates and availability at Aurola Holiday Inn Downtown San José
La Fortuna sits just on the boundary of Arenal National Park in Costa Rica under the smouldering eye of Arenal Volcano. Arenal’s eruption in 1968 spewed hot lava and ash across the lush countryside but avoided the town completely. In a nod to this stroke of luck they renamed the town La Fortuna. Well, that’s the story. La Fortuna is where our adventure begins…
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Things to do in La Fortuna, Costa Rica
We spent two days in La Fortuna but wished we’d stayed longer because there’s so much to do. The area is perfect if you’re looking for adventure in Costa Rica. There’s white water rafting, hiking, waterfalls, horse-riding, hanging bridges, wildlife and more. At end of an adventure-filled day you can soak your tired muscles in one of La Fortuna’s hot springs.
La Fortuna Waterfall
La Fortuna Waterfall
La Fortuna waterfall cascades over 70 metres into a narrow ravine. The turquoise Tenorio river, studded with boulders and overhung with vines, tumbles through a lush landscape of trees and vegetation. La Fortuna waterfall hike is absolutely beautiful. It takes a bit of effort but it’s well worth it.
You’ll start at the top of the gorge opposite the waterfall where there’s an observation platform with stunning views of the falls as they flow over the cliff. When you’ve taken your shots make your way down a pathway of around 500 steps. On your descent you’ll see butterflies, exotic flowers and you’ll hear the thundering roar of the waterfall.
La Fortuna Waterfall
It’s not advised to swim beneath La Fortuna Waterfall as the force could drag you under but you can swim and paddle in the river nearby which we did. Some large, flat boulders are the perfect place to lay out a towel and sunbathe or picnic if it’s not busy. Allow 2-3 hours for your visit.
Afterards you’ve got to climb all those steps back up to the top but it’s great exercise and there are plenty of benches to stop on the way. There are hand-rails and the steps are strong and sturdy. A visit to the waterfall is one of the top things to do in La Fortuna and was one of my favourite Arenal activities. Definitely do this!
Tenorio River at La Fortuna
La Fortuna Waterfall – Entrance fees and opening times
The entrance fee for La Fortuna Waterfall is $18 for foreign adults and $5 for children. Times are 7:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m daily. There’s plenty of parking space, a small café, souvenir shop and clean toilet facilities.
La Fortuna waterfall is run by a local non-profit organization with all proceeds being reinvested into local conservation efforts.
The waterfall is about a 15-minute drive from town. We had a hire car but if you don’t then you can use a taxi or take a tour. The waterfall is usually part of a two centre tour with Arenal’s Mistico Hanging Bridges or a ziplining activity.
Check prices and availability for the two centre tour for La Fortuna waterfall and Mistico Hanging Bridges
Arenal Hot Springs
La Fortuna is the top destination for hot springs in Costa Rica. Many of the springs were formed after the 1968 volcanic eruption. Hotels are built around some of the thermal springs but allow non-guests to use them for an entrance fee. This is often packaged together with a meal and there are various levels and options so prices vary. Here are a few different budget options.
Hot Springs in La Fortuna
The most luxurious by far is the Tabacon Springs which have a price to match and various packages included dinner packages. Tabacon has five pools with temps from 72ºf– 105fº, a cold water pool, swim up bar, waterslides and some secluded pools. As a benchmark the Full Day Pass (10am – 10pm) with 1 meal costs adults $94 and children $33.
A mid-range option is the Eco Termales Hot Springs who only allow up to 100 guests at a time. There are four pools with temperatures between 91ºf and 105ºf, a cascading waterfall and onsite restaurant at $29 per person
For the budget traveller Los Laureles are just $7.50 per person although it’s very basic. You’ll find two hot springs, a cold pool and waterslide. You can take your own food and drink.
Relaxing in the hot springs is a great way to end the day, especially if you‘ve been hiking Arenal volcano.
La Fortuna Tour – four activities on one 8.5 hour tour. Check rates and availability
Bolgarin Wildlife Trail and Sloth Sanctuary
On the main road near to La Fortuna you’ll see huge signs for the Sloth Sanctuary. Ignore them and head right into town to the best and most ethical sloth sanctuary. Bolgarin and his brother, are absolutely passionate about La Fortuna’s wildlife. The area used to be cultivated land but has been allowed to revert back to its natural state.
Gradually the wildlife moved back in and there are now more than 25 sloths. Bolgarin, or his brother, will personally guide you through the trail pointing out the wildlife, flora and fauna, most of which we’d have missed had we been on our own. On our visit we saw toucans, monkeys, two and three-toed sloths, blue jean frogs (poisonous) and this red-eyed frog below.
The sloths were high in the trees but Bolgarin used his powerful monoscope so we could get beautifully clear views. The images here were taken on my phone through the monoscope viewer. This meant we got a really good look at the sloths but they remained totally undisturbed by our visit.
I loved that the Bolgarin brothers are passionate about wildlife and have the animals’ welfare as their main consideration, allowing them to live in the wild in their natural habitat. That was the reason that helped make Bolgarin Sloth Sanctuary one of my favourite Arenal activities.
Arenal Volcano National Park Hiking Trails
For some of the best views of Arenal Volcano and its lava trails head out to Arenal Volcano National Park for a hike. There are a range of trails of varying lengths and difficulty and some excellent viewpoints.
Be sure to take a hat, plenty of water and wear closed toe shoes with a good grip. My Saloman walking shoeswere perfect.
Entrance Fee and Opening Times
Arenal Volcano National Park entrance fee is $15 for adult foreigners and $5 for children. The park is open daily 8 a.m to 4 p.m.
The roads up to the parking lot aren’t the best and we were glad of our 4×4 hire car. Even more so when we drove from La Fortuna to Monteverde Cloud Forest but that’s another story.
If you don’t have a hire car book a Volcano National Park Tour. Check rates and availability here.
You could book a taxi but you’ll need to get the driver’s number and pre-arrange your return journey to La Fortuna. Ultimately you’re better booking a tour because the cost is about the same and you’ll have the benefit of a guide.
Bloggers My Tanned Feet have written an excellent guide to hiking Arenal 1968 which I recommend.
The Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges
I loved the concept behind Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges: To protect flora and fauna while offering visitors a safe environment to discover the rain forest in a sustainable way.
We decided to pay the extra $14 each and go on a guided tour of Mistico Hanging Bridges and it was absolutely the right decision. We’d have had a very nice walk through the rainforest and seen monkeys, bugs and some butterflies if we’d gone it alone but we’d have missed a huge amount. Our eagle-eyed guide spotted loads of wildlife and really brought the tour to life with his knowledge and enthusiasm.
If it hadn’t been for him we’d have missed masses of wildlife. He pointed out a small colony of bats hanging out in a tree stump, marching leaf-cutter ants, a tarantula hiding in its lair, toads peeking out from holes in the bank and a viper lazily curled up high on the branch of a tree. We also saw a coati and lots of monkeys.
The 3.2 kilometre trail is made up of pathways with six hanging bridges up to 148 feet high and ten fixed ones. At times you’ll find yourself high in the rainforest tree canopy with incredible views of the rainforest and Arenal Volcano. There are two small waterfalls and heaps of wildlife spotting opportunities. We spent around three fascinating hours exploring the park.
Getting to Mistico Hanging Bridges
Mistico La Fortuna hanging bridges are very easy to miss. We drove straight past them and couldn’t find a turning point for about fifteen minutes to double back. From La Fortuna take Ruta 142 towards Lake Arenal you’ll find them directly at the end of the bridge where you’ll need to take a very sharp right. There are massive hoardings at the entrance and what looks like a small car park but is actually the entrance.
Entrance costs and opening hours for Mistico Hanging Bridges
Adults 19-64 years $26, Teens 11-18 years $16, Seniors over 65 $21, under 10s go free. The guided tours are extra. See the Mistico website for details
Mistico Park opens Monday – Sunday, from 6:00 a.m. to 3:50 p.m (last entry)
Kayak, Canoe or SUP on Lake Arenal
Lake Arenal is the biggest of Costa Rica’s lakes. It’s actually man-made and is beautifully calm. It’s right opposite Mistico Hanging Bridges so you could combine these two Arenal activities and make a day of it.
You’ll find the place to hire kayaks, canoes and paddle boards on the left just before the bridge as you head out of La Fortuna towards the lake. You can also take a sunset boat cruise, jet-ski, water-ski, windsurf or take the boat across to Monteverde.
Lake Arenal’s dam is vital to the country because it produces nearly 12% of Costa Rica’s electricity.
See more Lake Arenal Activities
Where to stay in La Fortuna, Costa Rica
Arenal Hotel Lomas del Volcan – Volcano view hotel
Our hotel in La Fortuna, Lomas del Volcan, is a volcano view hotel. The hotel is made up of individual lodges which sit on a lush green hillside planted with exotic plants and lawns. All the cottages have fabulous views of Arenal Volcano.
The bedroom was spacious with a high-ceiling in a rustic, wooden style chalet with two double beds, a desk with chair and a wardrobe and air-conditioning. Facilities included a hairdryer, safe and tea and coffee making facilities.
I loved the back porch with table and chairs which was a good place to have our morning coffee and watch Arenal Volcano emerge from the mists.The bathroom had a large shower, toilet, bidet and basin. Good quality towels and toiletries are provided.
There’s a pool and Jacuzzi which are surrounded by exotic planting, patio areas, sun beds, parasols and tables and chairs. The hotel bar is close to the pool and provides a range of branded and local drinks.
Breakfast and dinner are served in the hotel restaurant. We’d start each day with fruit and juice followed by a cooked breakfast of omelette, plaintains and rice and beans. In the evenings we headed into town for dinner so didn’t have a chance to try the dinner menu.
The hotel is not within walking distance of La Fortuna town but they’re happy to transfer you into town and pick you up again at pre-arranged times for US $5 each way. The drive takes around seven minutes. Great if you want to have a drink with your meal in La Fortuna.
Check rates and availability at Hotel Lomas del Volcan
So now you know what to do in La Fortuna what would be top of your wish list?
The next leg of our Costa Rica road trip was to drive from Arenal to Monteverde where we’d stay high up in the cloud forests.
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We were guest of Lomas del Volcan for two nights. All other expenses we paid for ourselves including flights, tours, meals and car hire.
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