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When you hear the words Costa Rica you probably picture beautiful beaches and brilliant blue water. But this Central American destination is about so much more than just beaches and surfing. If you want a full Costa Rican experience you have to spend some time exploring the interior of the country too.
Specifically, go hang out with a volcano or two! Where should you do that, you ask?
Well, in one of the best places to visit in Costa Rica of course, La Fortuna!
La Fortuna directly translates to “The Fortunate”. It got its name not just because it sits in one of the most beautiful spots in the country and is surrounded by rich and fertile farmlands, but also because it was spared by the last major eruption of its most volatile neighbor!
Visitors to La Fortuna have one of two reactions – it’s either “Wow! Look at that gorgeous volcano!” or “Huh, I thought there was supposed to be a volcano around here.” Never fear, there IS a volcano there. Sometimes it likes to play hide and seek in the clouds of the rainforest, but regardless, it’s there waiting to be explored!
You are to be forgiven if you are left wondering, “What does one do to fully appreciate a volcano?” After all, volcano visiting is not something you do every day.
So let me give you some idea of how to appreciate this enchanting land of volcanoes, rainforests, and waterfalls with the best things to do in La Fortuna, Costa Rica!
Things to do in La Fortuna, Costa Rica
The unique landscape surrounding La Fortuna creates the ultimate playground for visitors and travelers. In fact, there are tons of things to do in La Fortuna to keep you busy. And guaranteed, you’ll leave convinced that La Fortuna is a truly beautiful and exciting destination.
Here are 21 exciting things to do in La Fortuna, Costa Rica:
1. Soak in the EcoTermales Hot Springs
In this area of Costa Rica, there are two elements that dominate the landscape – water and volcanoes. When the two mix, what do we get? That’s right… Hot Springs!
When you arrive in La Fortuna you’ll notice there are lots of options for soaking in some of this glorious hot water. EcoTermales is not only one of the most beautiful, but it is in the most natural setting. Here you can enjoy hours of pools ranging from 90°F (32°C) to 106°F (39°C) all while watching monkeys and toucans play in the trees above you.
I should mention they also have two lovely bars, so if you enjoy a tropical drink with your soak you will not be disappointed.
You can enjoy either a day pass from 9 am to 4 pm or the evening pass from 4 pm to 9:30 pm for around $40 USD a person.
2. Make an “official” visit – Arenal National Park
This national park is dedicated to one of Costa Rica’s most active volcanoes. The Arenal Volcano had a major eruption as recently as 1968 and until a few years ago it was still possible to see lava burble up from the top! Today, the mountain just smokes from time to time but it is still an impressive sight.
You shouldn’t miss the chance to go see it up close and personal. You can do that by visiting Arenal National Park. Here you will find a comprehensive visitor center, trails for exploring the rainforest, and cloud forests that surround the volcano and lava fields. Obviously, the volcano is the star of this show but the entire park is not to be missed!
The park is open 8 am to 4 pm every day and the cost of admission is $15 USD for adults and $5 for children. To get to the park entrance, leave La Fortuna on Route 142 heading north for 17 km to Tilarán. Once you’ve reached the Tourist Police Station, turn 2 km to the south.
3. Go for a swim at the base of La Fortuna Waterfall
Costa Rica has so many beautiful waterfalls, but this one is right at the top of the list. It is a bit of a trek to get to the bottom but trust me – it is 100% worth it. And this is one of the few waterfalls in the country where there are manmade stairs to make the journey easier.
Once you’ve reached the bottom of the 530 steps you will be looking up at a 230ft waterfall! Watch closely and you’ll even see people zip line over the top of it.
After the descent, the water in the natural pool and river below looks so inviting you could just jump right in – and you can! La Fortuna Waterfall is easily one of the top things to do in La Fortuna.
Don’t forget your bathing suit because one of the purest pleasures in all of Costa Rica is jumping into that pool. I do recommend taking a towel and water as well… after all, you have to hike back up.
Entrance to the La Fortuna Waterfall is $18 USD for adults and $5 for children and you can pay with colones or a credit card. You can go anytime between 7:30 AM to 4:00 PM.
To get to the La Fortuna Waterfall from Rt 142 and the center of La Fortuna, turn left onto Rt 702 one block past the park. After 1.4 km turn right onto Diagonal 301. Proceed for 3.7km and follow signs.
If you are short on time you can combine a visit to Arenal National Park, La Fortuna Waterfall, and a visit to springs on this tour.
4. Visit the Baldi Hot Spring Resort
For an equally steamy, though perhaps a bit less “back to nature” soak – head over to Baldi Hot Springs and Resort. If you are feeling in the mood to splurge, they have resort rooms to rent here as well.
While the pools are very similar to EcoTermales in temperature, Baldi has turned the experience into more of an amusement park. There are plenty of quiet places to soak but there are also swim-up bars, pool lounges, and a large screen (GIANT!) television area – as well as a dedicated children’s area.
With 25 pools to choose from I promise you will find one with the right temp and surroundings.
Hot tip – it rains a LOT in this area so if you plan a day trip to a hot spring you might be disappointed when you wake up that morning to rain. Don’t be! There is something really awesome about sitting in one of these gorgeous hot pools while the cool rain comes down. Trust me!
5. Meet some new exotic friends – Sloth Watching Trail
You came to Costa Rica for the adventure and what Central American adventure would be complete without sloths?!
While sloths tend to be more prevalent on the Caribbean coast, there are definitely some to be seen in this rainforest as well. Just outside of La Fortuna is the Sloth Watching Trail. Despite the name, this is not just a trail but actually a tour company. They offer a number of experiences, including sloth watching (of course!), bird watching, and coffee/chocolate tours.
All of these experiences take place on a 30 acre protected area and are suitable for people of all levels of hiking abilities. There is plenty of hiking in the area for free, but this experience is exceptional and worth the price of admission!
I recommend starting out doing a guided tour and then making the most of the free trails with all the new information you will gain.
Tours are 1.5 hours and start on the hour between 7 am and 4 pm. The price is $45 USD per adult and $25 per child. Admission includes the tour company picking you up in La Fortuna.
6. Relax at the luxury Tabacon Thermal Spa and Resort
You know how I said you might want to splurge on a room at Baldi? Well if you are REALLY in the mood to pamper yourself, you should find yourself at Tabacon. This is the crème de la crème of the hot springs resorts in La Fortuna.
You don’t actually have to stay at the resort to have a special experience there. They offer day passes that range from just access to the hot pools to access plus lunch and/or dinner. Whichever way you go, this place is incredible… pricey, but incredible. If you ever wanted to feel like a pampered rock star, this will do it.
BUT… I have a secret! Just beside Tabacon, on Rt 142, there is a HOT RIVER that is free! That’s right – it is an actual flowing river that is heated by the volcano and you can just park beside it and go hang out all day! This is how the locals enjoy the hot waters and it is amazing – a top place to visit in La Fortuna!
7. Let all your troubles float away – Arenal Tubing
Did I mention there is a lot of water in this area?! If you’re tired of lounging around in hot springs or swimming below an enormous waterfall, how about floating down a tropical river?
There are a number of places in Costa Rica to go rafting but I like tubing a lot better. It’s more relaxing and you get to be in control! Two of my favorite things. Ah… to be laying on a tube looking up into the rainforest, is there anything better?
Contact Arenal Tubing online to make a reservation and before you know it you’ll be experiencing some gentle floats and some exhilarating rapids. This company provides tubes, snacks, and tubing guides. They’ll even pick you up and return you to your hotel in La Fortuna.
A floating trip will cost you $55 per person.
8. Get on your bike and ride!
Bike Arenal has SO many tours and experiences to offer! And not all of them involve bikes. But one of my very favorites is the bike tour from Arenal Volcano to El Castillo.
This easy half-day mountain bike tour takes you around the base of the volcano on a flat, hard-pack road. If you can ride a bike you can take this tour. At the end of this beautiful ride, you come to the charming mountain town of El Castillo. I’m about to tell you a lot more about this little gem!
The bike tour though is more about the journey than the destination. You get to ride through the rainforest with the volcano on one side and the massive Lake Arenal on the other.
This is NOT like any bike ride you’ve taken before – unless you normally see exotic birds, coatis, and monkeys while you’re riding your bike! It’s easily one of the best tours you can do in La Fortuna.
The tour departs at 8 am or 1 pm and lasts 4 hours. (For the best wildlife viewing, I recommend the morning ride.) For $80 a person you will get a tour guide, bike rental and safety equipment, transportation to the start, and a picnic on the shores of Lake Arenal.
9. Horseback ride to the Volcano
Maybe you don’t feel like doing all the work on a bike? How about you get yourself a partner to handle most of the work? Not all locals are people – why not let a friendly horse show you the sights? Arenal Wilberth Stables will take you on a one or two-hour tour by horseback to the base of the volcano.
One of the things I really like about this outfit is they take the time to make sure you are comfortable with their horses before you head off on a leisurely ride through the rainforest and their impressive gardens. And more importantly, the horses are obviously well cared for and loved.
When you book if you are interested in hearing about the history of the area and learning more about the plants and animals – and you don’t speak Spanish – be sure to request that your guide speak English. Most do, but it never hurts to be sure.
Tours are offered at 7:30 am, 11 am, and 2:30 pm. An hour tour is $40 per person and a two-hour tour is $65.
10. Get a bird’s eye view – Sky Trek
So by now you may have enjoyed a swim, soaked in hot springs, hiked to a waterfall, biked or ridden to a volcano, well, how about flying through the treetops?!
If you’re up for it, zip lining in the rainforest is one of the most unforgettable experiences of a Costa Rican vacation… and Sky Trek Adventures is one of the best.
But it’s not just about zipping down with this adventure, it’s also about getting up there in the first place. The whole thing starts with an exhilarating 2600ft aerial tramway ride to the top of the “course”. Honestly, I enjoyed this as much as riding down and it alone is one of the best things to do in La Fortuna!
This is one of the only ways I know of that you can be up at the top of the rainforest. I highly recommend experiencing this ecosystem from a bird’s eye view and get the thrill of zipping through it a bit like a howler monkey on the run.
Related read: One of the best things to do in Monteverde is also the zipping adventure.
11. Wander the Arenal Observatory and Trails
As you can see by now, there are a LOT of things to do in the La Fortuna /Arenal area… and a lot of them require money. Not this one – and that isn’t even the best thing about it!
First, it’s important to say that you absolutely should consider staying in the lodge here, in which case of course it does require money. It is a beautiful lodge in one of the most entrancing places on Earth. But you don’t have to stay to enjoy this 800+ acre wonderland.
Arenal Observatory invites visitors to visit and walk any of their five well-maintained trails that traverse their property. Whether you want to look for birds, go to a hidden waterfall, explore the treetops or just wander through the property – this place is a wonderland. And did I mention it’s free?!
You get to the Arenal Observatory and Trails via the La Fortuna – El Castillo road. Leave La Fortuna on Route 142 heading north for 17 km to Tilarán. Once you’ve reached the Tourist Police Station, turn left and follow the road toward El Castillo and go 5km, then continue on to Calle Arenal Observatory Lodge and follow the signs.
12. Discover the Butterfly Conservatory
Finally, El Castillo! As you follow the La Fortuna – El Castillo road along the shores of Lake Arenal you come to this small mountain town. For such a small place it sure packs a big punch on things to see and do. There are lots of places to stay in this town – ranging from a cool hostel to high-end bed and breakfasts so be sure to consider it as a destination.
The absolute gem of Castillo however is the Butterfly Conservatory. Costa Rica has a large number of butterfly gardens – you can find one in practically every sizable town.
But this one is extra special. It is the largest in the country and you can tell immediately it is a passion project.
Not only do you get to see a huge variety of butterflies (the glass wings are my favorite), but also frogs, turtles, and a few snakes. For me though, it is the place itself that is the draw. The land is reclaimed farmland, that actually was covered with junked cars and other debris when the owner bought it. Over the years, it has been allowed to return to its natural state and it is an incredible piece of new rainforest.
So go for the butterflies for sure, but be sure to enjoy the plants, trees, ponds, and the river. And don’t forget to look up. A large troop of howler monkeys calls this piece of paradise home.
To get to The Butterfly Conservatory, take the La Fortuna- El Castillo road. Turn left on to Calle Real El Castillo and proceed up the mountain about 2 km. The price of admission is around $15 and you should plan on spending 1 – 2 hours.
13. Grab a burrito, and stay for the view at La Ventanita
Just before you get to the Butterfly Conservatory you will pass La Ventanita on the volcano side of the road. Do NOT miss the opportunity to stop in for a burrito or a pineapple smoothie… maybe a strawberry milkshake? The options are always good.
The food is here is delicious and the service very friendly, but come for the view! Sitting on the patio of this little restaurant is one of the purest pleasures of the Arenal area. You will be treated to a stunning, unobstructed view of the volcano in all its glory and moods.
Regardless of whether you visit anything else in El Castillo, a stop at La Ventanita after visiting the Observatory or zip-lining is a trip you will remember.
14. Immerse yourself in the (perm) culture at Gacilana Permanculture
Just up the mountain from La Ventanita and The Butterfly Conservatory, you will find a hidden gem in Gavilana Permaculture. This is a small shop/school run by a couple named Tomas and Hannah and their son Noah.
Hannah and Tomas have made it a mission to show people how to live sustainably off of the abundance of riches Costa Rica provides. They will take you on a tour of their gardens or on a longer trek through the untouched parts of the Arenal rain and cloud forests.
Stop in and see what they have to offer! This is one of the most unqiue experiences in La Fortuna and Arenal.
If you are looking for something a bit more formal, contact them and find out about classes and workshops they might be offering during your stay in the Arenal area. Ever wanted to learn about fermentation? This is the place for you!
15. Toast the natural and manmade wonders of Arenal at Lake Arenal Hotel and Brewery
Last but in no way least, is the brewery. Costa Rica has not escaped the craft brew craze and I for one am thrilled by that.
Important to note that this hotel/brewery/restaurant is on the far side of Lake Arenal and that puts it about an hour and a half away from La Fortuna. So I say, grab a room and stay! And trust me, the drive from Fortuna to this side of the lake is not to be missed.
Once you get here, you will be on a 15-acre organic farm and will be enjoying views across the lake that reach from one end to another. Sunset from this spot is one you won’t forget.
Whether you stay the night or just come for a burger and beer – I recommend the Jungle Dunkel! But go ahead and grab a beer flight and try them all. Yummy!
To get to the Lake Arenal Hotel and Brewery just get on Rt 142 in La Fortuna and follow it around the lake. It’s around 65 kilometers to the spot and there are plenty of signs!
Where to Stay in La Fortuna, Costa Rica
La Fortuna is a beautiful place and finding a great place to lay your head is very easy – there just so many great options!
Of course, if I’ve already mentioned a few great places above such as at one of the hot springs or the brewery outside of town. However, there are lots of other great places such as Casa Torre Eco- Lodge which is located on the outskirts with epic views of Arenal Volcano. The best part is it’s a budget option with rooms starting at $30 USD. If you love yoga this is your top budget choice!
For the luxurious traveler, I have two great choices. The first is actually not expensive at all but it’s still luxurious. La Finca Lodge is located around 20 minutes from La Fortuna, however, this lodge is surrounded by nature. The rooms are beautiful and they even have a pool.
The second place is certainly only for those wanting to treat themselves. Noah’s Forest by Tifakara is seriously a dream with luxury rooms, a pool, and an exceptional breakfast included. If you can afford $200+ a night, check this hotel out!
Are you starting your Costa Rica travels in San Jose? If so, be sure to read our blog about where to stay in San Jose, Costa Rica for detailed info on the most exciting (and safest) areas!
Before you go…
La Fortuna is one of my favorite places to visit in Costa Rica. Not only is it home to so many amazing activities but the views alone are worth coming all this way.
Thanks so much for reading! I hope this blog has helped plan your upcoming visit to La Fortuna, Costa Rica! If it has be sure to check out all our Costa Rica blogs and these articles below!