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Costa Rica: Alajuela – Ten great things to do in La Fortuna

The 1968 eruption of the Arenal Volcano forever changed the landscape, geology and character of the area around it. Today, Arenal and La Fortuna is a mecca for tourism. In this post, we recommend 10 great things to do when visiting La Fortuna / Arenal

Originally called “El Burío”, La Fortuna was founded in the mid 1930s by settlers that came from Ciudad Quesada, Grecia (canton), Alajuela and other parts of the region. In 1968, the Arenal Volcano erupted to the west, causing extensive damage and casualties, including 82 deaths. The eruption did not reach the village of La Fortuna. This catastrophe, nonetheless, changed the geography of the whole region, making it one of the most visited tourist destinations in Costa Rica.

La Fortuna is about 2.5 hours from San Jose. It’s known as a gateway to Arenal Volcano National Park, comprising 2 volcanoes. Active Arenal Volcano is still laced with lava flows. Hot springs dot the foot of the volcano, on the thermal Tabacón River. Dormant Chato Volcano has a crater lake and rainforest trails leading to La Fortuna Waterfall, with its natural pool. The Arenal Volcano National Park also encompasses Lake Arenal, which at 85 square kilometres (32 square miles) is the largest lake in Costa Rica.

Ten best things to do in La Fortuna

La Fortuna is an excellent home base to explore the surrounding natural attractions and is known as the adventure capital of Costa Rica. 

Here are some ideas of things to do during your stay in La Fortuna.

1. ARENAL VOLCANO

Located 15 kilometres from Fortuna between the foothills of the Cordillera de Tilaran mountain range and the San Carlos plains, Arenal Volcano National Park covers 12,124-hectare and is one of the most visited destinations in the Northern Zone. We decided to take a trail on a private reserve, known as Arenal 1968, which offers impressive views of Arenal Volcano and lava fields. This park got its name from the Arenal Volcano eruption of 1968 which was one of the most important and crucial events in Costa Rica’s history.

2. HOT SPRINGS

The small town of La Fortuna, Costa Rica sits at the base of Arenal Volcano. A massive eruption in 1968 wiped out the town of La Fortuna, along with two neighbouring towns. The town rebuilt, tapping into the underground river that was now being geothermally heated by the volcano to create dozens of natural hot springs in La Fortuna.

The hot springs in La Fortuna range from luxury to completely free.

3. MISTICO ARENAL HANGING BRIDGES

Touring the jungle in Arenal is one of the most popular things to go in the area. Mistico Hanging bridges allows you to walk through the canopy of the beautiful Costa Rican rainforest. 

The 3.2 kilometres (2 miles) hanging bridges trail has 10 regular bridges and 6 hanging ones with the tallest standing at 148 feet. The bridges allow for spectacular views of the rainforest and Arenal Volcano.

The hanging bridge trail is extremely well maintained and the bridges are in excellent shape so this is a hike for all ages. It is not too difficult: no steep hills and not many steps.

4. BOGARIN TRAIL

The Bogarin Trail is located less than one kilometre (0.6 miles) west of the central park in downtown La Fortuna. You can easily walk there if you don’t have a car.

The entrance is on a side street off the main road, Route 142. If you are heading west on Route 142 towards the volcano, the street is on your right just after La Forchetta Ristorante. It is on the same side road as Arenal Backpackers Resort.

The Bogarin Trail property has one main loop that is 2.5 km (1.5 miles) with some connecting trails that crisscross through. The trails are very flat, hard-packed dirt. They are well maintained and perfect for a stroller or even a wheelchair.

You can walk around on a self-guided tour or take a guided tour; either group or in private. The guided tours will give you the best value as the guide will be able to find things we regular folks will never find.

5. FORTUNA WATERFALL

Set just outside the town of La Fortuna, this 200-ft waterfall is a great place to picnic, swim or take photographs. The falls emerge from a thick jungle before plummeting into an emerald green pool below. 

You can cool off by swimming in the chilly waters of the pool below the falls.

The falls can be reached on foot or on horseback. The trail runs through pasture and rainforest, offering up chances to spot toucans, monkeys, and other tropical creatures. It takes about 15 minutes to hike down the set of stairs to the waterfall and an hour to arrive by horse.

A local non-profit association administers the waterfall. The entrance fee is $18, with all proceeds being reinvested into local conservation efforts.

6. LAKE ARENAL

Lake Arenal sits beneath the majestic Arenal Volcano in the northern part of Costa Rica. It is 85 square kilometres, man-made and is 30 to 60 meters deep, depending on the season. It is the biggest lake in Costa Rica and provides essential hydroelectric power generation for the country.

Year-round activities on Lake Arenal include fishing, boat tours, kayaking, sailboarding and windsurfing. The windsurfing is particularly good, as the lake has warm waters and strong winds – two ingredients that are indispensable for premier windsurfing locations. The fishing is superb as well. Rainbow bass, a member of the cichlid family, are especially prolific in the lake’s waters.

7. WHITE WATER RAFTING RIO BALSA

Looking for some thrills, spills and an all around good time on the river? If so, you will love whitewater rafting on the Rio Balsa!

The day starts off when you are picked up from your Arenal Volcano area hotel. After picking up fellow adventurers you will be brought to the river. The drive from La Fortuna takes about 50 minutes, passing through small rural villages, mountains, and forests. When you arrive at the river, you will be provided with a helmet and paddle. Your guide will explain the basics of rafting and safety techniques. Then you will be on your way to adventure!

8. RIO CELESTE

The Celeste River in Costa Rica is located in the Guatuso canton, in Alajuela province and in the well-known Tenorio Volcano National Park, which is part of the Arenal and Tempisque conservation area. The river is formed by the convergence of two others, the Buena Vista and the Quebrada Agria, both of which run through the slopes of the volcano itself.

What impresses the most is the 14km stretch of the Celeste River that is intense blue in colour as a result of the silica particles suspended in the water.

9. RÍO FRÍO

Stretching across northwestern Costa Rica and into Nicaragua is the calm Río Frío. The most visited portion of the river is certainly the section that goes through the Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge, a great destination for river safaris and wildlife viewing.

The mellow river is surrounded by wetlands that get flooded in the rainy season, forming a vast lake. The most scenic stretch of the river is the Cano Negro portion, a scene reminiscent of the Florida everglades. This area is also home to an abundance of underwater wildlife including freshwater sharks, caimans and hundreds of amphibians and reptiles.

Safari floats, which provide fantastic wildlife and scenic views, are the most popular activity on Río Frío. But the river is also great for fishing. Snook, guapote, alligator gar, drum and tarpons that have been known to weigh as much as 220 lbs (100 kg) all populate this river’s waters.

10. VENADO CAVES

This 2,700-metre stretch of limestone caves is thought to have formed some 15 to 20 million years ago, the result of both tectonic shifting and a forceful underground river. After their formation, the caves remained below sea level for a long amount of time. Finally brought to the surface following further tectonic movement, the caves were eventually stumbled upon by the Guatuzos aborigines.

During your guided tour of the caves, you’ll see limestone rock formations, bats, monochrome frogs, fish, spiders, crickets, and a variety of marine fossils. You may get a little wet – due to the waterfall and river – so it’s advised to wear light, quick-drying clothes.

Planning your visit to La Fortuna

La Fortuna sits an approximate 3-hour drive from Costa Rica’s SJO Airport (near San Jose) and LIR Airport (near Liberia).

There are several travel options from these locations

A shared shuttle ride will likely cost between $50 – $60. A private shuttle will likely be around $200 from San Jose and $270 from Liberia.

There is a public bus service from San Jose to La Fortuna. At $5 it is the cheapest travel option and will take around 4-hours leaving from the bus terminal. There’s only one daily direct bus available.

Alternatively, you can rent a car. Before renting a car read this post with 11 things you should know about renting a car and driving in Costa Rica.

Best time to visit La Fortuna

  • The best months for good weather in La Fortuna are January, February, March, April and December
  • On average, the warmest months are March, April, May, June, July, August,
  • The rainiest months are June, July, August and October

Where to stay in La Fortuna

1. HOTEL ARENAL XILOPALO

During our visit to La Fortuna, we stayed at the Hotel Arenal Xilopalo, a five-minute walk from the heart of the town.

Located in Fortuna, 3.5 miles from La Fortuna Waterfall and 3 miles from Kalambu Hot Springs, Arenal Xilopalo has accommodations with free WiFi, air conditioning, a shared lounge and a garden.

All units come with a seating area, a flat-screen TV with cable channels and a private bathroom with free toiletries and a shower. There’s also a kitchen in some of the units equipped with a microwave and fridge.

The lodge offers a continental or buffet breakfast.

 

2. TABACÓN HOT SPRINGS & SPA

This 5-star resort features hot spring baths, sauna, massage services, luxury spa treatments and 5 swimming pools, Tabacón Thermal Resort & Spa is a 15-minute drive from the Arenal Volcano National Park.

The rooms and suites offer modern décor, garden views, air conditioning, flat-screen cable TV, a coffee maker and a mini-bar. The bathrooms come with bathrobes, slippers and free toiletries. The suites also feature a living area.

Guests can enjoy a swim-up bar, lobby bar and Los Tucanes restaurant and Ave del Paraiso restaurant serving local dishes and international gourmet cuisine. The property also offers free valet parking, a welcome cocktail and unlimited access to its on-site hot springs.

Activities such as volcano tours, rappeling, hiking through suspension bridges and rafting can be also arranged.

This complex is a 20-minutes drive from La Fortuna main square and 1 hour’s drive from Venado Caves

3. ARENAL BACKPACKERS RESORT

Arenal Backpackers Resort is a 5-star property in Costa Rica. This beautiful hostel/resort has a spectacular view of the Arenal Volcano and is just a few minute walk from the town centre and bus stop. The open setting of the property also makes it the perfect place for meeting fellow travellers.

Facilities include: Pristine swimming pool, with wet bar and sun loungers, A large garden with hammocks, Games: cards, board games, twister, pool table, slip n slide, etc, Information and Tour Desk, Restaurant, Fully bilingual staff and 24-hour security

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