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.
Bathing in the hot springs of La Fortuna, Costa Rica are one of the most popular things to do in this mountain town. There are options to enjoy these relaxing waters to suit all budgets
Arenal has in recent times been the most active volcano in Costa Rica, as recent as in the last decade red lava flows could be seen flowing from the perfect cone of Arenal, although it has been several years since the last eruption. No one can predict when this quiet cycle will end, and the glowing red-orange cone will once again dominate the night sky but even when it’s not erupting spectacularly the peak is still an imposing and beautiful sight.
The Arenal Volcano eruption of 1968 was one of the most important and crucial events in Costa Rica’s history. The eruption destroyed 3 towns and killed several people, but it also changed the topography of the area. The forest on the west side of the volcano was destroyed by the subsequent lava flows. It also created a new natural resource for the town of La Fortuna: thermal hot springs. There are dozens of hot springs in La Fortuna, which range from luxury to completely free.
Below is a map of the Hot Springs in La Fortuna.
LUXURY HOT SPRINGS
Tabacón Thermal Resort & Spa
The Tabacón Thermal Resort & Spa is a 5-star hotel and also one of the most popular Arenal hot springs in La Fortuna.
Located in the heart of the jungle, the Tabacon hot springs are fed by five different springs with naturally heated and mineralized water. Waterfalls flow through dozens of pools at different temperatures, so you can find one with just the right amount of heat for you.
I decided that we would go to Tabacón as day visitors. We had read that Tabacón can get busy, and people recommended booking ahead, especially if like us you opted for the spa and dinner package. So, that is what I did. As it happened the day we went was grey and rainy, so we might have been able to walk in.
The grounds of Tabacón are beautifully maintained and feel very private and tropical. There are many pools, and as you ascend the hill, following the course of the stream the waters get progressively hotter. As we like our hot springs on the warmer side we headed as far as we could up the hill. There were pools further up, but these were reserved for the guests of the hotel. As the weather was inclement, we ended with pools completely to ourselves, which made up for sitting in the rain – it doesn’t make too much difference when you are wet anyway! The pools were obviously man-made, but they had done a good job of making them feel natural and the beautiful gardens made it all feel very special.
We soaked happily for a couple of hours until it was time for our spa appointment. I had reserved us to have a couples massage in one of the outdoor open-air cabinas. Initially, we were greeted inside and given a tasty, but healthy cocktail before being taken outside.
For the next hour, we were treated to the most wonderful massage.
After our spa treatment, we headed to the restaurant for dinner. We had told them that we were vegans when I had made the reservation, which seemed to be a bit of a surprise to the restaurant staff. Fortunately, they were able to pull together a meal for us, but it was a little meagre compared to the food that was being served to others in the restaurant who were not vegan or vegetarian. Somewhat disappointing!
Tabacon Hot Springs Day Pass: If you don’t plan on staying at the Tabacon resort, you can purchase a day pass to visit the Tabacon hot springs. All Day Passes include at least one meal. The full-day rate with one meal is $85. Children from 6-11 are $38 and children five and under are free with a paying adult. Tabacon also offers partial day passes for $70, including a morning pass from 10 am to 2 pm and a night pass from 6 pm to 10 pm.
For a full schedule of Tabacon day passes and pricing, check their website. The resort limits the number of daily visitors, so it’s best to reserve your spot ahead of time.
Tabacón is a 5-star resort. Rooms cost around $320 to $350 a night, which sounds expensive but includes breakfast, access to the thermal pools (including guest only access from 8 am to 10 am) and exclusive access to the adult-only garden. You also get 20% of the spa treatments. The day passes cost $85 per person (which does include a meal) but if you factor in staying elsewhere in the area will be most likely $100 per night for a room then staying at Tabacón is good value. Check room availability here.
The Springs Resort & Spa at Arenal
The Springs Resort & Spa has a spectacular view of the Arenal Volcano, natural hot springs, five unique dining experiences, and is a full-service Spa,
There are 165-acres to enjoy, and for families, there is a water slide, a putt-putt course, a kids’ game room and the on-site Club Rio Adventure Center, offering river tubing, kayaking, horseback riding, rock climbing, hot springs and an Animal Sanctuary.
A 2-day hot springs pass costs $79 (plus 13% VAT) per person, which gives you access to the entire property.
The cost of staying the night is in the low $500s, which does give you access to the hot springs.
MID-RANGE HOT SPRINGS
EcoTermales claims to be the only ‘natural’ hot spring resort in La Fortuna. The natural volcanic hot springs that flow from within the rainforest have created 6 elegant and romantic pools with temperatures ranging from 99° to 106° F (37° to 41° C) in addition to one freshwater waterfall and pool. There are also 2 pools with regular water.
The number of guests is limited to 80 in a two-hour time slot.
There is no accommodation at EcoTermales.
The entry fee is $44.00 per person.
There are two bars on site as well as a restaurant. You can buy a package that includes access to the hot springs and a meal in the restaurant for $72.00 per person.
Reservations are available here.
Hotel Arenal Kioro Suites & Spa
Tucked away on 27 acres of lush, rolling landscape with stunning views of the Arenal Volcano, the 53 spacious suites at Arenal Kioro Suites & Spa offer a tranquil, relaxing getaway.
There are onsite hot springs you can enjoy or you take the 6km free shuttle to Titokú Hot Springs, where guests of the hotel get free access
You can also get daily access to Titokú Hot Springs without being a guest at Arenal Kioro Suites.
Admission fee: $ 23.10
Admission fee and Meal: $ 48.80
Rooms at the Kioro Suites are in the low $200s. There is also an onsite restaurant. Check room availability here.
Baldi Hot Springs, Hotel, Spa
Baldi Hot Springs claims to be the largest hot springs in the World. There are 25 thermal water pools surrounded by lush vegetation, with pools varying from 93°F all the way up to 152°F. There is also a special kid’s play area with slides.
The day rates for non-nationals are (check the website of current pricing):
|Entrance + Dinner||$60||$41|
|Entrance + Lunch||$60||$41|
|Entrance + Lunch + Dinner||$80||$55|
Baldi Hot Springs also has a hotel included. Prices start in the low $200s. Check here for availability.
BUDGET HOT SPRINGS
Volcano Lodge, Hotel & Thermal Experience / San Bosco Inn
The San Bosco Inn is a great place if you’re looking for both a room and hot springs for a great deal. Rooms at San Bosco Inn are basic but clean and start at $40.
While there aren’t hot springs on the property, your room rate includes access to the hot springs at their sister hotel, the Volcano Lodge, Hotel & Thermal Experience. It’s hard to beat a hotel room, full breakfast, and access to hot springs for $40! The hot springs at the Volcano Lodge are only available to guests of Volcano Lodge or the San Bosco Inn, so there is no option to visit on a day pass.
Check availability of rooms here.
FREE HOT SPRINGS
The Tabacon Resort is located an approximate 15-minute drive west of downtown La Fortuna. A short jaunt down the road from the resort is the entrance to the Tabacon Hot Springs. Across the road from that entrance is the path that leads to the free hot springs.
When you see the entrance to the Tabacon Resort on your right, you’re getting close. Slow down but continue driving past the Tabacon Resort‘s hotel entrance until you see the entrance to the Tabacon Hot Springs on your left. Immediately after the hot springs entrance, you will see places to “park” on the side of the street.
On the north side of the road, beyond a small gate, a gravel path leads to the free-flowing river. Look to the left (up the river) and you’ll see some large rocks. Carefully climb over the rocks to access a pool full of thermal water (the rocks can be incredibly slippery when wet). The left side of the pool is comprised of water heated by the Arenal Volcano. Providing a mix of stream water and thermal water, the right side of the pool is the coolest.
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
Other things to do whilst in La Fortuna
1. MISTICO ARENAL HANGING BRIDGE
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.