Costa Rica – La Fortuna and Arenal Visit Planning

High level:

For many tourists visiting Costa Rica, Arenal area is one of the best destinations and probably a “must stop” in your trip planning.


This area probably has all what Costa Rica has to offer, except beaches 😊

Hear you can enjoy the jungle as well as Arenal Volcano views, hikes, animal viewing, waterfalls, hanging bridges, zipline, ATV, hours ride, rafting, hot springs and a lot more.


When people are saying that they visit “Arenal Volcano” they are probably referring to the town of La Fortuna.

La Fortuna is a small town east of Arenal Volcano Mountain, it is active volcano that is protected by the National Park service.

Need to understand that many attractions or tourist activities are not within the national park but rather in the area surrounding the mountain and the town.


La Fortuna is the main town in the area, here and nearby you can find all hotels, restaurants, activities, and many tourist services. This is the gateway to Arenal Volcano National Park and all what this area has to offer.


La Fortuna is a touristic area and with that come the crowd and also higher price so take this into your consideration.


I do recommend to plan staying here for 2, 3 days max, usually you need to plan for at least half a day driving to/from La Fortuna to your next destination.



Where? :

La Fortuna is located 130 km northeast from the capital San Jose in the central mountain range of Costa Rica.

It will take you 3-4 hours’ drive.

Do not expect highway, as almost everywhere in Costa Rica the road may be narrow and winding, passing through many villages and small town and from our experience, no matter what Waze will time it, the actual drive is always longer.

[see my ‘rent a car and driving’ section in my main Costa Rica Blog]

Google Map Link


When? :

Year round.

December to April is the dry season at Costa Rica and I recommend visiting the state when there is less chance for rain.

It’s also the most popular time to visit, so expect more tourists and crowds. Book things you know like hotel, park entries, rental car as far ahead as you can. 

When traveling to Costa Rica you should always be prepared for some showers no matter what time of year you are visiting.


La Fortuna is prime destination for tourist in Costa Rica, you should expect many other tourists. Book your hotel well in advance and I do recommend booking your activities when you know for sure your dates in the area.


Some locations or attractions can be overcrowded, other might feel less crowded.

This is mainly depending on the time of the year and if you are visiting less “popular” location.

We as many other came to visit Costa Rica at the dry season and during US vacation time so we can’t escape the crowd (we were part of it 😊).



The town of La Fortuna:

We really liked the town of La Fortuna.

Although it a central tourist destination it still look & feel with a lot of local vibes.

The town has many restaurants and other tourist services like rental car brunches, activity tours booking agencies, bus and taxi, gas stations, and any other store you need.



Accommodations options scattered all over town area and in all price levels, small guesthouses, hotels, AB&B,…. The more fancy (and pricey) hotels, resorts and spas and the famous hot spring’s locations can be found not so far outside the town, mainly north on the road 142.



Arenal Volcano:

At an elevation of 1,670m and with the classical volcano cone shape, Arenal is one of Costa Rica’s many volcanoes.

Arenal volcano erupted in 1968 after hundreds of years that it was dormant.

In that massive side eruption that lasted for several days it cover the surrounding countryside with lava and ash, 73 people lost their lives in this tragic event.

Since 1968 the volcano has been considered active with its last eruption in 2010.


The Arenal national park surrounding Arenal Volcano, here you can find several hiking trails options at the base of the mountain; it is illegal to climb the mountain.




There are several hikes to choose from around the Arenal volcano area, we decide to hike the Arenal 1968 trail.

My blog on this park visit.


Other hiking options that I’m aware of are within the national park, near the lake or near Arenal Observatory Lodge.

I think that all the trails in the parks in this area are +/- the same.

To the best of my understanding, you need to pay entry/parking for all the above hikes.




Hot Springs:


There are many hot springs in Arenal but except one place* all are private properties, so you need to pay for entrance.

There are levels of the resorts and in general, the more they cost the better they are, some can get expensive.

For most hot springs you can have a day use entrance, but you can also book your hotel room in one of them and with that you get free hot-spring access.

We stayed at the Baldi Hot Springs there are many of thermal pools, restaurants, or bars. We chouse this as our hotel because we wanted to travel during the day and enjoy the hot water pools at the afternoon/night + it has slides section and we were with kids.

Overall, we like staying in this hotel although the place can be packed (overcrowded) with hotel guests and many more day visitors.


Tabacon Hot Springs is the most luxurious hot spring in Arenal, it is also very expensive and if I remember correctly adult only.


There are many other hot-springs resorts in this area.


*Free hot spring:

There is one free hot spring water that you can access (need to tip the parking attendant).

The location is just right at the entrance of Tabacon Hot Springs on road 143 north of La Fortuna, you park at the roadside and walk down and under the road bridge. Here the hot water of Tabacon resort flowing in the stream and you can enjoy the small hot water pools.

This location is always crowded with tourist as well as locals.



Animals Viewing:

Any tourist activities has their coast, and your overall additional expenses are depending on what exactly you want to do.

If you want to visit as many places as possible or do many activities the total expenses for a family can, be higher than your initial expectations.

You can check everything in advance on-line and you can plan visit accordingly.


We came to La Fortuna after staying for few days in Manuel Antonio, there we saw many animals and wildlife.

This is the reason we did not take any special tour in La Fortuna for wildlife viewing or visit any animals shelter or sloths walk parks…


In most cases the best chance to spot wildlife is early in the morning.

I did go for sunshine sideroads drive and manage to see birds and animals.

Early in the day you have better chance to see Arenal Volcano without cloud coverage, it happened only one day when we stay there.



Lake Arenal:

This largest lake in Costa Rica lies at the foot of the Arenal Volcano, it is man-made lake (the dam is 17 km north of La Fortuna town supplies 15 percent of the country's energy.

Since Arenal Lake was extended 1978 the original Arenal village and few others were flooded.

There are many boating tours options not so far from La Fortuna.

The lake itself is 18 mile long and with few towns along it shore that offer tourist attractions.




Additional activities and places to visit:


We visit here in the middle of our trip after being at Pas Volcano and Manuel Antonio for few days. We already saw many animals up close, so we did not took any guided animal watching tour.


Hanging Bridges Parks:

Very popular activities in this area is visit one of the 2 sites that offer Hanging Bridges experience.

The Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges is the more popular one and has 6 large bridges. We visit this park, and you can get all the needed information in my blog.

My blog on this park visit.


The other location offering hanging bridges is Sky Adventures Arenal Park. We did not visit here so I can’t comment on it


La Fortuna Waterfall:

La Fortuna Waterfall is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in all of Costa Rica. The waterfall drops around 250 feet over a cliff into a large pool surrounded by rocks, boulders and the jungle. Located short 10 minutes’ drive out of La Fortuna.

My blog on this waterfall visit.


Rio Celeste:

This famous blue turquoise water waterfall is in Tenorio Volcano National Park. This park is in the volcanic mountain 1.5-hour drive north of La Fortuna.

This was high on my “places I want to visit list” but unfortunately, we did not manage to visit here so I can’t provide a lot more information.


Other activities:

You can find a lot of places and tourist agencies that are doing: Zipline, Horseback riding, ATV, whitewater rafting, repelling, animal watch tours, butterfly farms, and many more



We saw group of people biking here, but I must admit I do not see this as a safe place to ride on the road. Main roads are narrow winding, rainy and with a lot of traffic.




La Fortuna or Monteverde?


We visit only La Fortuna and although we wanted to visit also Monteverde we did not have the time in this trip to do so.


I can’t give my opinion where to visit but I saw short description on the difference between the tow locations:


Better birdwatching, better hiking, less touristic, requires a 4×4

cheaper, unique cloud forests, more extreme ziplining, hanging bridges, limited lodging options.

La Fortuna:

More luxury hotels, more mammals and reptiles, more touristic, doesn't require a 4×4, more adventure, hot springs, easier to get to.



Additional Pictures