La Fortuna - Volcanoes, Waterfalls, Rivers and Wildlife
January 1, 1970
by Ksenia Tsel
La Fortuna is a small town in San Carlos, in the province of Alajuela, in Costa Rica. The meaning of the name is “The Fortune.” It is a great place to visit for those who like extremes and exploring. La Fortuna has a great balance between adventure and being in touch with nature. Some of the highlights include volcanoes, waterfalls, natural hot springs and much more. A minimum stay of 2-3 nights is recommended in order to do and see everything.
Things to keep in mind: the National park, Cerro Chato Green Lagoon Entrance, La Fortuna Waterfall, and Observatory Lodge are open 8 am – 4 pm. On Sundays, many places are closed or close early in town.
Where to Stay
Costa Rica Hostels – these hostels will exceed your expectations.
The 3 resorts take up 2 blocks of the town. If you book a room in one of them, you are able to use the amenities at all 3. Dorms and private rooms are available, with or without air conditioning. Prices and availability are best to check on hostelworld or booking.com. I have always stayed here whenever I was visiting La Fortuna. In all of the rooms I’ve stayed in I could always get some rest. If I was feeling up to it, the heated pool with the bar was always a fun time with good music and a great way to meet other travelers.
Downtown La Fortuna Locations:
- Arenal Hostel Resort + Towers
- La Fortuna Backpackers Resort
- Hostel Backpackers La Fortuna
If you are looking to stay in a cabin among nature instead of downtown, Wilberth Farm Hotel is a great brand new location, about 8 km outside of town. The location has wooden cabins that are among the rain-forest off of the main road. This is a place to relax, away from all of the noise of the town.
Other options include: Arenal Backpackers, which is a hostel with a party environment and a nice pool in downtown Fortuna and Hotel La Choza Inn which has the cheapest dorms in town.
What to do
(All prices are in American Dollars)
If you have your own car…
Within Arenal Volcano National Park there are various points of interest that you can drive to. Hiking Cerro Chato Volcano, walking around the Observatory Lodge grounds, and swimming in the La Fortuna Waterfall are a must. All 3 parks have separate entrance fees. Also, there is a hiking ground called Hike 1968 that has the option of mountain biking for those looking for more of an extreme. This hiking ground is where the lava of Arenal Volcano once spread during it’s last eruption and has beautiful views of both volcanoes. The Rainforest Chocolate tour and North Fields Coffee tour are great if you want to do multiple activities in one day as they only take up roughly 2 hours and have multiple start times through out the day. The tours are very informational and also yummy..as there are always tastings at the end!
After a full day of adventure, you can take some time to relax and enjoy any of the man made Hot Spring Resorts near the town. All of these resorts are a 10 – 20 minute drive out of downtown with free parking. I suggest buying a pass at an agency in downtown Fortuna, as they are always cheaper than at the door. I highly recommend purchasing the tickets with a meal included as the meals are buffet style and some even have a chocolate fountain! My personal favorite is Baldi. The grounds are full of stunning vegetation, featuring 28 different thermal/cold pools, bars, waterfalls and water slides etc. All of these locations also have accommodation and spas. All hot springs listed here are in order of how expensive the establishment is – from most expensive to least.
If you do not have a car…
All tours in La Fortuna can be purchased online but I suggest purchasing them from an agency in downtown, as they sell them at discounted prices. Tour prices can be bargained down. All prices listed here are the highest amount.
The Extreme Two Volcano Hike is the bestseller in town as it includes the most activities in one package ($65 per person). It starts off with the hike of Cerro Chato volcano, which is roughly 4 hours total hiking time. This hike is steep and definitely not for the faint-hearted. The dormant Cerro Chato volcano has a crater at the top which is a lake. The lake is a great place to take a refreshing swim after completing half of your hike. A Lunch is provided during the rest time at the top of the volcano. You will hike down a different side of the volcano to end up at the Observatory Lodge where there is a panoramic view of the volcanoes and Arenal Lake. You will also hike through the Observatory Lodge grounds, which have walking trails, the Danka Waterfall, a frog pond, and a volcano museum. At the end of tour you will enjoy an hour or so at the Natural hot-spring Tabacon river and have the opportunity to try Caceque, which is the national Costa Rican alcohol. A half day version of this tour is available for those who are not keen on hiking the Cerro Chato volcano, it begins at the Observatory Lodge. Some of the other activities I would highly recommend doing while in Fortuna are, hiking to the Rio Celeste waterfall, rappelling waterfalls, Cano Negro Animal Refuge boat tour, Rafting down Balsa river for half a day or Pacuare river for a full day, the Mistico Hanging Bridges park, safari by kayak, river tubing, zip-lining, horse back riding, an ATV tour, and various activities on Arenal lake.
As I had mentioned earlier, Monte Verde is a popular destination before or after you have been to La Fortuna. The best way to reach the “green mountains” is by a 30 minute shuttle to Lake Arenal, then a 40 minute boat ride across the lake, and finally an hour and a half shuttle ride to Santa Elena, Monte Verde ($25 per person). The journey alone is a reason to head to Monte Verde. While you are going across the lake, the view behind you of the volcanoes is spectacular and provides amazing photo opportunities. The shuttle ride up the mountains to Santa Elena is quite bumpy, however, the rolling hills full of cows and greenery are a captivating sight that is well worth it.
There are a couple of “free” activities that you can do in La Fortuna. Unfortunately almost all of them require a way of getting there. The taxi prices range from $8 to $20 depending on where you are going out of downtown Fortuna. The Natural Hot Spring Tabacon River is a popular destination as anyone is welcome to go there at any time. Many people visit at night when the temperature cools down. The hot section of the river is across the street from the Tabacon resort, a 15 minute drive out of downtown. Park your car on the street, the river entrance will be on your right side if facing the way you drove up the road. El Salto swimming hole is another popular destination during the hot days in Fortuna. It is a 10 minute walk from downtown or 2 minute drive. The river has a small waterfall and a rope swing, where you can channel your inner Tarzan. Finally, Arenal Lake is about a 20 minute drive out of downtown. The dam is a nice spot for a swim and there are many activities you can do on the lake such as paddle board and kayak.
Where to Eat
I think food is one of the best parts of life, and make it my mission to try as many food places while traveling. As I have lived in La Fortuna, I have had the opportunity to try many of the restaurants here. A Typical Costa Rican Restaurant is called a “soda”. Some of my favorite sodas are; Soda Viquez (I recommend their Casado (national Costa Rican dish), Soda Nenes (I recommend their ceviche and coconut flan), Kazan – has a “special menu” that you must ask for with specials of the day, and Zacate (this is a tiny window right next to the meat shop on the main road). At Zacate, the cook makes absolutely everything home made. My favorite place to grab a healthy natural juice is right across from Lava Lounge. It is a small corner shop with no particular name. It is attached to a grocery store. My Favorite breakfast place is the Rainforest Cafe, with quick service and big portions. Snappers has good seafood dishes with fair prices and good wine. When I feel like a thick pizza with a stuffed crust I go to Pizza Ranch, a new place that opened a month ago. For those of you who are vegetarian or vegan you must check out Organico, Life House Organic Restaurant and Lava Lounge (live music on various nights).
In closing, La Fortuna is a unique place that should be on everyone’s itinerary while traveling through Costa Rica. There are many beautiful places here to visit and new experiences to be had. It is unlike any other place I have been on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. Come enjoy our volcanoes, waterfalls, rivers and wildlife! Pura Vida!