An unforgettable adventure oasis in the Costa Rican jungle, La Fortuna is a destination you’ll not want to leave off your Costa Rica itinerary. This small town in central Costa Rica is the home of adventure sports and activities, wildlife watching and everything related to hot springs. With Arenal volcano guarding the town closely, you’re never too far away from the active volcanoes that produce mineral-rich waters that flow around La Fortuna.
With plenty of places to relax, eat good, healthy food and get your adrenaline pumping, at least a couple of days in La Fortuna Costa Rica is a must. I recently spent a month in this lovely town enjoying the delicious fresh fruit, the local ‘pura vida’ life philosophy of the locals and the diverse wildlife. Here are the best things to do in La Fortuna- do not miss these off your itinerary.
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HOW TO GET TO LA FORTUNA
Once arriving in Costa Rica, there are several ways to get to La Fortuna.
The best way to travel around Costa Rica, in general, is by renting a car and driving yourself. You can rent a car at San Jose or Liberia International Airports and the process is extremely straightforward. You’ll want to make sure to book your rental car well in advance especially during high seasons (November-February).
You can also get to La Fortuna by private shuttle. Tourist shuttles exist all over Costa Rica and provide quick and direct transfers between all the major popular destinations. From the airport, you’ll be able to organise a direct transfer to La Fortuna. Costa Rica Shuttle and Costa Rica Transfers are just a few companies to check out before booking.
The other way to get to La Fortuna is by public bus. Buses travel to La Fortuna from all major Costa Rican towns and cities. There is one direct bus per day from San Jose or Alajuela which departs Alajuela at 9.30 am. Otherwise, take any bus to Cuidad Quesada and change there for another bus to La Fortuna.
Taking buses in Costa Rica isn’t the easiest as there are no real departure times or timetables anywhere. It definitely helps if you speak Spanish as locals are very helpful and will direct you the right way. Oftentimes we just turned up at the bus station with our luggage and asked for the next departure.
It’s worth noting that In Costa Rica you just pay the bus driver as opposed to buying a ticket at the ticket office beforehand. Bus travel in Costa Rica is incredibly cheap compared to private shuttles but it’s definitely not as convenient.
Ride Sharing Apps
Uber also works in Costa Rica and works well in the Central Valley if you need to transfer from your accommodation to the bus station.
Uber also works in La Fortuna however, it’s not the most reliable, especially when calling a ride from nearby attractions outside town. This is why it’s best to rent a car when travelling to Costa Rica.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
The best time to visit La Fortuna is during the dry season which runs from November until May. La Fortuna has a spring-like climate with average temperatures of about 28°C/82°F throughout most of the year. During the rainy season, nights can get a little chilly when temperatures fall to about 18°C/64°F.
Bear in mind that La Fortuna is one of the rainiest places in Costa Rica and it rains quite a bit even in the dry season. For this reason, it’s so lush and green. When visiting in the rainy season be prepared for heavy rainstorms almost every day and torrential rain which might put a stop to the activities you want to do. It’s best to visit during the dry season where it does rain a lot less.
When packing for La Fortuna make sure to bring light, quick-drying clothing, a rain jacket and some good walking boots for outdoor activities.
WHERE TO STAY IN LA FORTUNA
The best hotels in La Fortuna are actually located in the area of La Fortuna and not in the town itself. If you have a car I’d highly recommend taking advantage of this staying in one of the best places outside town and driving to town for meals/services.
It’s also worth noting that many of the most famous, luxury hotels also have their own hot springs and if you’re coming to La Fortuna with visiting hot springs on your bucket list I highly recommend these hotels as you’ll be able to use their facilities for free. Tabacon Hotel and Spa and The Springs are the two best hotels in the area with their own hot springs and while you can visit for a day, it might be worth actually staying here where you can really make the most of their facilities.
If you’re on a budget or you don’t have a car, it might be easier to stay in a hotel in La Fortuna itself for ease of booking tours and going out to local restaurants.
If you’re in La Fortuna to take advantage of the area’s hot springs, you’ll want to stay here. One of the things to do in La Fortuna that you’ll find on any bucket list guide is to visit their hot springs so why not stay here? Guests also have access to the hot springs from 8 am rather than non-guests that enter at 10 am.
Tabacon is located about 10 minutes outside La Fortuna by car on the slopes of Arenal volcano surrounded by jungle and nature. The resort itself is sublime with spacious and private rooms with all the amenities and a great restaurant on that property that actually has a great plant-based menu. Make sure not to miss their vegan ‘Casado’ the local dish that’s truly delicious.
If you’re looking for a more budget option, then make sure to consider Casa Luna Hotel & Spa. This is a beautiful hotel with incredible views of Arenal volcano, simple but cosy and comfortable rooms, gorgeous gardens, a pool and the best part- three thermal jacuzzi pools surrounded by lush garden. This eco-hotel also has a garden on-site where it grows most of the ingredients on the restaurant menu, a spa on-site and even a trekking path where you can access a nearby river running around the backside of the property.
We stayed here for two nights and loved coming back to this amazing hotel after a day of exploring to just soak in the thermal waters, swim in the pool and relax on the balcony watching all the birds fly around us.
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Another top hotel in the La Fortuna area and recently used as a shooting location for an episode of the series ‘The Bachelor’, the Springs is a stunning property surrounded by pools and gardens. It’s a large hotel with all the amenities you could imagine. Your stay also includes access to the thermal resort where you can soak surrounded by pure nature.
BEST RESTAURANTS IN LA FORTUNA
Easily a firm favourite of ours when in Costa Rica, Organico Fortuna is the place to come for organic, healthy plant-based food. With a menu plentiful in plant-based treats like delicious salads, thick smoothie bowls, taco bowls, falafel, sandwiches and some pasta- everything here is colourful, vibrant and nutritious. They also have an array of superfoods to add to juices and smoothies. Don’t miss their locally sourced organic coffee. The best time to visit is for breakfast or lunch.
A great place to come for everyone, Yellow Bark isn’t exclusively for plant-based eaters but it does have something for everyone. The focus of food here is on local flavours and dishes and you’ll find ‘casados’- a local plate of rice, beans and salad- on the menu as well as burgers, salads and desserts.
El Chante Verde
Located outside of La Fortuna itself- close to Casa Luna Hotel & Spa, el Chante Verde is another of our firm favourites. The menu has some solid plant-based classics like burgers with a local Costa Rican spin on them with homemade gluten-free buns, salads, pad thai and sandwiches even though it does serve meat too. The restaurant itself is in a beautiful setting too with a wonderful garden, bar and they also have board games too. Book a table for the evening, come from dinner, drinks and a few rounds of Monopoly.
Chifa La Familia Feliz
We ate here on our first day in La Fortuna and we spent ages chatting to the lovely Peruvian owner. This Peruvian restaurant has a separate page in the menu for vegetarian options where you can find some delicious dishes. The portions and large and the food is flavoursome. A great option after a whole day of exploring.
La Casa de la Hormiga
This is one of the best ‘sodas’ in town, recommended to us many times over by locals. ‘Sodas’ in Costa Rica are cheaper restaurants that serve local food. Here you can delicious local dishes like casado – rice with beans plantains and salad and Gallo pinto – rice mixed with beans normally served at breakfast. Costa Rican food is quite vegan friendly and this is one of the best places in La Fortuna to try some local flavours.
TOP THINGS TO DO IN LA FORTUNA
La Fortuna Waterfall
La Fortuna waterfall is one of the largest and most beautiful waterfalls in Costa Rica and in the Arenal area. It’s a must-visit and it’s very easy to just pack a picnic and spend the afternoon here. La Fortuna waterfall is fed by the Arenal River and drops about 75 metres before continuing into the jungle.
To reach the waterfall you’ll have to pay the entrance fee of $18 and follow the path around and down about 490 steps before reaching the waterfall itself. Here you can swim in the plunge pool and bathe in the cool waters. Further downstream you’ll find a tiny beach and some rocks to relax on. Bring some snacks with you spend your afternoon relaxing here and enjoying nature at its purest around you. If you want to take photos the best time to come is first thing in the morning as it does get crowded.
Arenal Volcano National Park
For some of the best hiking in Costa Rica and for the chance to get close to Arenal Volcano, the National Park offers a number of different trails to hike in a day or even half a day. While you can’t hike to the top of the volcano (it’s still active), there are many trails that lead around the base of the volcano.
Hike on a clear day and you’ll be rewarded with incredible views of Arenal volcano and the surrounding countryside. The trails aren’t particularly strenuous and suitable for all.
Visit some Natural Hot Springs
With Arenal volcano being the real showstopper in this area, La Fortuna is the place to be for anything ‘volcanic’ which includes hot springs. Groundwater is heated by the active volcano and flows to the surface making the water incredibly mineral-rich.
While visiting hot springs is a must, there are a few different options in the area depending on your budget. Right next to Tabacon Thermal Resort you’ll find public hot springs which are completely free to visit. Just rock up with swimwear and towel in hand and head down to the thermal river below. The pools here are completely natural so you won’t find any jacuzzi like pools. The water flows down like a calm river and temperatures aren’t controlled. It’s a fun experience when passing through. Just note that there aren’t any bathrooms here so make sure to arrive with your swimwear on.
If you prefer a more luxury experience then head to Tabacon Hot Springs. You can buy your tickets online before visiting here and choose your ticket type (morning visit/afternoon/full day etc). Your pass includes a towel, locker and lunch or dinner or both and you can spend your time here relaxing in many of the thermal pools. There’s also a cold water pool and other pools where the temperature is regulated- some are hotter than others.
The thermal spa is huge and while we got the morning pass we found that the four hours we had here just weren’t enough. We could have easily spent the whole day here relaxing in the many different pools of the spa.
While the free hot springs are great I personally much preferred Tabacon and would highly recommend going if your budget allows- it’s highly worth the price and a delicious lunch is included too.
Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park
If you don’t have a car, visiting Mistico Hanging Bridges is tough. The park isn’t located close to La Fortuna and often Uber drivers don’t want to go that far. To visit, we ended up doing a tour and we were really happy with our experience. We went with Eco Terra Costa Rica, one of the best tour companies in the region.
Not only did they provide transportation to the park, but their knowledgeable guide also told us more about the park, the hanging bridges and the wildlife living in their natural habitat in the forest canopy. We learned so much about the flora and fauna that we wouldn’t have going by ourselves. The guide was also able to point out wildlife we would have never noticed on our own – most of it is extremely well hidden.
I’d highly recommend Eco Terra for visiting Mistico Hanging Bridges and other popular places in Costa Rica such as Rio Celeste and Arenal Volcano National Park. They also do experiences like birdwatching, canopy tours and sloth watching tours and their tour guides are the most knowledgeable around. Find more information about all their tours here.
Tenorio Volcano National Park
Tenorio Volcano National Park is another beautiful area located 1.5 hours from La Fortuna and can easily be visited as a day trip. It is Costa Rica’s youngest National Park which encompasses all four life zones meaning there’s just so much biodiversity around.
Here there are many different hiking trails to do and so much wildlife to keep your eyes on from countless bird species to monkeys, pumas, agoutis, peccaries, tapirs and snakes. It’s one of the best places to hike in Costa Rica.
Located just adjacent to Tenorio Volcano National Park, Rio Celeste is a brilliant, milky blue colour river that runs through the rainforest. If you’ve already seen pictures of Rio Celeste you might be wondering why this river is such a milky-blue colour. It’s actually due to a reaction caused by two rivers joining further upstream. The reaction between two of their minerals, sulfur and calcium carbonate causes the colour of the water to change.
The most popular stop is the Rio Celeste waterfall which is a must-see when visiting this part of Costa Rica’s Guanacaste Province. When hiking the 6 km to Rio Celeste you’ll experience some hot springs, lagoons and amazing viewpoints along the way. It’s truly worth the trip from La Fortuna.
In the country that invented the zipline and the Cosa Rican capital of adventure you simply can’t miss the opportunity to go ziplining in La Fortuna. There are many different ziplines surrounding La Fortuna that will take you for a long, hair-raising ride through the rainforest canopy.
One of the best and most highly rated ziplines is by Sky Trek which also has a Sky Tram from which you can enjoy the rainforest canopy at a slower pace. Find out more and book your trip here.
Alternatively, if you want to combine ziplining with waterfall rappelling, check out this adventure here.
Bogarin Walking Trail ( Sloth Trail)
If you haven’t yet seen a sloth and you’re not planning on going to Manuel Antonio National Park or the Caribbean Coast then this is a sure way to see some local wildlife. While many locals find this park a little contrived and not exactly completely wild it is still a nice way to witness endemic bird species including toucans (we spotted two species), sloths, frogs, snakes and howler monkeys.
When visiting I highly recommend getting the service of a guide because the animals are really difficult to spot, especially the sloths. Alternatively, you can also keep your eye out on what other guided groups are looking at. While you’ll be able to spot a sloth this way, other smaller animals will be difficult to see yourself. Due to this guide actually carry a powerful scope so you can see tiny animals such as frogs that you wouldn’t otherwise.
Stand-up paddleboarding on Lake Arenal
If you’re itching to get back into the water then why not try some standup paddleboarding on Lake Arenal? Lake Arenal is a man-made reservoir providing Costa Rica with a large chunk of its electricity but it also has some of the best views of Arenal volcano.
One of the best ways to enjoy the lake and the beautiful views as well as getting in some adventure and exercise is to go standup paddleboarding. Desafio Adventures is one company in the area that offer this service. You can find more about the trip here.
White-Water Rafting on the Balsa River
La Fortuna is also known to be one of the best areas in Costa Rica for white-water rafting and if you’re looking for a little more adrenaline during your trip this is the thing to do. if you’re just starting out then the nearby Balsa River offers Class II & III rapids that’ll get your adrenaline going from the getgo. You’ll follow the river 6.2 miles (10km) downstream and experience some of the best rapids in Costa Rica.
Alternatively, if you’re looking to up the adventure completely then head to the Sarapiqui River where Class II, III & IV rapids are available. When in La Fortuna we chose this tour via Viator and had the most amazing experience.
Have a Spa Day
No doubt that with so much volcanic activity in the region, La Fortuna is one of the best destinations in Costa Rica for spas. You’ll find many spas in the La Fortuna area, most of them specialising in volcanic-based treatments using hot springs and mineral-rich waters and mud. If you’ve been yearning for a spa day in Costa Rica, La Fortuna is the best place for that. The best spa in the area is at Tabacon Thermal Resort where you can also combine a spa day with the use of their hot springs. Tabacon does a spa day package that includes hot springs, a spa treatment and lunch or dinner. Click here to find out more.
Other lovely spas in the La Fortuna area are Essence Volcano Spa and Day Spa Herrera in La Fortuna town. Both of these spas offer a wide range of treatments from volcanic mud facials, body wraps, massages and aromatherapy.
Canyoning is another great, fun-filled activity that’s gaining popularity in La Fortuna. With so many small canyons, waterfalls and rain forests there are so many canyoning opportunities in the area. If you’re new to canyoning, the activity does vary wherever you go depending on the landscapes and land features. Sometimes the canyons can be shallow and you can jump and slide down the waterfalls. In La Fortuna however, due to the landforms, most canyoning consists of waterfall rappelling.
While not for those afraid of heights, this fun activity allows you to view the landscape from so many different vantage points and get very wet on the way down.
Check out this highly-rated tour that combines waterfall rappelling with white-water rafting in a full day of adrenaline-filled adventure.
Visit the Venado Caves
The Venado Caves, located just outside of La Fortuna, just north of the Mistico Hanging Bridges are a wonderful series of underground caves and caverns waiting to be explored. These caves were formed by tectonic plate shifting and erosion by underwater rivers some 15-20 million years ago.
If you’re interested in discovering more about Costa Rica’s natural history then here you’ll be able to gaze at stalagmites and stalactites that formed over millions of years as well as get to know the wildlife that lives here- bats, frogs and tarantulas and see some ancient marine fossils too.
You can drive yourself and visit the Venado Caves alone but if you want to be sure to spot some wildlife and find out more about the history of the caves I’d recommend a guided tour. This one is one of the best rated online.
Hike to Cerro Chato
For a chance to get your hiking boots muddy again, Cerro Chato is another great yet less popular hiking option in the area. Cerro Chato is an ancient crater- volcano, now long extinct. The moderate-challenging hike will start at the base of the volcano and you’ll trek up through the thick rainforest to the summit where the crater has now filled with a glorious blue lagoon.
To get to the start of the hike you can just drive to the bottom of Cerro Chato- it’s located on the way to La Fortuna Waterfall. Alternatively, you might be able to get an Uber there but it might be difficult to get one back. You can also get a taxi to the start of the trail.
Visit El Salto Rope Swing
El Salto is a small waterfall located just to the south of La Fortuna town. You can walk there in about 15 minutes. It’s a great place to visit if you’re got a couple of hours to spare. While the waterfall itself is very small, the main attraction here is the rope swing. Attached to a tree right on the edge of the rock, locals use it to swing off the rocks and jump into the pools below. It’s fun and not as scary as it may sound (the jump itself isn’t high).
Visit the Farmer’s Market
If you’re lucky enough to be in La Fortuna on Friday, make sure to check out the local farmer’s market located in the building right next to the bullfighting ring (yes unfortunately there is one here) – on Google Maps the building is called ‘Salón las Espuelas’. Here you’ll be able to pick up some fresh, organic produce, fruit, vegetables, meat and fish as well as some locally made organic products like soaps, balms and souvenirs. It’s a must if you’re self-catering.
Top Tips for Visiting La Fortuna:
After having lived in La Fortuna for a whole month during the rainy season, here are my top tips for visiting the area.
- Try not to visit during rainy season. It really is extremely wet during this time.
- If you can, I’d highly recommend renting a car, not just in La Fortuna but for the whole of your Costa rica itinerary. Public transport isn’t great and Costa Rica has so many amazing places that can’t be accessed unless you have a car. It is the ultimate road trip country. For the ultimate experience that combines car rental with camping check out Pura Van for their great rentals with rooftop tents for camping just about anywhere in the country.
- If you don’t have a car they I’d highly recommend befriending an Uber driver or local taxi driver that you can Whatsapp privately when you need a ride. We did this a few times and we were able to get rides back from fairly out-of-the-way places that Uber drivers don’t want to come out to.
- Try not to drive at night unless locally. Main roads are very badly lit and you can barely see the road lines and signs- just avoid it, it’s dangerous.
- Eat a lot of fruit and vegetables- it’s some of the best tasting and healthiest in the world.
Ready for your trip to La Fortuna? Check out some of these amazing things to do during your stay.
What are your favourite things to do in La Fortuna? Have you been yet? Let me know all your questions and comments below.
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Rentalcars.com for quick and easy car rentals worldwide
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