Our first stop in Costa Rica was La Fortuna. We spent three days here and enjoyed it.
Arenal Volcano is in La Fortuna and it's the highlight of this area. It's an active volcano, but is almost always covered with clouds at the top. Only once during our stay did the cloud cover move over for 15 minutes.
As always, active volcanos means hot springs, hardened lava rocks and since we're in Costa Rica, we also saw some beautiful tropical rainforests. There are host of activities in La Fortuna that will fulfil every kind of traveler's dream - from the adventure junkie to the ornithologist.
Here's what we did and what we didn't do, and what we would've done differently.
Places we saw and Activities we did
- Our first activity was a two-hour Night Tour for 38$ per-person at Ecocentro Danaus. The tour was inclusive of a tour-guide who walked us through the trail. He told us about the flora and fauna of Costa Rica including the walking pine tree, leaf-cutter ants and termite nests. He informed us about the four different types of rainforest areas that exist here and we learnt Costa Rica is the second-most diverse ecosystem in the world (first is Madagascar, if you're curious). He spotted and showed two species of tree frogs including the Blue Jeans frog. The Butterfly Garden at this location housed the famous Morpho Azul, which is the big blue butterfly.
- On our second day morning, we hiked Arenal Volcano National Park for 15$ per-person. This is a loop of approximately 5 km inside a tropical rainforest that goes through a giant ceiba tree. At the highest point on this loop we got to see a wonderful view of Lake Arenal after walking through hardened lava rocks. We also saw beautiful birds including toucans and a great currassow on this hike.
- Later in the day, we hiked the Arenal Hanging Bridges for 20$ per-person. Although it is a little touristy, it is still the ideal way to experience the famous hanging bridges. We chose to skip taking a tour guide on this trail, and didn't feel like we missed much. We saw a green viper, some spider monkeys and a parrot on this trail. Apart from the wildlife, there's also a pretty waterfall on this loop. There are stunning views of Arenal Volcano at the end of this loop.
- At the end of our second day, we visited the free hot springs right across the road from Tabacon Spa. It is technically a shallow river, and the water in the river is warm because of hot lava underneath (Thanks to Arenal Volcano!). Although I was apprehensive because it was free, we didn't find anything wrong with the water or the location itself. The water was warm and perfect. We found a good spot a little upstream and enjoyed the river. There's nothing better than ending the day at a hot spring allowing your muscles to relax and rejuvenate. As long as you're a little careful with your footing, you should be fine. Oh, and we also saw a couple of great currasows next to the hot springs which was unexpected and amazing :)
- On our last day in La Fortuna, we went on a Caño Negro Day Trip with Canoa Adventures for 65$ per-person. This was a whole day trip (from 7.30 am to 4 pm) inclusive of a tour guide. The tour included home-made pancakes and pineapple juice for breakfast, and home-made lunch with beer right next to Rio Frio. We saw plenty of wildlife on this day including iguanas, caimans, three species of monkeys (spider, howler and white-faced), hummingbirds, woodpeckers, many species of herons, kingfisher, turtle, vulture, owl, egret and also the nest of a hummingbird. It was amazing and incredible. We saw a male iguana trying to catch the attention of a female, and a caiman and turtle sun-bathing. The forest is incredibly alive and it felt like we were watching all the wildlife discreetly. If there is one trip that I can recommend whole-heartedly to everyone - it has to be this one. Just do it!
Places and Activities we considered but didn't do
- We wanted to visit La Fortuna Waterfalls for 15$ per-person. Unfortunately, we didn't have the time and I thought it was expensive because we saw gorgeous waterfalls in Iceland for free. If you're considering note that you can also get into the waterfall pool and swim depending on the water levels.
- We considered visiting Arenal Lake for Kayaking or Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP). Eventually, we decided against it because we've kayaked in California and Hawaii a few times now.
- We considered visiting the hot spring spas like Tabacon or Baldi. We ended up not doing it, since we visited free hot springs in Iceland and Yellowstone, and also went to hot spring spa at Lake Myvatn in Iceland. If you want to experience it, we learnt that Baldi was a better deal at 40$ per-person with free lunch or dinner.
Other Popular Activities in La Fortuna
- Canyoning (aka Rappeling) was an activity that was marketed a lot. It is best enjoyed in La Fortuna area because there are taller waterfalls here. We didn't do it here, but you should definitely consider it.
- ATV Rides, Mountain Biking, Zip Lining, Horse Riding, Safari Float and Night Tours + Dinner are other popular activities here.
Food and Where we ate
- A Soda is a traditional Costa Rican Restaurant. Casados are a typical Costa Rican meal with rice, beans, plantain and some form of protein - meat (fish, chicken, beef) or vegetarian (eggs, cheese).
- Our Airbnb host recommended Soda Viquez, which we went to for the first night. We both had Casados here and loved it. Second night we went to Soda La Parada and again had Casados. This was ok. I can't remember what we had on the third night, so it's definitely forgettable.
Our Recommendations (In Hindsight)
- Skip the night tour at Ecocentro Danaus. There are cheaper night tours available (starting from 25$) that will showcase similar wildlife. Night tours are also available outside of Arenal area, in Monteverde, Manuel Antonio and other tourist locations.
- Hike the Arenal 1968 trail, instead of Arenal Volcano National Park. It's cheaper at 12$ per-person, it has longer and better hiking trails.
- Walk around downtown and talk to the folks marketing the tourist activities. They're local to the area and are knowledgeable about tours and prices. Talk to many folks before booking a tour, including other tourists you meet in your tours.
- Research before you book a tour. We looked up our phones, did some basic google searches and booked a 2 hour night tour. It was first day of our holiday and we were itchy and eager to do something. Avoid doing something for the sake of it. You can discover plenty of tours and options if you invest some time on research.
And, that's the end of our time in La Fortuna. We loved Arenal Volcano, and the activities surrounding this area.