Arenal Volcano and La Fortuna: Guide To Organize Your Trip

Who I am
Valery Aloyants
@valeryaloyants
SOURCES CONSULTED:

wikipedia.org, lonelyplanet.com

Author and references

La Fortuna and its Arenal volcano, they are certainly among the most popular destinations in Costa Rica, this little but sure.

This is why La Fortuna and its Arenal Volcano are one of the most visited places in Costa Rica

Having said that, it is worth going there, I have been there and I liked it a lot: the area around the Arenal volcano is in fact one of the greenest and most picturesque contexts that I have ever been lucky enough to visit in all my travels.



If there was a beach a little closer, I would dare to say that this place could actually be heaven on earth.

Il Costa Rica is a perfect country for those who want to know a soft country of Central America: activities and hostels are something for all budgets: in fact, here you can choose to travel by public transport and low budget or choose to rent a car and sleep in luxurious places, in wonderful wooden ecolodges, inside the Forest.

This short travel guide to La Fortuna and Arenal Vulcano it will give you some information on how you can enjoy the whole area to the fullest, whether backpacking or if you have more money to spend.

  • the Arenal Volcano and La Fortuna
  • How to reach us
    • Da San Jose
    • Da Peñas Blancas (Nicaragua)
    • From Liberia
    • How to move between La Fortuna and Monteverde
  • What to do and see in La Fortuna
    • Excursions on the Arenal Volcano
    • Excursions in the Arenal Volcano National Park
    • Arenal 1968
    • Horse trekking
    • Mountain Bike Adventures
    • La Fortuna waterfall
    • Cherro Chato
    • spa
    • Canopy Tour in the forest
    • Chocolate tour
    • Rafting!
  • Where to eat
  • Where to sleep
    • Cheap hotels and hostels
    • Mid-priced hotel
    • Luxury Hotel

La Fortuna and the Arenal Volcano

La Fortuna is a small city located in the hills of northwest Costa Rica in the San Carlos region, north of the capital San Jose.



The name "La Fortuna" technically means "luck" or "lucky" in Spanish and according to some stories its name derives from the fact that it is located near the Arenal volcano, considered one of the top ten or twenty most active volcanoes in the world.

In 1968, the volcano erupted in the west and La Fortuna was missing, but 82 died in the areas affected by the eruption.

In reality, this eruption changed the territory geographically and it is mainly thanks to the eruption that La Fortuna has become the tourist destination it is today.

There has been no activity from the volcano since 2010, but the Arenal is still active and it is not certain that there will be no more eruptions in the future.

The city developed around a beautiful park with flower gardens and a large church.

The superstar, Arenal, forms a magnificent backdrop to it and can be seen from almost anywhere in the city.

In the streets surrounding the central park are many restaurants, hotels, tour operators and shops, with more accommodations and restaurants on the road to the volcano and Lake Arenal.

Some of the guides might make you imagine a tourist trap that is too well developed (it is a bit like that in fact), but fear not, the city still remains charming and still has a quiet provincial vibe.

Among the souvenir shops and cafes that cater to the many visitors, you will find Ticos in their daily life, who daily buy supplies for their farm, run their errands, eat a bite on the street or simply rest on a patch in the park.


How to reach us

The views from Lake Arenal along the taxi-boat-taxi transfer from La Fortuna to Monteverde

La Fortuna is approx 3 hours from San José International Airport and 2,5 hours from Liberia International Airport.


To get to La Fortuna there are various options. From San Jose where I came from there is a direct bus. You actually get to Arenal from various places, but you have to change buses on the way. Here are some options, but keep in mind that things can change.

Da San Jose

I arrived in La Fortuna passing through San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica.

The easiest and most direct way to do this is from the bus station at Terminal 7-10.

There, you will find three buses that make a direct route to La Fortuna. They leave at 05:00, 08:40, 11:30 every day.

But keep in mind that the timetables in Costa Rica are quite indicative: in fact, public transport is not always punctual, indeed.

You arrive prepared to wait (in my experience even hours and hours). Also make sure you ask your hotel or hostel at what time the buses leave as the times change quite often.

If you can't find a direct connection to La Fortuna from San Jose, try going to San Carlos and then try taking one of the regular connections from San Carlos to La Fortuna.

The trip takes about 4 hours, but leave prepared with water and some snacks you never know. Tickets cost less than 5 euros: along the way you pick up as many people as possible: leave your seat to the elderly or children.


Although uncomfortable, traveling by bus in Costa Rica is an authentic life experience, so always take it with a smile: Costa Rica Pura Vida.

Da Penas Blancas (Nicaragua)

If you are traveling in Nicaragua but you want to see the Arenal Volcano, it is not as difficult as you might think. In fact, once you cross the border there are direct buses that go to San Jose passing through Liberia e City of Quesada.


Don't get off in Liberia, but a City of Quesada: from here in fact there is a direct bus to La Fortuna (every hour from 05:00 to 22:00).

The entire journey should, unless there are probable delays, be around 5 hours.

From Liberia

There are no direct buses between Liberia and La Fortuna, but it is necessary to change buses along the way twice: first a White hair and then to TilarĂĄn, and finally take the bus to La Fortuna.

Bus times are also quite limited. The last bus leaves from TilarĂĄn at 12:30, so if you are late and you miss it you run the risk of getting stuck there one night you can opt for a private transport that costs you dearly.

The entire route is approximately 95 km.

Our boats to cross the Arenal Lake from La Fortuna to Monteverde

Move between La Fortuna and Monteverde

In addition to the options above, generally those who go to Luck then head to Monteverde.

Book the transfer at your hotel or hostel. For me it was a fantastic adventure: first the shuttle to the lake, then transfer by boat and finally another bus that climbed through the forest to Monteverde.

This, also called taxi-boat-taxi, is the best way to travel between La Fortuna and Monteverde if you don't have your own car.

You can also book it earlier and online here

I also spat my soul on the roads of Costa Rica, but it was a beautiful experience, especially for the incredible views from the lake towards the volcano.

What to do and see in La Fortuna

The "superstar" of La fortuna from another angle!

You are in the lucky city ... so what to do? There is so much to see and do in La Fortuna that you can easily spend a whole week and never get bored.

This guide will provide some options for some of the activities I think are the most beautiful or the ones I regret not doing on my trip.

Excursions on the Arenal Volcano

When it comes to hiking around the Arenal Volcano, there are several options you can consider.

Although many people want to hike in the National Park, there are other private reserves with equally beautiful trails.

One of those private reserves is theArenal 1968 with the famous lava trail, which is located right next to the National Park and offers great views of the Arenal Volcano and lava fields.

My advice is to visit both.

Arenal Volcano National Park

I photographed the Arenal from all possible and imaginable points: this cone that looks so quiet actually did a lot of damage in 1968!

What kind of driving would it be without listing the main attraction in the area, a hike in the Arenal Volcano National Park?!

This volcano, which dominates the city of La Fortuna, remained dormant for many years until 1968 when it exploded violently and killed 82 people.

In the period From 1968 to 2010 the eruptions occurred on a regular basis, but with less force than the 1968 eruption.

From 2010 onwards the Arenal has been dormant.

The national park is ideal for hiking and seeing the volcano, there are actually no other activities to do in the park other than that, but the trails are very well maintained and it is easy to walk.

The paths, Colada Trail 1968 e Toucans they are relatively short of 3,4 and 2 kilometers, and traverse secondary forests and lava fields.

Las Coladas Trail (2 km):
This is the main trail, the one that both solo travelers and tours walk.

Following the path you first walk in the forest, then you go out and cross the lava fields until you reach a clearing of rocks from where you have a spectacular view of the volcano. If it is a clear day, you will be able to see it in all its glory!

You can easily spend a couple of hours walking in the park enjoying the scenery.
The best time to go is early in the morning so that you have a better chance of seeing wildlife and meeting fewer people.

In the Park it is possible to go alone or with a guided tour.

In my opinion it is absolutely best to book a tour because the guide will tell you and explain a lot of things about the eruptions and the volcano.

A guided tour costs around 50/60 euros per person, but trust me it's worth it.

Watch the tour on GetYourGuide here

Bear in mind that there are no guides at the ranger station so if you want to go with a guide you will need to book in advance from any of the La Fortuna travel agencies.

Caution:
it is illegal to get on the Arenal. If someone offers you a volcano tour, be aware that they are illegal tour operators offering an illegal tour.
Some tourists have been hurt or lost: do not accept any of these tours, it is very dangerous.

Arenal 1968

In addition to the National Park in this area there are also private reserves. One of these is Arenal 1968, which is located right next to the national park and offers beautiful views of the Arenal Volcano and exciting lava fields.

This park takes its name from the 1968 eruption of the Arenal volcano
which was one of the most important and crucial events in the entire history of Costa Rica.
The eruption destroyed 3 cities and killed several people, but also changed the topography of the area. The forest on the west side of the volcano disappeared and the lava took over.

The reserve is one of the best places in the area to observe these lava fields.
With two trails crisscrossing the rainforest and lava fields, visitors can see the rocks and boulders and walk through the forest to get impressive views of the Arenal volcano and lake.

How to get to Arenal 1968 from La Fortuna:
There are no buses to this reserve. You can get there by taxi or by rental car.
If you do not have your own vehicle, you should book a tour as there is transport included and it costs more or less the same as the taxi, but with a guide and water included!

If you have your own rental car, here are the directions.

The park is located on the same road as the entrance to the Arenal Volcano National Park. From La Fortuna, head east towards the volcano (Tilaran / Lago Arenal) for approximately 15 kilometers and then turn left where you will see signs for the national park. From the turning point at the park entrance there is about 1,5 km.

Entrance and opening hours of Arenal 1968
Entrance to the 1968 Arenal costs $ 12 for adults, children under 12 are free. The reserve is open every day from 8:00 to 18:00. This is one of the reasons I prefer this place over the national park, as the national park closes at 16pm and is not open every day.

The two routes, Lava flow 1968 and Trail Forest 1968 can both be done in one day.
Combined they are about 7 kilometers, so if you want to do both, go early in the morning so you have plenty of time to enjoy the day. Also remember this gets dark at 18pm and in the rainy season there is a high chance that it will rain in the afternoon.

The tours will take you to the Sendero Colada 1968 also called Trail
Lava Flow 1968. The other, the Trail Forest 1968 tour around the lake "Los Patos"
and travels through the rainforest. It's a bit more challenging so I recommend it
for those in better physical condition or who have no problem walking long distances.

Lava Flow 1968 Trail (2,5 kilometers)
The 1968 lava trail is extremely interesting for visitors as it is not every day that you go on a lava hike! The hike starts off quite easily, passing open fields but once you enter the rainforest, you will begin to see the trail get steeper and more strenuous.

There are some nice views of Lake Arenal along the trail, but head to the top for the best views of both Arenal Volcano and the lake.

Horse trekking to the base of the volcano

This organized tour lasts half a day: the route is very beautiful between the rainforest and some rivers that run through it. You can easily book it on site: there are not many who do it and in 99% of cases you will find availability.

Mountain biking

Are you an active person and an adventurous soul? Then this tour is definitely the one for you. Also in this case I think it is worth going to an agency on the spot to choose the path that suits you best.

La Fortuna waterfall

La Fortuna waterfall
 that's what I mean when I talk about luxuriant nature!

Most likely my favorite thing about my stay was walking to the La Fortuna waterfall.

To get to the waterfall there is a short walk into the city, all flat, without ups and downs, which you can easily do on foot or by bicycle.

The forest around the waterfall is lush enough to leave you stunned. From the entrance there is a nice panoramic point, but to get to the bottom of its feet you will have to go up a steep staircase: no problem going downhill, the return instead is a bit tiring but it is worth it.

At the base of the waterfall there is a small lake where you can swim, surrounded by the forest: the place is beautiful do not miss it!

La Fortuna waterfall is about 70-75 meters high, is fed by the Arenal River and is located at the base of the dormant Chato volcano.

From the center to get to the entrance the best thing is to rent a bike if you don't have a rental car. Entrance to the park costs 10 euros per person. If you go down to the foot of the waterfall be careful because the path in the forest could be slippery. However, the path is well signposted so there is no risk of getting lost.

It is also possible to book a tour, but visiting the waterfall on your own is very feasible so my advice is to save in this case and spend your budget on other things.

At the foot of the waterfall there is a beautiful pond in which to swim

Cherro Chato

This tour is for those who feel like getting muddy from head to toe and are experienced hikers. Trekking on the Cherro Chato it is 10 hours long and will take you through the forest to the lake.

You can find out more here

Terme del Vulcano Arenal

Wherever in the world (or almost everywhere) there is an active volcano, there are also hot Springs with the waters naturally heated by the thermal activity of the subsoil. Fortuna is no exception, where the spas are not only renowned and very famous but also extremely beautiful.

After a day of sports, trekking and outdoor activities, I believe there is nothing better than spending a few hours soaking in the pools of hot thermal waters. Here at La Fortuna there are several to choose from.

Many day tours include entry to the spa at the end of the day. Opting for a combined activity / spa tour is the best choice so you avoid the hassle of looking for them.

If, on the other hand, you want to go there for your own business, go to the two most famous which are (obviously) in two truly luxury locations: the Tabacon and theEcoTermales.

Il Tabacon it is a luxury resort, guests have free entry to the spa, but even if you do not stay there you can still enter: the center offers various types of packages, from one-day passes to those of several days.

However, I will give you a gem: if you want to bathe in hot water you can go to the river in front of the Tabacon where you can immerse yourself completely for free!

Canopy Tour in the rainforest

You want to go to Costa Rica and not make a canopy tour? What??? Are you kidding?

Ok ... the canopy tour, or zip-line as it is more often called here, in Costa Rica is the coolest thing you can do.

I'm afraid of heights, so I was really scared at first, but as usual it's just my paranoia because after doing the first stretch the fear passed completely and I had a lot of fun darting through the rainforest trees , 50 meters and more in height.

It is certainly not an economic activity, but do it anyway.
To be honest I didn't do it at Fortuna, but in Monteverde, in any case it is a beautiful experience everywhere.

You can read my canopy tour adventure here.

Chocolate Tour

During our tour we were able to make our own chocolate from plant seeds
 and amazing it was good!

Another of the things I recommend you do in costa rica is a tour to see how chocolate is made. I did and I loved it. We saw the tree and its fruit and made our own chocolate (it was good to tell the truth).

Highly recommended (another tour not to be missed is the coffee tour).

Rafting and chocolate tour

you can book a 7 hour day by doing Rafting (something La Fortuna is famous for) combined with a chocolate tour. I did them separately, but a combo tour might actually be a great idea.

In short, there are so many activities that you can do in the area around the Arenal volcano that you will be spoiled for choice and it is practically impossible to list them all: from the canopy tour to challenging excursions for the more adventurous, to comfortable walks in the rainforest and suspension bridges, coffee or chocolate tour to the spa for those who like to struggle less.

You can also take a look here to see some and book them a little earlier.

Where to eat in La Fortuna

There is certainly no shortage of restaurants in La Fortuna, but I recommend you try the "soda", small family-run establishments where you can find true local Costa Rican food.

La Fortuna is known for being full of expensive restaurants (sometimes I really think it's hard to stay here on a budget).

But as always, I strongly recommend that you support local and family businesses. For those unfamiliar with soda, these are rather ubiquitous small family-run restaurants and serve really tasty food.

As a vegetarian, I have almost always opted for casado (a so-called poor dish with black beans, bananas, salad, rice and a tortilla), but there is no shortage of meat dishes.

Here are some places I recommend

Organic Fortuna: a market for organic products also serves as a restaurant, bar and café. It is located near the park in the city center. They serve meat-based dishes but also vegan and / or gluten-free dishes.

Soda The Ant: economical and reliable this small soda offers casado and fish and other typical dishes.

Nenes Restaurant: a well-known and somewhat historic restaurant: founded in 1994, it serves both local and international dishes. Famous for grilled meat.

Soda Mima: another small soda that offers local food at cheap prices.

Don Rufino: Most expensive restaurant, offers the best food in Costa Rica. Award winning is always full of people so book early.

Where to sleep

The hammock I used to spend a few hours in during my days at Essence Arenal

When it comes to where to sleep in La Fortuna, you are spoiled for choice. We stayed in a wonderful and cheap hostel, the Essence Arenal which, however, is not in the city and can be reached by car. The hostel has a free shuttle service to and from La Fortuna twice a day, but it's inconvenient.

Cheap Hotels and Hostels

Essence Arenal: this boutique hostel is located outside La Fortuna, in the small mountain village of El Castillo, a bucolic town not very frequented by tourists. The hostel is perched on a hill, surrounded by forest and with a truly breathtaking view of Arenal and the lake. The rooms are simple but clean, there is a heated jacuzzi for clients and they do yoga sessions. Without a doubt one of the coolest hostels I've ever been to.

Click here to see pricing and availability for Essence Arenal

Arenal Backpackers Resort: has both dorms and private rooms with bathroom, hot water and comfortable hammocks. Not to mention the beauty of the swimming pool with a bar in the center where you can relax with a cold beer after a day of physical activity. It defines itself as a 5-star hostel, as one of the most comfortable in the whole country. Book it well in advance or you won't find a place (as happened to me). Click here to see prices and availability.

Hotel Bijagua: highly recommended by travelers on a budget but not willing to go to a hostel. This property is family run and offers a variety of different rooms ranging from suites to a two bedroom apartment. Click here to see prices and availability.

Average prices

These two hotels are highly recommended on the web. I have heard of them very well from friends who have been there and I think they can be an excellent choice for those who do not want to go to a hostel but do not want to spend a fortune in an ecolodge or a luxury hotel.

Casa Luna Hotel & Spa. This mid-budget hotel offers a lot of services and is located just outside the city center in a very quiet area. Casa Luna Hotel & Spa has an outdoor swimming pool, lounge, bar and spa (hence its name). Click here to see prices and availability.

Arenal Observatory Lodge & Spa: one of the best known and most recommended hotels in the city. Voted the second best hotel by Tripadvisor in 2015, this eco-friendly boutique hotel is almost always full, so book well in advance. It must be a really great place to stay. Click here to see prices and availability.

Luxury Hotels

Nayara Hotel Spa & Gardens. This is famous for being one of the best hotels in La Fortuna. This also fills up quickly so book it as early as you can. Nayara Hotel Spa & Gardens was voted the second best hotel in the world by TripAdvisor in 2015.

Um, yes. It must be a really nice place. Click here to see prices and availability.

Nayara Springs. The sister hotel of the Nayara Hotel Spa & Gardens, was named the number 1 luxury hotel in the world in both 2016 and 2017. Try booking a room here (and then invite me!). Click here to see prices and availability.

The Springs Resort & Spa. This luxury resort is top of the range. Click here to see prices and availability.

Fortuna deserves to spend a few days there. It is quite expensive, yes, but certain activities can also be done quite cheaply. Many people say that this area is not worth visiting now that the volcano is no longer erupting but I personally disagree with them.

It is certainly one of the most touristic places in Costa Rica, but it is a beautiful place nestled in one of the most luxuriant countries in the world.

If you have any additional suggestions on what to see around Arenal Volcano, where to eat, or sleep, please leave them in the comments for future travelers. Thanks!

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