La Fortuna is one of Costa Rica’s most popular destinations for tourists. It’s a small town located about a 3-3.5 hour drive northwest of the capital, San Jose. La Fortuna is famously known as a gateway to Arenal Volcano National Park which is comprised of two volcanoes. Due to the Arenal Volcano still being active, you’ll find a ton of hot springs around the foot of the volcano on the thermal Tabacon River. The other volcano, Chato Volcano, is dormant and has a crater lake, and rainforest trails that lead to the beautiful La Fortuna Waterfall.
I visited the area on my first stop in Costa Rica on my recent trip. There is an overwhelming amount of things to do in the area, and we were only there for two days, and three nights. This doesn’t seem like much time but you can still do a fair bit of the area if you are okay with busier days.
Where to stay in La Fortuna
If you’re looking for a place to stay, I stayed at Princesa De La Luna Ecolodge. There are really a few key areas you can stay. You can opt for a place located right in the city centre, where you can be within walking distance of all the shops and restaurants. The alternative is that you can stay closer to the hot springs/Tabacon which is just past the city centre and a bit more remote. You’ll find bigger, fancier hotels here (I dreamed of having a bath in one of the rooms overlooking Arenal at the Tabacon Resort but it was WAY out of my price range).
Lastly, you can stay in places like the one I selected which was a short, 10ish minute drive to the city centre but was more remote, and right in the jungle. I loved being a bit out of the hustle and bustle and even though we didn’t have a car, it wasn’t hard (or expensive) for us to get taxis to and from the city centre. We also considered La Tigra because it looked like an incredible place, but it was a little too far out of the way for us without a car.
Where to eat in La Fortuna
The small city centre of La Fortuna offers a ton of different places to eat. I did not make it to every single place that was recommended but here are some places to check out:
- Soda La Hormiga
- Red Frog (I didn’t make it here but my tour guide highly recommended it)
- El Corral
- Nene’s El Rio
- Don Rufino (I ate here one evening and it was REALLY good. Definitely more elevated and on the higher price scale but worth it. Make a reservation online during high season as it gets busy)
- Rainforest Cafe
- Tierra Mia (Recommended by my hotel, we had a great, inexpensive meal here)
Here is a hefty list of restaurant recommendations in the area from My Tan Feet
What to do in La Fortuna
There is SO much to do in this area so it can be overwhelming to decide what to do, especially if you have limited time in La Fortuna.
The hot springs are a must-do while visiting La Fortuna and there are SO many options and ways you can do them. You can opt for the more bougie hot springs in the area like Tabacon or The Springs. Despite these also being hotels, you can buy just a day pass to visit their hot springs. You’ll get a more elevated experience in places like these. I went to Tabacon because we want to go to the best of the best, however, it was expensive and not conducive to everyone’s budgets, so you can opt for one based on how much you want to pay. Generally here is what’s recommended:
Budget: There are free hot springs in La Fortuna too! Just up from the popular Tabacon Resort you’ll usually see a bunch of cars/people on the side of the road. There’s a short path on the north side of the road that leads to the river.
You can spend a full day at the hot springs or you can just add these in at the end of a long day doing other activities. It really depends how much time you want there.
Here’s a great guide on all the hot springs by No Man Before
Arenal National Park
Hike in this National Park to see the volcanic rock, some great views, and old lava trails. You can drive yourself to the park and do a trail or hike on your own, or you can do a guided tour. The entrance fee is $15 USD and it’s open daily from 8am-4pm. All the trails are pretty short, so this really can be a family-friendly activity as well. We did the Arenal 1968 Volcano Trail. If you do decide you want a guide, your best option is to hire one beforehand or book a tour. There are no guides you can hire right at the park itself. We did our hike as part of a tour that included the hanging bridges, La Fortuna waterfall, and the national park.
For a full guide on Arenal National Park, check out this resource
I didn’t opt to do the sloth tour and I kind of regret it. It was the first day in the area and I just wanted to relax, I figured I’d see sloths at another point in my trip, which was true, however, you are guaranteed to see multiple sloths here. There is an area right on the edge of town where you can do a sloth tour/trail called the Bogarin Trail. It’s $15 USD for a self-guided tour but I always recommend a tour guide on nature walks in Costa Rica as you are guaranteed to see WAY more wildlife than on your own.
La Fortuna Waterfall
I LOVED this waterfall. It was so refreshing and fun. You can easily drive yourself here and just pay the $18 USD entrance fee to visit the waterfall. You can also buy tickets in advance here. There is no need for a guide here. You basically walk through the entrance and you will walk down 500 stairs to get to the bottom of the waterfall. If you aren’t cut out for the steps, there is also a platform to view the waterfall from the top. Bring your bathing suit and go for a swim! Since I didn’t have a car, I did this as part of the tour I mentioned above and there are several different tour companies you can find through your hotel or the city centre of La Fortuna that can help get you to the waterfall.
This area is famous for ziplining, and you’ll find TONS of different adventure parks to choose from. I didn’t do ziplining at all on my trip because I’ve done it in several different places and it just isn’t for me. So I’m going to leave the recommendations up to Costa Rica Travel Blog as they have reviewed all the most popular options in this blog post.
Mistico Hanging Bridges
I went to the Mistico Hanging Bridges while in the area and it was a great experience. The views from the bridges are beautiful but what was even better was our guide that pointed up a lot of nature and wildlife along the way. You can definitely do a walk through the hanging bridges alone. However, it’s very unlikely that you will spot ANY wildlife. It’s incredibly hard to spot a lot of the animals hidden in the forest without a guide so I would recommend hiring a guide. You can do this directly with Mistico or book a tour with a tour company in town.
- White Water Rafting
- Rio Celeste Waterfall
- Safari Floats
- Horseback Riding
- Cooking Class
- Chocolate Tour
- Coffee Tour
- Night Tour
Do I need a car in La Fortuna, Costa Rica? No. A LOT of people rent cars in Costa Rica to get around, and although it can make things easier to get to, taxis, tours, and shuttles all exist to easily get you from point A to point B. In fact, for me, I think we probably saved money by not renting a car since the cost of car rentals, and gas can get pricey. Not to mention the uncertain roads in Costa Rica.
How do I decide what to do? There are so many activities to choose from but many of these activities you’ll find in other tourist areas of Costa Rica. For example, I traveled onwards to Monteverde and I could do almost all the above activities thereto with the exception of Hot Springs and the Volcano National Park which are both unique to the area. You’ll find waterfalls across the country, night walks, and adventure activities everywhere.
What should I order to eat in Costa Rica? Eating at local sodas will be budget-friendly and the most authentic while in the country. Gallo Pinto is the typical breakfast you’ll find on most menus, and Casado is different everywhere but is the authentic plate to order for lunch or dinner that has a variety of mixed foods like rice, beans, plantains, salad, and a protein/meat.
How much should I budget for La Fortuna? Like anywhere you can make your trip budget-friendly or luxurious. Meals can range from $8 USD at a soda to $50 USD + in more expensive restaurants. Local beer is super cheap but cocktails are more pricey. You can ALWAYS just buy entry tickets at places like the waterfall, or the national park, but if you opt to join a tour or hire a guide that’ll be more expensive. There are hostels or luxury resorts, so just pick and choose based on your budget. This area can be budget-friendly but you can also go for a fancy vacay.
How many days do I need in La Fortuna? I’d recommend around 2-3 days but if you want a slow-paced trip, you can choose to stay here for a whole week or longer. There are lots to do!
Stay tuned for more content from Costa Rica coming soon! In the meantime, feel free to drop your questions or recommendations for La Fortuna below.