La Fortuna isn’t one of Costa Rica’s favorite vacation destinations without reason. This classic Costa Rican town is the gateway to some of the country’s best eco-adventures and bountiful natural treasures available. Home to the iconic Arenal Volcano and National Park as well as Arenal Lake, rainforests, waterfalls, and countless mineral-rich hot springs, the region is literally brimming with opportunities for exploration and discovery.
The charming town of La Fortuna is nestled below Arenal Volcano. Its centerpiece, the local cathedral and quintessential soccer field share the stage with one of the best volcano views in town. Visitors will also find every grade of hotel, resort, or hostel imaginable, as well as unlimited dining options, souvenir shops, tour providers and every other amenity to fill their needs or whims.
Getting to La Fortuna
A visit to La Fortuna is at the top of the list of most vacation itineraries. The fact that getting there is less than a three-hour drive from both the Juan Santamaria International Airport, as well as the Daniel Oduber Quíros International Airport in Liberia, also helps.
Visitors can rent a car from either the San José or Liberia Airport offices or even at the Adobe La Fortuna Office. See the Adobe Rent a Car website for office hours and contact information at www.adobecar.com.
It’s not necessary to have a 4WD vehicle to get to La Fortuna as the roads there are well paved and in good condition. If you are planning on visiting other remote destinations during your Costa Rica vacation then speak to an Adobe representative about the best car to fit your travel needs.
There are several in-country flights and shuttles from San Jose, Costa Rica, to La Fortuna. And many visitors combine transportation options to save time.
History of the area
La Fortuna’s good luck as a goldmine of tourist intrigue is a relatively recent arrival. In 1968, the then humble villages that preceded La Fortuna were devastated by the volcano’s sudden and violent eruption. Waves of devastating gas, lava, and ash burst from the mountain’s western flank resulting in the utter annihilation of three adjacent towns and causing 87 fatalities.
Since its initial outburst, the moody Arenal Volcano settled into a mild state of constant activity that wowed tourists and scientists for over 40 years. Since 2010, the mild eruptions became even more subdued, and today, Arenal is in a resting phase, emitting only the occasional burst of steam or grumble from its depths. Nonetheless, the local towns and visitor areas are all located a safe distance, and the Volcano’s activity is closely and continuously monitored for the safety of all.
When is the best time to visit? La Fortuna Costa Rica weather
The best time to visit La Fortuna, Costa Rica, is generally during the dry season between December and April. During the rainy season between May and November, the volcano is often obscured by clouds. Bright and sunny mornings are extremely common in Costa Rica, however, except for during the rainiest months of September and October.
Even if you can’t see the volcano for its blanket of low-lying clouds, there’s plenty of things to see and do that will keep you awed and entertained.
Surprisingly, the population of La Fortuna, Costa Rica, is a mere 18,700 residents. During the peak tourist season, however, these numbers swell exponentially. The December holidays and New Years are the busiest time of year and the area is full to bursting with tourists.
If you prefer to avoid the crowds, it’s best to visit La Fortuna a little before or after the holiday season. July and August are also considered great months to visit as they coincide with summer vacations in North America and Europe.
Things to do in La Fortuna
The town of La Fortuna offers all the necessities a visitor might need, like great food, hotels, pharmacies, and shopping. It’s outside of town, however, where the adventure awaits. Just about every eco-adventure that has made Costa Rica famous can be found around the Arenal Volcano and Lake.
Hot Springs La Fortuna
Arenal Volcano is the source of several thermal rivers and underground springs that bubble to the surface as steamy mineral-rich rivers and pools. Visitors will literally find dozens of hot springs resorts dotting the countryside. Some boast the waters profound healing properties in quiet zen-infused peacefulness. And other resorts abound with water slides and swim-up bars, in addition to a few quiet nooks for relaxation.
Nearly all of the hot springs around La Fortuna offer great views of their maker, the volcano. Many travelers short on time take day trips from San José or Liberia to soak in the mountain’s rejuvenating waters. Most resorts offer day packages with meals and/or a spa treatment, including Baldi Hot Springs, The Springs Resort, Tabacon, and several others.
Hiking, birding, and ecology walks are some of the area’s main draws. Several parks and reserves have extensive hiking trails with impressive steel hanging bridges spanning the rainforest and mountain canyons. These parks are an excellent way to experience the forest from both the ground level and the treetop canopy. Expert guides are available to enrich the experience, and the trails are generally well marked and maintained.
Arenal Volcano National Park
The impressive Arenal Volcano National Park covers nearly 30,000 acres and is only a small portion of the larger 500,000-acre Arenal Conservation Area. The protected area encompasses a fantastic variety of terrains, geological features, and ecological habitats that are home to tens of thousands of animal, bird, and reptile species.
Upon entering the park, visitors can tour the onsite historical museum and active monitoring station where seismographs and other instruments regularly measure the pulse of the sleeping giant. Several walking trails depart from the visitor station into the surrounding countryside where old lava fields and the stunning volcano vista give testimony to the volcano’s powerful potential.
Visitors can book a room at the onsite Arenal Observatory Lodge & Spa to get a better feel for the science behind volcanology and learn about the park through tours offered by the onsite licensed naturalists and guides.
Canopy tours, canyoning, white-water rafting, and waterfalls
There are numerous tour providers that offer multi-adventure day tours combining popular activities. Visitors can choose from canopy tours in La Fortuna, Costa Rica, with exciting zip lines and Tarzan swings, in addition to rock climbing and rappelling down steep canyons and waterfalls or peaceful sky trams through the forest canopy.
White water rafting is an exhilarating way to experience Costa Rica’s breathtaking natural scenery and wildlife. There are a few rivers to choose from, including the exciting Sarapiqui and Balsa rivers near La Fortuna. Depending on the level of excitement desired, participants can choose from I and II class floats to thrilling III and IV-class rapids. Tubing is another option for those looking for some more outdoor fun.
Another local favorite is the La Fortuna Waterfall. The La Fortuna River, which originates at the dormant Chato Volcano, drops nearly 75 meters (246 feet) into a dreamy pool surrounded by cliffs and rainforest.
The hike down, and back up, is not for the weak of heart—or knees. Visitors must navigate some 100 stairs carved into the mountainside to reach the canyon floor. The majestic vista and refreshing pools for swimming and relaxing make the effort worthwhile.
Horseback riding and ATV tours in La Fortuna
Two popular ways of exploring the verdant countryside are by horseback or ATV tours. Costa Rica’s rich history is steeped in a farming and ranching culture of which horses are an essential component. Touring the countryside with a cowboy guide is not only an excellent way to see wildlife and beautiful scenery, but it is also a great way to learn about local traditions and folklore.
On the other hand, ATV tours are an exciting way to experience the rugged countryside and have fun. Several operators in town offer tours and some rent ATVs by the day and half-day.
Arenal Lake and Dam
Besides being a significant contributor to the nation’s renewable energy reserves, Arenal Lake and Dam is a beautiful place to visit. The 85-square km lake is Costa Rica’s largest and extremely popular for water sports and sportfishing.
High winds sweeping off of the nearby volcano create the perfect conditions for sailing and windsurfing. While on calmer days, kayaking and canoeing take the lead. Fly fishermen and women come from around the world to fish the shallows for the elusive rainbow bass and other freshwater species.
Dining and nightlife – restaurants in La Fortuna
Costa Rica boasts a vast international expat community, and it is evident in La Fortuna’s restaurants. Dining options are many, including several local Costa Rican eateries and steak houses, Italian pizzerias, Chinese, Peruvian, and more.
Most of the larger hot spring resorts have high-end restaurants and occasional live entertainment. For late-night excitement, travelers can check out the town’s handful of bars and even a couple of discos catering to a younger clientele.