Destination number two in my adventures in Costa Rica was La Fortuna, the town at the foot of one of the most iconic, and for 43 years, the most active volcano in the country, Arenal. Although Arenal has been dormant since 2011, at 1657m tall with its classic conic shape it is still a awesome sight to behold and well worth a visit.
How to get there: As I said in my previous blog about San Jose my friend and I hired an SUV which made getting there much easier! From San Jose, it was 2 hrs 30 – 3 hr drive. the roads really weren’t bad much easier to drive out here than in the capital. other ways – you can get the public bus which is pretty cheap, best paying in colones, but takes more like 4 hours. You can get the bus from terminal 7-10 and if you’re unsure use maps.me, an offline map, to track your journey so you know when to get off. Alternatively, you can pay more and get a shuttle, if you’re Spanish is non-existent or bad and you’re worried about getting lost maybe this is the best option. They will give you door to door service and will probably take about the same time as the car depending on how many people you have to pic up and drop off and you sometimes stop off for food and or a bus change. But for these added extras you’ll need to spend about $50. If you’re going in peak season decide in advance and book because they’ll fill up fast. If you’re going in rainy season, don’t worry, you should just be able to book the night before.
Where to stay: We stayed in a great little hostel called La Choza Inn. Its fairly central, La Fortuna is pretty is small so no matter where you stay you’ll be close to the shops and restaurants. The rooms in the hostel are fairly small but the breakfast is free, and tasty, Pinto de Gallo and some fruit. It has a lovely garden with hummingbirds and hammocks, the dining area and kitchen are pretty decent and added bonus there’s a TV and sofa to chill on and watch Netflix!
Things to do
There’s loads to do in the La Fortuna area, we spent 4 nights there and felt that was perfect. There’s a range of things to do for various budgets.if you’re on a tight budget, don’t worry there are free things to do –
If you want to chill out and relax in some hot springs but don’t want to spend a fortune on a spa resort then there are some free hot springs you can access. All the hot springs here are situated on Rio Arenal, or one of the smaller rivers that split off it, as this is the one that comes from the volcano.
Maps.me has the free hot springs on the map which is pretty handy but the entrance is pretty hard to spot. If you’re coming from the town centre keep going until you reach the second Tabacon resort, the ‘grand’ one. There’s parking on the side of the road here and guys who stand by the road and gesture you to park (you can top them like 500 colones to watch your car). After here you cross the bridge and a little way up there will be a little path on your left hand side. It might be marked by a bit of tape or cloth. Follow this down for a minute and you’ll reach the river. There’s quite a few built up little pools of varying depths that you can lie in. It’s quite a walk from the centre of la Fortuna (nearly 3hrs) so when booking your hostel check for shuttle services, La Choza Inn offers a free one.
This is the smaller volcano next to Arenal and you can hike up this one. If you’re lucky enough to have a rental car then drive to the waterfall car park. From here hike up the hill, you will soon see a little security post on your right beware here if there is a guard at the post to Green Lagoon they will ask you to go in and pay a $10 fee as it is apparently their land, they will direct you and tell you to follow the red arrows, if no one is there just head straight up and feel lucky you get to walk for free! the first part is outside the jungle and takes about half an hour up a steep slope. then you cross a tiny bridge and head into the jungle. This is where it gets tricky. From here on its more of a mixture of climbing and hiking, so take plenty water and some snacks! I think it took us about 2 hrs to get to the crater from here, but I know other people made it faster. The path is pretty clear but you can see it on maps.me and google maps (if you have internet) so you can track your progress. Once you reach the top you can hike back down to the centre and cool off in the lake in the middle of the crater. It’s pretty cold but feels so good after a long hike! Although we only saw 2 others coming down while hiking we saw a few in the crater. Getting up from the crater was probably the hardest part but we made it! and getting down from the top was not too bad, the whole way back took us about 2 hrs so you’re looking at around 4 and a half hrs round trip plus time in the crater, if you’re used to tough hikes or are really fit you’ll do it faster. However, if you’re starting from the town centre add an extra hour on each way to get to and from the start that I mentioned! You’ll need the full day for that hike but its worth it and I met plenty people who did it.
You can go to a few points round Lake Arenal and you’ll just have to pay a bus fare or taxi there. We didn’t end up going but its another free/cheap thing too do.
If you have a bit of a bigger budget and are looking for a few more things to do there’s the Arenal National Park, where you just pay entry and get to walk about. Alternatively you have El silencio mirador. Theres also some guided boat tours and other water sports on Lake Arenal. We thought about doing this but didn’t think it would be worth it, bit beyond our budget and never enough time to do everything.
Some other things you can try out in the area that quite costly but are totally awesome:
White water rafting
This costs round about $80 depending on the length of trip and company. We went with Costa Rican Descents which cost $85 for level II and III rapids. I’m so glad we went with these guys cause it was awesome! I think we chose Rio Sarapiqui but ended up doing the Rio Balsa trip, it really depends on number of people on each trip and water levels. If too few have booked on your trip or your river isn’t very full then they’ll move you onto another one. Really It makes no odds as long as you’re doing the same level. You get picked up from your hostel in the morning then driven to the rapids where you get geared up and given a safety briefing and demonstration. After you’re all happy you jump straight into it! On Rio Balsa you’re straight into the rapids for about an hour or so then you hit a much more shill bit of water where they guides try and point out sloths, iguanas, birds, even a poison dart frog and if you’re lucky monkeys! Our guide, Orlando, was great! His English was really good which helps but he was so knowledgeable, friendly and funny! A guide can make a good experience great and that what he did. After the rapids, we went back to their organic farm for lunch and some traditionally made coffee. We then got a tour of the farm and shown how to juice sugar cane. It was amazing, you get to taste some and it actually tastes good! We even got to try a shot of his homemade 50% rum and bite on a stick of sugar cane after. Well worth the money, I would definitely recommend this company!
Unfortunately, you can’t do a free version of this. We were hoping that a self guided tour would be free of like $5 park entry but, alas, no. It was $26 entry for a self guided tour!! It was nice, we saw some beautiful scenery and animals – mostly butterflies but we saw a snake too. But after our amazing super jungly hike up to Cerro Chato this felt a bit fake. About half way there’s a nice waterfall, best viewed in rainy season though, but you will also get rained on quite a bit. The path was paved the whole way and the bridges were alright but not the beautiful hanging bridges I had in mind. I wouldn’t say it was entirely worth $26 but I’m also glad we went.
Hope you enjoyed this and found it useful! Next stop: Monteverde! Come back soon for my next article!