A four-hour bus ride, winding through the mountains north of San Jose sits the stunning city of La Fortuna, home to the famous Arenal Volcano of Costa Rica. It’s a haven for hiking and nature lovers, with an endless supply of fun activities and entertainment to enjoy.
Arenal Accommodation: Hotel Campos Arenal
This hotel is an absolute gem just outside the town center of La Fortuna. While it’s not right in the heart of everything – that’s what makes it so special. It’s no more than a 10-minute walk from all the attractions, and this distance makes it QUIET at night – unlike hostels and hotels right on the main street. Hotel Campos Arenal was brand new when we stayed – and I highly recommend it to anyone traveling to Arenal. The pool offers an unimpeded view of the magnificent volcano, making it the perfect place to lay out and soak up the sun.
It’s a family-run operation, and the staff is incredibly helpful and kind. From a home-cooked breakfast every morning to insider advice and help booking tours, and assistance getting us taxis and anything else we needed was great. I’d highly recommend a stay here – it’s affordable and convenient. The beds were comfortable and the air conditioning was great for the hot nights too.
Pool Time & Relaxing in Arenal
This was the best part of the hotel and an amenity we used with enthusiasm. The sun was shining every day, there were plenty of lounge chairs, and the view of the volcano you could admire while sunbathing didn’t get old. The water was cool and refreshing and we essentially had the pool to ourselves most of the day. DONT FORGET TO PACK SUNSCREEN when you head off to Costa Rica. It’s expensive to buy within the country and with all the sunshine, you’re going to need it!
Whitewater rafting & Hanging Bridges Tour
Our big excursion day while staying in La Fortuna was a trip with Wave Expeditions. It was a 2-part day, and every minute was amazing! We started off early with a private tour on the hanging bridges in Mistico, a giant nature reserve. We saw bats, howler monkeys, tiny snakes curled up on leaves and beautiful birds. It was super cool to go on a walk with a guide who could point out animals we wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. We also saw a sloth hanging out in a tree right outside a restaurant we stopped at!
Rafting the Balsa River
After walking through the canopy of the rainforest, learning all about the flora and fauna, it was time to meet up with bigger groups to head out on the rafts. Whitewater rafting with experienced guides is a fantastic way to get some exercise, enjoy a thrill, and cool off in a hot climate. It was so much fun – our guide Carlos was super kind and we had a ton of fun cruising through the rapids.
Sugarcane Juice Demo + Shots
After the rafting trip, we were driven to a local restaurant for a hearty late lunch/early dinner. After refueling from a day of activity, we finished off the tour with a demonstration of how local sugarcane farmers harvest and press the crop into a juice – a sweet shot combined with a strong liquor called Guaro. It was the perfect digestif and a cool experience to end the day before getting transport back to our hotel.
Arenal Park Walk – Self Guided
A great, self-guided excursion to enjoy if you like being out in nature and hiking is going to the Arenal Observatory Lodge and walking around the nature reserves for a few hours. It’s safe and a nice way to enjoy being outdoors on your own, enjoying the views at your own pace. There are marked trails that will take you over suspension bridges, through winding forest paths, over rivers and gorges, by waterfalls, and around the base of the Arenal Volcano. It’s a great place to spend a few hours, getting some exercise and breathing in the fresh air of Costa Rica.
At the end of our walk, we enjoyed a drink on the terrace at the lodge, waiting for our taxi to arrive. We even saw a Coati – an animal very similar to a raccoon, crawl across the deck looking for food. I’d recommend spending at least 2-3 hours walking around the Arenal Park.
Baldi Hot Springs
After a morning of using your muscles hiking around the volcano and through the forest, relax in a hot spring! There are TONS of hot spring options around La Fortuna, so it was tricky to pick one! We opted for Baldi, as it is highly rated and offered extras like waterslides and a meal included. It certainly wasn’t a cheap endeavor, at $60 USD per person, but you get a big buffet meal, a day of soaking in tons of different pools, and there is a swim-up bar. The waterslides were AWESOME but be aware – the fast one is FAST!
Restaurants in La Fortuna
While some meals were included in the tours that we did, we did enjoy a few meals out on the town in La Fortuna. Rainforest Cafe was the first one we visited, and I can assure you it’s nothing like the tacky chain in the United States. It’s a cute little cafe/restaurant with a great selection and cheap prices. Since it’s off the main square, it feels more local than some of the other tourist traps. I had the tostones (pictured below) and they were delicious.
Nenes Restaurant was highly recommended from a lot of local guides, and it was a delicious, more “upscale” spot in La Fortuna. It was still very affordable. The cocktails were awesome and the food was great, with huge portion sizes. If you eat here, come hungry.
La Fonda 506
I loved the food at this restaurant but it’s definitely more expensive for the local area. We had this pineapple-shrimp salad and make-your-own fajitas. The portion sizes were small but plenty for us. La Fonda 506 is right off the main square close to the office for Wave Expeditions. I enjoyed this place a lot but be aware the prices are higher than what you can find at other places. It’s also good if you’re looking for more “Americanized” food and are tired of Costa Rican cuisine.
If you’re going to Costa Rica, you have to plan at least a few days in La Fortuna. The volcano, the surrounding forests, and the overall atmosphere of this mountain city is incredible. It’s a beautiful place to come and unwind or embark on various adrenaline-fueled adventures. I loved traveling around Costa Rica because you can have such a good mix of everything – culture, food, relaxation in the sunshine, adventures, all with a strong dedication to sustainable and eco-friendly practices.