La Fortuna, Costa Rica is a must-visit destination for travelers of all ages and interests. Located in the province of Alajuela in the northern part of the country, the main attraction of this destination is the majestic Arenal Volcano. In fact, La Fortuna got its “fortunate” name when it was spared from the volcano’s eruption in 1968. The volcano is still active, but there’s no need to worry—there hasn’t been any seismic activity detected since 2010 .
La Fortuna’s economy is heavily dependent upon tourism which means there are myriad activities you won’t want to miss. You’ll feel reassured knowing that many of the staff at tourist attractions speak English. From the relaxation you’ll get at the hot springs to the adrenaline rush you’ll experience while ziplining or whitewater rafting, there’s something for everyone in La Fortuna.
Here are the Things to Do In La Fortuna:
Hike Arenal Volcano
The focal point of La Fortuna is the 5,357-foot tall (1,633 meters) Arenal Volcano, so it makes sense that one of the most popular attractions is the Arenal Volcano National Park. You can hike mid-way up the volcano, where you’ll see the enormous boulders thrown during its eruption and the deep crevices left by the molten lava.
There are several hiking trails dependent upon your stamina and ability. Some are easily managed by the weekend hiker, while others may present a challenge to the most seasoned climber. For safety reasons climbing to the top of the volcano isn’t allowed, but there’s plenty to see on all the trails, especially if you hire a guide to take you.
Go Horseback Riding
Horse lovers of all riding abilities will enjoy a ride near the volcano’s base. A guide will give you basic riding training before you set off, so even novices and kids can enjoy this one-of-a-kind experience. You can explore the La Fortuna Waterfall, ride through rivers, and discover jungle trails on the back of a well-trained horse.
As you ride, your guide will point out indigenous animals, birds, and plants along the trail. The benefit of horseback riding is that it allows you to experience places you cannot explore on foot giving you a new appreciation for nature and the bond between a horse and its rider. You will need closed-toed shoes and long pants for this activity.
Soak In the Hot Springs
La Fortuna is home to twenty-one hot springs thanks to the underground waters heated by the volcano, and there is a hot spring destination for every traveler’s preference—from luxurious to simple. Some have exciting water slides for the kids, while others have swim-up bars for the grownups. There are several thermal pools at each resort, and each is clearly marked with the temperature.
Many hot springs are located at hotels, and there’s nothing better than an early morning or late evening soak. The finest hot springs resort in La Fortuna has seen its share of celebrities but don’t discount the smaller, family-owned motels when deciding where to stay. You can find everything you need to know about La Fortuna hotels / hot springs at our best hotel booking sites list.
Live Pura Vida
The people of Costa Rica are known as ticos, and part of tico culture includes living the lifestyle of pura vida, literally translated as pure life. You can find an illustration of that laid-back culture in the La Fortuna area at the free hot springs on the Tabacon River near the Tabacon Resort. This hidden gem is where you can relax in a natural setting, let the kids splash and play, or have a romantic candlelit evening with your partner after dark.
Bear in mind that this is a natural setting, so there are no lifeguards or staff, and the river can get choppy, especially during the rainy season. Do not bring any valuables and wear water shoes to avoid slipping on wet rocks. The natural hot springs may end up being the highlight of your trip but always think of safety first.
Zip Through the Jungle
Zip lining allows you to see over 500 acres (200 hectares) of Costa Rica from high atop the lush canopy of the jungle, and there are many opportunities in La Fortuna for you to participate in this fun activity. Each ziplining facility has up to twelve platforms along its lines, and it’s not uncommon to be joined by another group of people if your party is small.
If you’re a veteran of zip lining and looking for a new thrill, you may want to try the Superman version. With this variation of the standard ziplining, you will find yourself hanging facedown from the harness, allowing a completely different view of the ground below you. Adrenaline junkies will enjoy the Tarzan swing, enabling you to swing 328 feet (100 meters) above the trees. If you feel like splurging, some companies offer a GoPro camera attachment for your helmet so you can relive your exciting experience over and over again.
Admire the Beauty of the La Fortuna Waterfall
The rainy season in Costa Rica generally goes from May to December, and many people shy away from visiting during that time. However, that’s the season when the jungle is lush, and the waterfalls are at their most spectacular, with a strong and steady stream. Typically, this is also when airfare, lodging prices, and crowd sizes are at their lowest, so you can easily find bargains. Don’t worry about your vacation being a washout; there is still a lot of sunshine, even during Costa Rica’s wettest season and it’s worth it to see the La Fortuna Waterfall at its most beautiful.
The 230-foot (70 meters) high La Fortuna Waterfall at the base of the Chato volcano is magnificent no matter when you visit. You will need to climb approximately 530 steps through the forest to reach the falls, but the hike is worth it. Here you can swim in the chilly Fortuna River at the base of the falls, enjoy a picnic lunch, or just take lots of pictures to memorialize your vacation. It is recommended that you wear water shoes due to the slippery rocks and that you use one of the lockers available at the entrance to stash your belongings safely.
For the true adventure seeker, whitewater rafting in La Fortuna may be the perfect excursion. There are tours customized to everyone’s experience level so the whole family can enjoy this thrilling activity on the Balsa River. The tours are led by experienced guides who will give you the benefit of their experience, as well as all the equipment you need to create a safe and fun adventure.
Whitewater tubing is available from many tour companies if that’s your preference. Both tours allow you to see monkeys, toucans, and other wildlife that live along the river. Keep your eyes open to spot monkeys or iguanas in the trees.
Rappelling and Canyoning
If ziplining and whitewater rafting isn’t exciting enough for you, how does dropping down the side of a canyon sound? Rappelling may seem dangerous, but in the experienced hands of the tour operators, you will find it an exhilarating and safe way to see the rainforest from a different perspective.
One option for canyoning includes a steep descent down a waterfall—the perfect activity for a hot day as you enjoy getting cooled off from the chilly water. You don’t need to be an athlete to participate in rappelling and canyoning; it’s safe and fun for everyone, and no experience is necessary.
Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP)
If you’ve never tried Stand Up Paddle before, consider doing so on the largest lake in Costa Rica. Lake Arenal in La Fortuna is a manmade lake created in 1979 to generate electricity at the hydroelectric facility at the dam. Not only is Lake Arenal one of the ways Costa Rica is becoming energy independent, but it’s also famous for its breathtaking scenery, and its calm waters are perfect for SUP beginners.
An experienced instructor will guide you through a peaceful and enjoyable day on the lake and many SUP operators offer a free shuttle service to and from your hotel.
Cook With a Local
The people of Costa Rica are known for their friendliness and warm generosity, and if you’ve ever wanted to learn how to make tortillas, you’ll find no better way than to be taught by a Mama Tica.
Some tour companies offer a cultural immersion experience that includes a visit to the home of one of the locals. When you arrive, you will be greeted with a cold tropical beverage and brought to the kitchen to learn how to make homemade corn tortillas that will later be served to you with an authentic Costa Rican lunch. There is no age limit, so feel free to bring the kids for a day they’ll never forget. This experience is generally part of a larger adventure package, so ask your travel professional about it when making your reservations.
Eat Like a Local
The best food in Costa Rica can be found at the country’s small family-owned restaurants called sodas, and you will find several in La Fortuna. The soda is where you can start your day with a tipico breakfast of eggs, fruit, fried plantains, fried cheese, and the country’s specialty Gallo Pinto—rice and beans cooked together with a unique blend of spices and topped with Costa Rica’s famous Salsa Lizano. Don’t forget an order of delicious Costa Rican coffee drip-brewed in a traditional chorreador served black (negro) or with milk (con leche).
At any soda, for lunch or dinner, you can order a casado with rice, beans, sauteed vegetables, meat, and a side salad. There are a couple of explanations for where the name casado originated. Casado means married in Spanish; some say it got the name because it was the only meal a new bride knew how to cook for her husband, while others claim it refers to the casado’s marriage of flavors. Either way, you’re sure to enjoy it, especially if you order it with a refreshing smoothie called a batido made with ripe tropical fruit, ice, and milk or water.
Learn How Chocolate Is Made
If you’re looking for a delicious and fun way to learn about Costa Rica’s chocolate production, then a chocolate tour should be on your must-do list. During this one-hour experience, a bilingual guide will show you the trees laden with cacao pods. You’ll have an opportunity to taste the raw beans from the enormous pods that will eventually be turned into the chocolate we love. Your guide will explain the drying, roasting, and grinding processes, and you may even get to try your hand at making your own chocolate concoction.
Of course, the best tours always end with a final product tasting which you will enjoy more than ever now that you have a full appreciation for the work that goes into making chocolate. Make sure you pick up some tasty souvenirs from the gift shop for the folks at home.
Costa Rica is known for its hanging bridges, and La Fortuna is home to two of the most popular hanging bridges tours. During your two-mile (3.2 km) walking excursion, you will cross up to six suspension bridges and see a variety of exotic wildlife, and tropical plants that look too beautiful to be real. The bridges are suspended above deep gorges and take you across the dense jungle.
While you might be tempted to save some money by doing a self-guided tour, as in most places you visit in Costa Rica, a guide will make your experience more valuable and entertaining. Their trained eyes and long-range telescope will enable you to see everything ordinarily hidden in the jungle.
Get To Know Some Wildlife
There are several places in La Fortuna to see wildlife, but you’ll want to use a tour guide no matter where you decide to go. These professionals are trained to find sloths, exotic birds, anteaters, and other fauna and carry high-powered telescopes so you can get a good view—and maybe even a picture—of them. These guides are also experts in insects and native plant life so that you will walk away with some fascinating new information about the flora and fauna of Costa Rica.
A visit to the Butterfly Conservatory outside of La Fortuna should be on your list. The Conservatory is where you will have a chance to see the brilliantly blue Morphos butterfly, the national butterfly of Costa Rica. Their learning center is a rich source of information about the butterfly’s life cycle, the distinctiveness of different types of butterflies, as well as intriguing information about frogs and medicinal herbs.
Check Out the Local Nightlife
You may not find clubs for dancing in La Fortuna, but that doesn’t mean you won’t find hopping nightlife. On a night tour, you will experience the Costa Rican jungle coming to life after dark, and with an experienced guide, you’ll have the chance to see many of the nocturnal species that call that jungle home. Prepare to see creatures such as frogs, monkeys, spiders, owls, snakes, and lizards in their natural habitats.
Because the sun sets year-round between 5:30 and 6:00 pm, you won’t have to stay up late to take advantage of this one-of-a-kind experience. Be sure to pack long pants, closed-toe shoes, a raincoat, and some bug repellant if you plan to do this tour.
Find Out Where Your Morning Joe Comes From
Costa Rica is famous for its rich, dark coffee, and 47.7% of the coffee produced in Costa Rica is exported to the United States, so there’s a good possibility you’ve already enjoyed some Costa Rica coffee. Most of the country’s coffee is grown at a high altitude in the cool and shady areas of Costa Rica, but you can still learn about its production in La Fortuna.
During a coffee tour, a knowledgeable bilingual guide will teach you everything you need to know about the coffee-making process, from bean to brew. You will have a chance to taste the coffee at the end of the tour and pick up a few bags at the gift shop for yourself or the folks back home.
Eat Around the World
It may seem silly to go to Costa Rica and not eat only the local fare, but La Fortuna has some outstanding restaurants that may change your mind.
In town, you can find excellent eateries for Japanese, Indian, Italian, and Peruvian cuisines, among others. There are many options for vegetarians and vegans, too. Don’t forget to stop at the chocolate shop downtown for a sweet ending to your meal.
Now that you have read about the many fun and exciting things to do in La Fortuna, it’s time to start planning your trip. Are you seeking adventure, or do you just want to soak up the beauty of nature? What will you do in this stunning, diverse, and exciting place?
Image credit: all images belong to Chris Day