The Ultimate Travel Guide to La Fortuna/Arenal

There’s a reason why La Fortuna/Arenal is the most visited destination in all of Costa Rica. People from all over the world flock to this area. They experience the natural hot springs, a breathtaking waterfall, and one of the only active volcanoes in Costa Rica, all within the same town!

La Fortuna is actually a canton of Costa Rica, which is similar to a state, but not nearly as big. It is jam-packed with awesome attractions. In this guide you’ll find everything you need to know to plan the perfect getaway to this natural paradise.

Is La Fortuna and Arenal the same?

Before we go on, let me clarify that La Fortuna and Arenal are used to refer to the same general area in Costa Rica. Arenal comes from the name of the volcano and lake, while La Fortuna is the name of the actual town that is at the base of the Arenal Volcano. In this guide, I’ll use the names interchangeably.

What’s so special about La Fortuna?

La Fortuna has the best of both worlds—equally sought out by adrenaline junkies and luxury resort goers alike. No matter which end of the spectrum you fall on, you’ll find that there are plenty of magical activities to enjoy.

La Fortuna is a mountainous area that is home to the Arenal Volcano, a beautiful active volcano. Its impressive size makes it visible from all over La Fortuna. Like most volcanos, it is usually covered in fog but when it clears away you’ll be graced with a gorgeous view you won’t soon forget!

The thermal energy from the volcano creates natural hot springs, which makes for an incredibly relaxing activity. There are many different thermal spas to choose from, ranging from more affordable prices to a luxury resort.

The Keel-billed Toucans live freely in the rainforests of Arenal.

The other main attraction in this area is the La Fortuna Waterfall that is just minutes from downtown. This waterfall has a gorgeous emerald color. That and its size make it truly spectacular.

The flora and fauna which attracts many travelers to Costa Rica can be seen in this area. Toucans, sloths, many different frogs, and a variety of exotic birds live in the rainforest here.

The flora and fauna which attracts many travelers to Costa Rica can be seen in this area. Toucans, sloths, many different frogs, and a variety of exotic birds live in the rainforest here.

It’s no wonder La Fortuna Arenal is one of the most visited places in Costa Rica! There is so much variety in one single town. If you’re looking for a memorable but comfortable place to visit during your stay in Costa Rica, Arenal is a great choice.

What to Do in Arenal

La Fortuna is known for its wealth of activities. There’s so much variety that it’s perfect for any traveler’s bucket list.

Natural Hot Springs

Among the most common activities in this area are the natural hot springs heated by thermal energy from the Arenal Volcano. In the Arenal area, most hot springs are owned by hotels that have created naturally-heated pools over the thermal hot spots.

There are many different hotels to choose from, each with their own spin. Two very popular options are Tabacón Thermal Resort & Spa, for a more posh experience, or Los Lagos Hot Springs for a more affordable but memorable visit. The other option you have at most hot spring locations is for a Day Pass or Night Pass. You can choose to make a day of it or come to relax for a few hours after a long day of hiking.

Tabacon Hot Springs has an elaborate collection of hot tub-like pools with beautiful plants growing on either side.

Water Activities on Lake Arenal

At the foot of Arenal Volcano you will find a gorgeous body of water known as Lake Arenal. The water activities available on this lake is another major attraction of La Fortuna. Here you can go kayaking, paddle boarding, and even horse back riding around the lake. Fishing for bass, sailing, and windsurfing are also very popular activities. Relaxing in a beautiful lake at the foot of a volcano is a memory you won’t soon forget.

La Fortuna Waterfall

Just about 3 miles (5.5 kilometers) outside of the town of La Fortuna you’ll find a breathtaking waterfall. La Fortuna Waterfall measures 200 feet high (70 meters). To enter to see the waterfall you will pay an $18 fee, which is donated to support conservation efforts in the area. After about a 10-15 minute walk, you will arrive at this towering waterfall. You can picnic, swim, and explore at the base of the waterfall. Bathrooms are available at the entrance.

Visiting this waterfall was one of my favorite activities in this area. On weekends during the summer months (January-April) the waterfall can get slightly crowded, but this doesn’t dim the beauty of this natural wonder. The color of the water is a beautiful emerald green and feels incredibly refreshing. There’s nothing quite like swimming in the cool pool of a mountain waterfall!

Wildlife Spotting

There are plenty of opportunities for getting up close and personal with wildlife in the Arenal area.

When visiting a new area, I love to visit the animal rescue centers. There is a wonderful organization to support called Proyecto Asis. Here animals are taken in to be rehabilitated before being released into the wild.

Sloth tours are also very popular in the Arenal area. La Fortuna provides the perfect habitat for these beloved creatures. Sloth Watching Trail is the company that I went with when I did this tour. They were incredibly knowledgeable and pointed out all kinds of striking birds, frogs, and sloths. All of these animals roamed free in the forest that we walked around. We even saw one with a baby! This sloth sanctuary is located right off the main road of La Fortuna. If you’re lucky, you might even catch an impressive view of a cloudless view of the volcano.

Going on a night walk is another opportunity to see animals in their natural habitat. You will see plenty of brightly-colored insects, frogs, lizards, snakes, owls and some interesting mammals like coatis. The Sloth Watching Trail and Mistico Park have two great options with plenty of wildlife to spot!

Lastly, the Butterfly Conservatory provides the largest exhibition of butterflies in Costa Rica. Here you can learn about the lifecycle and metamorphosis of butterflies and see how they thrive in their natural environment. There is also a frog sanctuary and botanical gardens on site.

Hanging Bridges

Many people come to the Arenal area to experience the hanging bridges. Here you can walk through several suspended bridges, revealing views of the volcano and surrounding mountains. These tall bridges snake through the rainforest, which lets you get up close and personal with flora and fauna along the trail.

There are two hanging bridges options in La Fortuna: Mistico Park and Sky Adventures Arenal Park. Both of these places provide incredible views and lots of opportunities to see animals such as monkeys, snakes, frogs, and birds in their natural habitat. Sky Adventures Arenal Park has the added bonus of a couple lookout spots, one of them being a giant hand which creates the perfect photo op.

Zip Lining/Canopy Tour

A trip to Costa Rica is incomplete without a zip line tour! You’ll be able to experience all the beautiful green scenery of Arenal from about 600 feet (200 meters) above the ground. There are many different companies that offer canopy tours, but Mistico Park and Sky Adventures Arenal Park have package deals if you’re also looking to take advantage of the hanging bridges.

Zip Lining in Costa Rica

There are zip lines all over the country, but Arenal and Monteverde are considered the two best places to zip line. If you’re looking for a more adventurous experience, the best place to go zip lining in Costa Rica would have to be Monteverde. If you’re hoping for a more laid-back tour, Arenal is your best bet.


If you are looking to get out and hike during your stay in Arenal, look no further than Arenal Volcano National Park! There are plenty of trails, many of which are perfect for children or those with limited mobility. If you get there close to opening, at 8AM, you’ll be sure to see some wildlife during your hike. Tickets to get in are $15 for adults and $5 for children.

Where to Stay in La Fortuna

La Fortuna has many beautiful and unique places to stay. There are hotels, hostels, and AirBnBs that match any traveling budget. You can look for availability at and see what I mean about the wide variety of places to stay, but here are three of my favorite options:

Budget/Hostel Travelers: Arenal Poshpacker

This hostel has a restaurant and bar right within the local. They also have tons of hammocks, foosball and other games which help you meet the other travelers. The rooms are comfortable, with big lockers to keep your things. Staying in hostels and getting to know people from other countries has always been one of my favorite parts of traveling. If you’re looking for a budget friendly option and looking for a cultural exchange, check out Arenal Poshpacker Hotel!

Boutique Hotel Charm: Tifakara Lodge

Tifakara Lodge is a gorgeous boutique hotel with charming bungalows. There is a restaurant and bar onsite, along with a pool and jacuzzi hot-tub. There are also many opportunities to see wildlife, right within the hotel grounds. Toucans and other striking birds come to visit in the early mornings and a two-toed sloth claims some of the trees on property as its home!

Luxury Hotel Goers: Tabacón Thermal Resort & Spa

Natural hot springs are a major attraction of this area and Tabacón Thermal Resort is the gold standard. Staying here gives you access to the thermal experience from 8AM-10PM, which people from all over the world come to visit. You will also be granted access to the exclusive Shangri-La Gardens and enjoy discounted rates at the spa. If you’re looking for a more posh hotel, Tabacón Thermal Resort makes for a very unique stay.

Where to Eat in La Fortuna

Arenal is not lacking in restaurant options. There are many restaurants right on the main strip of La Fortuna town, but here are three of my favorites.

Red Frog Coffee Roaster is a memorable cafe, perfect for any time of day. You’ll find traditional plates on the menu for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, fresh fruit juices, and delicious coffee drinks. It also has a cute gift shop, with plenty of coffee and chocolate options making for a great souvenir stop. It has a very central location, right off the main road in La Fortuna.

La Parrilla de Maria Bonita is known for its steak.This restaurant prides itself in its quality cuts of meat, cooked on a firewood grill. It has a unique fusion of Latin and Lebanese food. In addition to steak, this restaurant has many fish, sandwich, and salad options. The also have choice wines, craft beers, and delicious cocktails. La Parrilla de Maria Bonita is a pricier option in Arenal, but provides a great dining experience.

Tiquicia Restaurant is another great dining option that specializes in local cuisine. Here you can find casados, a hearty meal that is an absolute must-try during your stay in Costa Rica! There are also other traditional foods like ceviche, sweet plantains, patacones, Costa Rican soups, and my personal favorite, chifrijo. There are many options for frescos, or fruit juices, that have flavors that are only found in Latin America, as well as specialty cocktails. This restaurant is a casual spot, but has wonderful service and tasty food.

Safety in Arenal

As far as security, Arenal is one the safest tourist destinations in Costa Rica. It is important to take normal travel precautions when in La Fortuna, as well as any town in Costa Rica.

The best place to leave personal belongings is usually in your locked hotel room, but if you need to leave your things in your car it’s best to leave them in the trunk, where they are not visible from the outside of the vehicle.

As in any city, you should avoid walking long distances when it is dark out. If you are taking a bus, take care of your belongings. Many Costa Ricans caution against putting their bags in the overhead compartments.

Be sure to stay on trails when exploring the rainforest, to avoid unwanted interaction with wildlife.

Lastly, stick to labeled taxis and Ubers when traveling.

How to Get to Arenal

Luckily, La Fortuna has a pretty central location with completely paved roads. If you are staying near Liberia, such as Playa Hermosa or Flamingo, La Fortuna is an easy two hours’ drive away. It is also easy to get to from Manuel Antonio or the Central Valley (San Jose area). If you’re heading to Monteverde, Arenal is a great stop either on the way there or coming back. The drive is pretty smooth, with beautiful greenery and views of the volcano and lake leading up to the town of La Fortuna.

Cafe & Macadamia is an awesome restaurant that has a beautiful view of the bright blue lake. People come from all over Costa Rica to enjoy a meal, coffee, or desert, and the incredible sight of Lake Arenal.

Pro Tip: Make a stop at Cafe & Macadamia for a wonderful meal and gorgeous view!

Where to Head Next After Arenal?

As mentioned above, Arenal has a pretty central location, located in the north of Costa Rica. From here you are a short two and a half hours from the beaches of Guanacaste, where you can experience a completely different part of Costa Rica. Here you’ll find some of the beach beaches (and best weather) in Costa Rica, as well as a unique glance at the Guanacaste culture.

If you still haven’t gotten your fix for mountains and adventure, Monteverde is just three hours away.

Manuel Antonio is a bit farther (about 5-6 hours) but is another wonderful option to get up close and personal with wildlife and enjoy some impressive beaches you won’t soon forget.

Final Thoughts on La Fortuna/Arenal

Is La Fortuna/Arenal really worth visiting?

Arenal is a stunning destination due to the variety of activities available to you. In one single town you can visit spa-like hot springs, kayak, fish, and paddle board on the Arenal Lake, hike a volcano, go on a zip lining tour, explore hanging bridges, go bird watching or spot more exotic animals (like sloths, frogs, lizards, unique mammals, toucans, and other birds) and swim in one of the most impressive waterfalls in Costa Rica!

Whether you’re looking for a quiet mountain getaway or an adventurous escape, La Fortuna has something for everyone. La Fortuna/Arenal is an incredible destination.

Wondering what other destinations you should visit when in Costa Rica?

Check out the 10 Must-See Places in Costa Rica.

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