There is no doubt that the main reason you want to visit La Fortuna is the Arenal Volcano, an impressive active conic volcano that was considered a hill until a massive eruption in 1968. But there is a lot more nearby to do and be amazed by. You can choose from relaxing in natural hot springs looking at the majestic Arenal Volcano, to hiking the challenging trail up its dormant neighbor, Cerro Chato.
La Fortuna is great for all types of trips: family vacations, adventure trips, and honeymoons! This small town of around 6,000 inhabitants is also the hub for all the activities in the northern plains of Costa Rica. The town was founded in the early 1930s and named by the first settlers as La Fortuna, the fortune because the land is so fertile almost anything can grow. Today, the main economic activity is tourism, but there are still plenty of working farms in nearby areas growing produce like cassava, papaya, pineapple and raising cattle.
You can reach La Fortuna from San José by land (3 hours) or by air (30 min), depending on the time you have to spare, and once you are there, it is very easy to find car rentals, taxi drivers, shuttle services or public buses, to move around town and to the surrounding area’s attractions. Also, this town has all the amenities you can imagine, from dentists to clothing stores to computer repair stores to supermarkets. Once you are here you will be struck by all the nature around it, captivated by its small-town feel, and impressed by its city-like performance and service.
Things to do in La Fortuna, Costa Rica
From La Fortuna, you can reach incredible places with natural wonders like caves or wetlands, but don’t feel you have to spend time on the road to enjoy yourself when there. Here are some suggestions of things you can do just minutes away from town to keep you busy and entertained.
La Fortuna Waterfall
Tucked in the mountainside of Cerro Chato, there is a beautiful waterfall with a 70+ m drop into a turquoise pool surrounded by a cannon cover in green life, followed by a calm small river that is the perfect setting for sitting and relaxing in the water as you enjoy the powerful view.
The entrance to the waterfall is administrated by a local non-profit association that has turned the spot into a clean, safe and achievable attraction with close to 500 steps and a couple of bridges that take you the bottom of the fall. So yes, you do have to come back up those 500 steps after enjoying the waterfall, but the good news is that at the top there are bathrooms, showers and changing facilities for you to use, as well as a restaurant and a gift shop.
Open every day from 7:30 am to 4 pm, it is only 5 km south of town, on the road to the Cerro Chato trail. Entrance fee is $15 and kids under 8 do not pay.
This conic-shaped mountain was named Arenal (“sandy place”) before anybody knew it was a volcano because its top was exactly that, a pile of sand.
On the morning of July 29th, 1968 at 7:30 am the Hill Arenal showed its true face. A massive eruption destroyed two villages killing over 80 people. Since then the volcano has been one of the most active volcanos in Costa Rica, releasing pyroclastic material, gases, and water vapor. Over the past decade, the activity of Arenal has slowed down.
If you want to be very close to this volcano, you must take the 8km ride to the national park that encloses it. It is open every day of the year from 8 am to 4 pm and it has four trails, length varying from 600m to 2.3 Km, which are mostly flat and easy to hike. From two of them, you get spectacular views of the Volcano, including a rocky area created by its early eruptions. Entrance fee is $15 for adults and $5 for children.
Hot Springs near La Fortuna
When it comes to hot springs, Arenal area has options for all the budgets, tastes and needs.
The road that connects La Fortuna with the Arenal Lake has dozens of hot springs options, most of them belong to a hotel, but all of them allow the possibility of just visiting the springs.
We at Costa Rica Escapes can help you find the perfect fit for your hot springs desires, all you have to do is ask!
Danaus Eco Center
Located 5 km north-west of the center of La Fortuna, this 3 hectares private ecological reserve has wildlife galore waiting for you.
The trail that helps you discover it all is only 600m long and will take you about 1 hour 30 minutes with the company of naturalist local guide.
Originally it was a plantation that was left for natural regeneration, and only in over a decade, it has turned into the home of two and three-toed sloths, agoutis, more than 150 different species of birds, basilisks, iguanas, butterflies, poison-dart red frog, red-eyed tree frog, caimans, and many others.
It also has a medicinal plant garden and an exhibit about the Maleku indigenous group that once rained over the northern plains of Costa Rica.
Hiking Cerro Chato
This is a challenging full-day hike that only experienced hikers with the right kind of shoes and gear should consider. Also, it is not always open to the public, depending on the condition of the trails. If you want to include this in your trip, check with Costa Rica Escapes for current conditions.
There are two trails that reach the stunning emerald lagoon at the top of this extinct volcano. Both trails can be muddy and slippery as they traverse lush primary forest. A local guide is always recommended; however, this is a hike that can be done as self-guided for those with experience hiking in Costa Rica.
One of the trails starts at the Arenal Observatory Lodge, 23 km away from La Fortuna, passed the national park entrance. The second trail is a public entrance and it is close to La Fortuna Waterfall, around 6 km away from La Fortuna.
The Town Square
Beautifully kept with colorful gardens and clean areas to sit and relax, the charming town square of La Fortuna is a must stop for any visitor. Right next to it, or very close by, you can find lots of stores and amenities, from bank branches to ice cream parlors, and many restaurants and cafes. It is a great place to practice some people watching, especially locals and visitors interacting.
If you are there on a clear day, make sure to look towards the church (also a charming place to peek in) so you can see the impressive volcano frame the nice white building.
Restaurants in La Fortuna, Costa Rica
Finding a good option for eating in La Fortuna is never a problem, there are at least a couple dozen restaurants walking distance from the town square, and even more, if you drive a few kilometers in any direction.
Recommending the perfect place for eating is therefore very difficult with this many different options, but here are some general ideas of what to look for, depending on your budget, food preferences and cravings.
When it comes to Costa Rican cuisine and feel, and under budget eating, you have to make a stop at one of the sodas in the center of town. Soda Víquez, located one block south of the park, is a favorite among the locals, but always busy with visitors too. The other popular option is Sola La Hormiga, open seven days a week for breakfast and lunch and located one block south of the church.
Probably one of the best-known places in La Fortuna is the Restaurante y Pizzería La Parada, right in front of the bus stop (hence its name) on the south side of the town square. This restaurant has a pretty extensive international menu at a reasonable price, and the food is also good. This is probably the best place to go with a big group because most likely everybody will find something they want to eat. Tierra Mía is a Colombian-Costa Rican restaurant that also offers an international menu that never seems to disappoint, it is located on the north side of the town square.
When it comes to fine dining, Don Rufino has made a name for itself. Located one block east of the town square, you can enjoy great grilled meats in a beautiful indoor-outdoor setting. In the other corner, literally, there is La Parrilla de María Bonita, also a great place to eat grilled meats in a friendly atmosphere.
If you are looking for international cuisine, La Fortuna also is set to please. There are several Italian restaurants serving excellent pizza and pasta, but one highly recommended is Anch’io, located in a building with fun details on its walls and floor, just a few blocks west of the church. South from the church, there is Café Mediterraneo, also a great place for pizza and pasta. Chifa La Familia Feliz is a Peruvian restaurant just half a block south of the church, where you can enjoy not only delicious Peruvian dishes but also discover the Chinese influence in their food.
Nightlife in La Fortuna, Costa Rica
When Arenal Volcano was showing a lot of pyroclastic activity, the nightlife in La Fortuna was all about seeing the flashes of red coming down the volcano’s side. Today those who want to stay active after dark can spend time enjoying drinks and food at restaurants known for their great night ambiance, like Don Rufino.
Lava Lounge Bar and Grill, just a few meters west of the church, has great laid back ambiance with lots of Reggae music. There is also El Establo Bar and Restaurant, mostly visited for locals hoping to party, drink, eat and sometimes dance.
Five kilometers west of the center of town is Volcán Look, a discotheque open Wednesday to Saturday where DJ’s and Latino music bands play to entertain locals and visitors.
Weather in La Fortuna, Costa Rica
This part of the northern plains of Costa Rica is directly affected by both Atlantic and Pacific ocean at the same time, therefore it does not behave like the rest of the country when it comes to seasons. Bear in mind that it is likely you will have rain in La Fortuna anytime all year round, but the best months to have less rain and more chances to see the volcano are September and October. December to February can be mostly overcast and rainy, keeping the volcano behind clouds.
The only thing that is missing near La Fortuna, Costa Rica, is the ocean… besides that, you can find it all…and do it all!
Plan a Trip to/through La Fortuna
Arenal, Costa Rica’s unofficial Adventure Capital, is a top destination and is included in most of our itineraries. There are a lot of choices here; therefore, it is always a good idea to make sure that you speak with one of our expert Travel Designers to ensure that you are matched and paired with the best accommodations, tours, and activities this bustling area has to offer. Contact us if you’re looking to visit the Arenal area and would like to pass through La Fortuna. Contact us to plan an itinerary!