La Fortuna, officially La Fortuna de San Carlos, is a town in the Northern Plains of Costa Rica. Its two most famous sights are La Fortuna Waterfall and the Arenal Volcano. I will be talking about both in this post, as well as the famous, volcanically-heated hot springs.
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Introduction to La Fortuna
No matter what you do, you’ll have to drive for a couple of hours to get to La Fortuna. It is 2.5-3 hours from both the San José airport and the Liberia airport. So depending on your travel style, you could choose either entry point.
The northern Liberia airport is in Guanacaste, where you’ll get the sweltering summer weather, lots of beautiful beaches, and luxury hotels. The San José airport is right by the capital, where you’ll have access to more local tourism, culture, museums, and closer access to the stunning Caribbean coast.
There has been a lot of confusion about whether this area is actually called La Fortuna or Arenal. La Fortuna is the town’s name while surrounding the town are the Arenal Volcano and Arenal Lake. Naturally, people start to use the two interchangeably.
Thanks to the Arenal Volcano, one of the country’s 6 active volcanoes and the most active one… there is a lot of geothermal activity in the ground. This creates the natural thermal hot springs that the area is famous for. These hot springs are known to relieve stress, clean your skin, and relax your muscles. All the good things!
Not only are there natural hot spring pools, but along with tourism, hot spring resorts have sprouted along the strip with their own pools filled with naturally-heated water.
Best Time to Visit
The dry season in Costa Rica is from October to April. A word of caution: It’s never completely dry in Costa Rica… But this is your best chance to visit without running into too much rain.
What to Bring
- Rain jacket / Umbrella
- Backpack rain cover
- Insect Repellant (I have a pet peeve for sticky lotion so I used wipes which worked perfectly)
- Good hiking shoes
- Water bottle
- A good camera
- Headlamp (Optional)
How to Get There
There are a couple of ways you can get to La Fortuna from either of the two airports.
I have to admit I’m a little biased. As someone who’s at her most relaxed while driving, I took a quick look at how much longer buses would take and I went for rental cars. The drive takes around 2.5-3 hours depending on the traffic, which tends to be minimal if any.
Just like any other country you might have rented a car in before, they are always available for pick-up around the airports. If you’d like to rent from San José, search here. If you’re renting from Liberia, here.
At this point, you’re probably full of questions. Any and all information you need to drive in Costa Rica is available here.
A bus leaves downtown San José at 8:40 am every morning from Terminal 7-10 and arrives in La Fortuna at around 1 pm. It costs around $5 per person. The big downside is you can’t reserve your seat online at all. So you have to get to the terminal very early to guarantee a seat among the 50 they have.
The bus from Liberia takes about 5 hours and goes a little bit out of the way to Upala, where you’ll need a transfer. It leaves at around 12:30 pm and costs around $4 per person. (If you know this information to be inaccurate, please reach out to let me know. I’ve done my best to do research, but I haven’t strayed close to Liberia!)
Shared airport shuttles from San José cost $54 per person. It departs twice a day at 8:15 am and 3:00 pm.
The same shared shuttle from Liberia departs twice a day at 9:20 am and 3:00 pm at the same price.
I stayed at Paradise Hot Springs and had an amazing experience. They had 5 hot pools with varying temperatures and one cold pool that’s used to reset your body temperature. The pools are filled with geothermally-heated water from the natural springs.
There’s also a bar in one of the warm pools, which I got to enjoy.
Even if you’re not staying at the hotel, you can buy day passes for its hot springs. The pass starts at $28 and goes up if you’d like to add meals and spa packages.
Browse for hotels in La Fortuna HERE.
La Fortuna Waterfall
Because I knew I had limited time to explore, I booked a day tour through GetYourGuide. This particular tour took me to the waterfall, the Maleku village, and the Arenal Volcano in one day. The guide was super friendly and I made a couple of friends as well. Overall an amazing experience!
The Hike Down
We did the hike at Arenal Mundo Aventura‘s facility. If you’re coming straight here without a tour guide, the entry fee just to hike is $19 per adult.
Our adventure began with what our guide called “A natural massage.” Literally… We rode a tractor cart (think Universal Studio Tour type of cart) 1 km up the rocky terrains to get to the trailhead. Everything from your rear end to your brain will be well-shaken by the time you get up there. If you have motion sickness, you might want to consider an alternative. You could make more time to walk up or take a motion-sickness pill.
From the trailhead, it was about a 600-meter hike down to the waterfall. There are steps and chains for you to hold on to all the way down. Our guide brought a fresh pineapple with him and was holding on to it like a teddy bear during the hike. It was so cute.
Once we got to the bottom, our guide waited by the river to look after our stuff while we crossed the river to get to the waterfall. This river is another Instagram-worthy spot.
Once across the river, we climbed up another little stairway to get to the waterfall. And boy, is it stunning…
The waterfall hits the pool at a force of 300 kph. That, unfortunately, means no swimming near it should you wish to live, let alone under or behind it.
We had 1 hour at the waterfall, so those of us who brought swimsuits could soak in the pool for a bit.
I asked a stranger to take this photo for me, in Spanish… And I think because he was so impressed, I was able to ask him to try different angles until there were no people in the frame. Because the pool was CROWDED. Thank you, the very nice stranger from Mexico!
Once we got back to our stuff an hour later, our guide had chopped the pineapple and laid it out beautifully for us to snack on! So that was why he brought it down!
After we hiked back up from La Fortuna Waterfall (Yes, what goes down must come back up so make sure you’re physically fit for this!), we walked back down the 1 km because we didn’t want to wait around for another cart to arrive.
Next, we stopped by an indigenous Costa Rican village. The Maleku people are one of the 8 indigenous tribes left in Costa Rica, and one of the only 4 that still protect their own language. They’re also the smallest tribe, with only 650 left.
We were welcomed into their Palenke (main house) with two taps on the upper arm and the greeting “Kapi Kapi!” which we were supposed to return as a courtesy. They also gave us each a small shot of their alcoholic drink, Chica (corn beer).
Drinking Chicha, we listened to the Shaman and head of the tribe as he told us about their tribe’s history and culture. The main house was filled with artwork for sale, as they are great artists.
We had lunch at the cafeteria of Arenal Mundo Aventura, which was included in the day tour. Then we hopped back on the van and went over to Mirador El Silencio, which I’d say is a pretty underrated site to hike the Arenal Volcano compared to the more famous 1968 trail or the Arenal Volcano National Park. So let’s give it some love here.
If you’re coming on your own, it costs $10 per person to enter, and they only take cash. There are plenty of different trails for you to choose from. We walked trail 4, which was fairly easy, then we reached trail 6, which starts at the bottom of the hill and takes you through a dense forest up to the closest view of the volcano.
It was nothing like I’d ever seen before. The trail was covered in lava rocks with plants sprouting out of it.
Our guide kept picking up strange volcanic rocks and showing them to us on the way up. One was a mix of half-crystalized diamond and normal stone!
Once we got up to the viewpoint, we waited for a while to see if the clouds would clear up, and they did!
The tour actually included a hot springs visit as well, but because most of us were staying at hot spring hotels, we had the option to get back to our hotels early or join them for the last portion. Needless to say, we were all spent and chose to return to our hotels.
And that was my experience with La Fortuna Waterfall and Arenal Volcano! Hope you enjoyed reading and found some of this information useful if you’re planning to go!
Río Celeste is another beautiful waterfall with a famously bright blue color and is only 1.5 hours from La Fortuna. If you have enough time, I’d consider a day trip there as well.
Animal lover? Check out this La Fortuna Sloth Tour.
Below is another selection of activities you could take in La Fortuna. Have fun planning!