If there is anything we are passionate about throughout our work at Pura Vida! eh? Incorporated it is helping travellers save money when planning a trip to Costa Rica. Our online discount databases for tours, hotels, transportation services, and vacation packages are various means through which we aim to do so, however we also recognize that although we can offer countless savings for many trip items, these items still cost money. This point is likely best understood by travellers who visit the La Fortuna/Arenal area – Costa Rica’s epicenter of adventure and arguably the country’s most visited destination. Tourism here in La Fortuna is booming as there is no shortage of things to see and do. As a result, visitors who spend a few days in town quickly fall in love with Costa Rica as they can experience the rainforest, waterfalls, volcanoes, caves, rivers, ziplines, hot springs, and so much more to/from their Arenal hotel. Although we believe the tour experiences here far outweigh the costs associated with each (tour options can run anywhere from $10 to $250 per person), the sheer volume of attractions is enough to empty any traveller’s wallet. Fortunately, there are a number of ways budget-minded travellers can take in La Fortuna without breaking the bank – by balancing popular tour/attraction purchases with the following fund-friendly activities.
1. TAKE A TAXI TO THE LOCAL SWIMMING HOLE CALLED ‘EL SALTO’ (THE JUMP)
TOTAL COST: $4
(approximate $2 taxi fare from downtown to el salto, and the same cost to get from el salto back to town)
This spot is located just outside of downtown La Fortuna. It offers a river to swim in and a tarzan swing! Note: el salto is a small local swimming spot – it is not a popular tourist destination and bathrooms/change rooms are not available on-site.
2. RENT A BIKE AND RIDE AROUND TOWN, TO ‘EL SALTO’, TO THE VOLCANO, OR TO THE LA FORTUNA WATERFALL
TOTAL COST: $5
(depending on the bike you rent and where you rent it from the cost could be more than that quoted above, however you can rent a bike for less than $5/hour)
Although La Fortuna does offer a number of locales where one can rent high quality mountain bikes (which we 100% recommend doing if you are an experienced rider), if you are simply looking for any old bike to explore the town on, a number of shops in town rent bikes by the hour (as well as by the day). For inexpensive bike rental options try Ciro’s (ask for Andres) and/or Lavas Souvenir Store (ask for Mainor) – both of which are located downtown. For additional reading, you may also be interested in our related blog post Mountain Biking & Bikes For Rent In La Fortuna (Costa Rica).
3. BLOG DOWNTOWN ABOUT YOUR TRAVEL EXPERIENCES
TOTAL COST: Free!
Did you know that free wi-fi internet is available in La Fortuna’s central park? Use your laptop or personal device to share your travel experiences and photos online by tapping into this freebie!
4. ORDER A TROPICAL FRUIT DRINK FROM SODA LA PARADA AND PEOPLE-WATCH FROM THE RESTAURANT’S PRIME LOCATION ON THE MAIN STREET
TOTAL COST: $2
(restaurant tip, if desired, is not included in the above mentioned price)
We love Soda La Parada. This restaurant is a diner-type eatery, open 24 hours, and located in the heart of La Fortuna. It is a one stop shop offering everything from a full menu to a buffet bar, pastries to wine, free wi-fi internet (thanks to the internet provided by the central park across the street), and a great selection of tropical drinks. When ordering, choose the fruit you would like and indicate whether you would prefer the drink to be made with water (for a slushy-type drink) or milk (for a fruit milkshake). Our two favorites are strawberry with water and pineapple with milk. Enjoy your beverage while you watch locals and tourists walk by, catching a glimpse into what everyday life is like in La Fortuna.
5. HIT THE GYM FOR A MID-VACATION WORKOUT
TOTAL COST: $4
(the above quoted price is for a 1-day gym visit – gym memberships can also be purchased by the week or month)
Our favourite downdown gym is the one above the burger king (how’s that for irony – and yes, sadly La Fortuna does have a burger king).
6. LOCATE A ‘COPOS’ VENDOR AND TRY ONE OF COSTA RICA’S POPULAR SWEET TREATS
TOTAL COST: $2
In the same way that most Canadian/American kids wait with excitement for the ice cream truck to visit their neighbourhood, so too do Costa Rican children (and adults!) for the ‘copos’ vendor. Copos are unbelievably sweet snow cones comprised of shaved ice, powdered milk, and sweetened condensed milk (copos are not recommended for diabetics and/or children late in the evening as the sugar content is incredibly high!). In La Fortuna, the vendor also uses red syrup (kolita) adding extra flavour, however in other areas of Costa Rica a variety of coloured syrups are available. Locating the copos vendor is not difficult when he is in town (we usually only see the him in town a few days per week – most often on the weekends), as his copos cart is easy to spot and is typically stationed at the corner of the central park.
7. WRITE A LETTER OR PURCHASE A POSTCARD TO SEND HOME
TOTAL COST: $1-$2
(stamps are less than $1, as are postcards if you opt to purchase one)
We love this idea, and so do our clients (especially those travelling with younger children)! Although most of us simply rely on our laptops and hand-helds for communication, snail mail can make for a unique souvenir if you not only purchase Costa Rica postcards for your friends and family members back home, but mail them directly while on vacation. La Fortuna is a great place to do so as a post office can be found downtown. Just remember to bring the applicable addresses with you to Costa Rica so you have this information available to you when you need it!
8. PURCHASE AN ICE CREAM CONE FROM ‘POPS’ OR ANY OTHER ‘HELADERIA’ IN TON (IF YOU COPOS ARE TOO SWEET FOR YOU) AND ENJOY IT IN THE MIDDLE OF LA FORTUNA’S CENTRAL PARK
TOTAL COST: $2-4
(depending on the type of dessert you buy)
If ice cream is not your thing, try ‘Musmani’ or ‘Panaderia Duran’ for a delicious pastry instead!
9. COOL OFF IN THE TOWN’S PUBLIC POOL AND ENJOY THE ‘TOBOGGAN’ (WATERSLIDE)
TOTAL COST: $3-4
(quite often the public pool has promotions available that include a meal for a small extra charge at the on-site restaurant if you wish to eat during your visit)
La Fortuna’s public pool is within walking distance to the downtown core, however it is an approximate 10 minute walk from the central park (the pool is located across the street from the Arenal Backpackers’ Resort and around the bend in the road). This swimming pool offers lounge chairs, a rope swing, and a large waterslide (note: the pool is one depth only and there is no shallow end so we do not recommend this activity to travellers who do not know how to swim). Note: there are bathrooms and change rooms available on-site.
10. TRY YOUR LUCK AT THE COSTA RICAN LOTTERY
(this cost is for one ticket – not an entire lottery sheet)
Lottery is a huge game in Costa Rica. It is estimated that approximately half of all Costa Ricans play the lottery (my husband included) and the entire country just about goes mad in December when vying for ‘El Gordo’ lottery (translated as ‘the big one’) at the end of the year. Playing the lottery here is a bit complicated as there are many different numbers (both series and ticket) to follow. Lottery vendors can usually be found walking around the downtown core – most will find you before you find them. If you wish to purchase a lottery ticket but are unable to locate a vendor, a lottery booth is located beside the gas station.
QUESTION TO COMMENT ON: Do you know of any other things to do in Arenal (downtown La Fortuna) for free or on a tight budget? Share your ideas!