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How To Decide Between La Fortuna / Arenal or Monteverde (or Why You Should Visit Both)

How To Decide Between La Fortuna / Arenal or Monteverde (or Why You Should Visit Both)

Last updated on May 23rd, 2022 at 01:31 pm EST

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Our sister site, Pura Vida! eh? Inc., has La Fortuna / Arenal tour discounts and Monteverde tour discounts. Con mucho gusto (you’re welcome) and pura vida!
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Deciding between La Fortuna / Arenal or Monteverde

Are you curious to know the most common question we receive from people who are planning a trip to Costa Rica? It’s this: “Should I visit La Fortuna / Arenal or Monteverde?” Similar inquiries, like “Which is better—La Fortuna / Arenal or Monteverde?” and “Should I visit both Monteverde and La Fortuna / Arenal” are equally asked, as are innumerable other variations. If you’re asking yourself one of these lines, you’re in luck. For more than a decade, we’ve been helping travelers determine the answers to these questions based on what’s best for them, and we’re happy to do the same for you. To start, browse through our article below. It identifies some of the qualities that make La Fortuna / Arenal and Monteverde unique, helping you to decide whether one destination or both destinations are deserving of your time and money.

But first, a disclaimer:

Evaluating destinations in Costa Rica is a subjective task that reflects greatly on the opinions, wants, and needs of the evaluator. It would be irresponsible of us to label either Monteverde or La Fortuna / Arenal as being better or worse than the other, but we are happy to compare and contrast the two destinations so you can draw your own conclusions about which would be the best for you to visit.

Don’t have the time to learn about La Fortuna / Arenal and Monteverde by reading our article? Take our “La Fortuna / Arenal vs. Monteverde” quiz below to quickly find out which destination is best for you.

La Fortuna / Arenal vs. Monteverde quiz

Short on time? Take our brief 5-question quiz to find out whether you should visit La Fortuna / Arenal or Monteverde during your trip.

What type of destination atmosphere would you prefer?

La Fortuna photos

Before we get into the details about La Fortuna / Arenal below, browse through our photo gallery that features a few of our La Fortuna experiences.

Monteverde photos

Before we get into the details about Monteverde below, browse through our photo gallery that features a few of our Monteverde experiences.

La Fortuna / Arenal or Monteverde? Comparing similarities and contrasting differences

Below we compare and contrast La Fortuna / Arenal and Monteverde according to the following factors:

Travel distance from the SJO airport (San Jose / Alajuela)

La Fortuna / Arenal

La Fortuna / Arenal is located approximately 3-3.5 hours from the SJO Airport via direct, ground transportation. Depending on the type of ground transfer service used, the route followed, and weather conditions, the drive could be longer.

Monteverde

Monteverde is located approximately 3 hours from the SJO Airport via direct, ground transportation. Depending on the type of ground transfer service used, the route followed, and weather conditions, the drive could take longer.

Travel distance from the LIR Airport (Liberia)

La Fortuna / Arenal

La Fortuna / Arenal is located approximately 2.5 hours from the LIR Airport via direct, ground transportation. Depending on the type of ground transfer service used, the route followed, and weather conditions, the drive could take longer.

Monteverde

Monteverde is located approximately 2 hours from the LIR Airport via direct, ground transportation. Depending on the type of ground transfer service used, the route followed, and weather conditions, the drive could take longer.

If you plan drive yourselves to or from La Fortuna / Arenal or Monteverde, don’t miss our related blog posts:

Driving To La Fortuna / Arenal: Photos, Road Conditions, Routes, Drive Times, And More!

Driving To Monteverde: Photos, Road Conditions, Routes, Drive Times, And More!

For approximate drive times to/from Monteverde or La Fortuna / Arenal and other destinations in Costa Rica, don’t miss our related blog post:

Driving In Costa Rica: Distance And Duration Of Popular Routes

Road conditions

La Fortuna / Arenal

La Fortuna / Arenal is accessed via paved roads. If you plan to arrive at La Fortuna from the south via Road 702, sections of the drive between San Ramon and La Fortuna are mountainous, are curvy, and cut through a cloud forest, but the road is usually in good condition. Avoid the drive at night when darkness and fog are common hazards.

If you plan to arrive at La Fortuna from the west via Road 142, the drive between Tilaran and La Fortuna is fairly flat but curvy. This drive is particularly scenic as it curves around Lake Arenal.

If you plan to arrive at La Fortuna from the east via the speedy and paved Highway 4, the new highway extension that connects La Fortuna to the Sarapiqui region makes driving a breeze. (You can learn about the highway extension by reading our related blog post: How The New Chilamate Vuelta Kooper Highway Will Save You Time To/From La Fortuna.)

Monteverde

Monteverde is accessed via a combination of paved and bumpy roads.

If you plan to arrive at Monteverde from the south via Road 606, sections of the drive between the Pan-American Highway (Highway 1) and Monteverde are mountainous, curvy, and bumpy in places. Road construction along the route is ongoing; to date, the road is paved as far north as Guacimal.

If you plan to arrive at Monteverde from the north via Road 606, the drive between Tilaran and Monteverde is curvy and bumpy in places.

Avoid driving either route to Monteverde at night when darkness and fog are known hazards.

Transportation options

La Fortuna / Arenal

La Fortuna / Arenal is a major hub of the northern inland area; it can easily be accessed from destinations all over the country via public buses, taxis, car rentals, shared shuttle services, private transfer services, and domestic flights. Shared shuttle services typically arrive into and depart from La Fortuna / Arenal twice daily, once in the morning and again in the afternoon. Private transfer services can be hired to provide services at any time. There’s a taxi stop and a bus station in downtown La Fortuna. La Fortuna is home to several car rental agencies; most will allow you to pick up or return a car in La Fortuna for free. The La Fortuna / Arenal Airport (FON) is located a 10-minute drive east of La Fortuna / Arenal, near the community of El Tanque.

Monteverde

Monteverde can also be accessed from destinations all over the country via public buses, taxis, car rentals, shared shuttle services, and private transfer services. Shared shuttle services typically arrive into and depart from Monteverde twice daily, once in the morning and again in the afternoon. Private transfer services can be hired to provide services at any time. Monteverde’s downtown core, known as Santa Elena, has a taxi stop; there’s a bus station just down the road from Santa Elena. Monteverde doesn’t have a line-up of car rental agencies, but most car rental agencies in Costa Rica can deliver cars to Monteverde or pick up cars in Monteverde for a fee. Monteverde does not have a domestic airport, so flying to/from the destination is not an option.

Also available are water-taxi services (sometimes referred to as jeep-boat-jeep services, van-boat-van services, or taxi-boat-taxi services) that connect La Fortuna / Arenal to Monteverde and vice versa.

Need to travel between La Fortuna / Arenal and Monteverde? Don’t miss our related blog post:

Best Ways To Travel From La Fortuna To Monteverde (Or Vice Versa)

Atmosphere

La Fortuna / Arenal

La Fortuna / Arenal has a mixed urban-rural feel. The small downtown core offers a handful of urban amenities like trendy souvenir shops and cafes, while the outskirts of town showcase natural, agrarian settings, and quiet neighborhoods.

Monteverde

Monteverde has a small-town, rural feel. Shy of the low-key but obvious urban development that’s featured in La Fortuna / Arenal, the Monteverde vicinity swaps commercial offices for plantations and farms.

Tourism

La Fortuna / Arenal

Arguably, La Fortuna / Arenal is the most popular tourist destination in Costa Rica. A wide variety of tours, activities, accommodations, shops, and dining options are available in and around La Fortuna’s downtown core.

Monteverde

Monteverde grows in popularity with each passing year. Not unlike La Fortuna, the area offers a wide variety of tours, activities, accommodations, shops, and dining options, but the presence of tourism in the vicinity is understated.

Accommodations

La Fortuna / Arenal

La Fortuna / Arenal offers a range of more than 100 accommodations that vary in style, size, amenities, and price. Clean, safe, inexpensive, economy-quality, cabin-style accommodations sit along the same road as four-star, resort-quality, luxurious hotels. Choose a modern accommodation that features hot springs on-site, or book a room at a sustainable eco-lodge. La Fortuna / Arenal truly has it all, which is part of the reason why the destination appeals to so many travelers.

Monteverde

Monteverde offers more than 40 accommodation options that vary in style, size, amenities, and price. Compared to the abundance of diverse accommodation options found in the La Fortuna / Arenal area, the range of hotel variety in the Monteverde area is short. Most accommodations are small, family-run, boutique-style rustic cabins and lodges. Monteverde isn’t a luxury destination.

If you plan stay in La Fortuna / Arenal or Monteverde, don’t miss our related blog posts:

La Fortuna Hotels: Where We Stay Around Arenal

Monteverde Hotels: Where We Stay Around Monteverde

Dining

La Fortuna / Arenal and Monteverde both offer a wide variety of dining options. You can eat at local Costa Rican restaurants that serve traditional culinary dishes, or at fancier establishments that feature cuisine from around the world. Both destinations provide several dining options within the downtown core and more on the outskirts of town.

Tours, activities, and attractions

La Fortuna / Arenal

La Fortuna / Arenal is nicknamed the epicenter of adventure. It is home to the Arenal Volcano, around which several theme parks and adventure centers have been created. You can do just about everything in La Fortuna—hike or bike nature trails, go ziplining or horseback riding, visit or rappel down waterfalls, walk on hanging bridges, ride an aerial tram or an ATV, learn how coffee or chocolate is made, and so much more. The volcano blesses the area with mineral-rich thermal water and visits to hot springs attractions are common (see our related blog post Best Hot Springs In Arenal: We Compare All 12 La Fortuna Hot Springs for information about each). La Fortuna / Arenal is also home to the stunning La Fortuna Waterfall (see our related blog post Visiting The All-New La Fortuna Waterfall And Orchid Garden for more information), among other breathtaking cascades. Tours to attractions that fall outside of La Fortuna run daily from the town, including trips to the Venado Caves, to Rio Celeste inside the Tenorio Volcano National Park, and to the Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge, as well as white-water rafting excursions on several local rivers, including the famous Pacuare River (see our related blog post The Pacuare River Rafting Tour for rafting tour details). Many of Costa Rica’s must-have experiences can be enjoyed in or from the La Fortuna / Arenal area.

Monteverde

Monteverde is equally attractive, albeit to a more defined type of traveler. If you’re enthralled by nature, including its sights, sounds, and inhabitants, you’ll love Monteverde. The area is home to a vast chunk of Costa Rica’s protected land space and offers a number of nature reserves, most notably the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve, the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Biological Reserve, and the Children’s Eternal Rainforest. Guided tours flow through each reserve daily, but also popular are visits to local mariposarios (“butterfly conservatories” or “butterfly gardens”), ranarios (“frog exhibits”), and herpetariums (“reptile and amphibian exhibits”). Staple adventures, including aerial tram rides, hanging bridges tours, and canopy zip-line tours are run in the area, as are farm tours that offer a peek at the lifestyle of Costa Rican agricultural workers who process coffee, chocolate, and sugarcane.

If you need help comparing hanging bridges and canopy tours (ziplines) in La Fortuna / Arenal and Monteverde, don’t miss our related blog posts:

Best Ziplines In Costa Rica: Comparing 6 In Arenal And Monteverde

Best Hanging Bridges In Costa Rica: Comparing 4 In Arenal And Monteverde

Have you decided to visit La Fortuna / Arenal or Monteverde? Don’t miss our discounts for tours and activities offered at either destination:

Click here to access the FREE La Fortuna / Arenal discounts!

Click here to access the FREE Monteverde discounts!

Elevation

La Fortuna / Arenal

La Fortuna’s downtown core and the town’s outskirts (commonly called “Arenal”) are spread out over flat land. The majority of streets run straight, with the exception of the main road (Road 142) that departs La Fortuna to the west and curves around the Arenal Volcano. The town’s elevation is approximately 300 meters above sea level, though some attractions sit at higher elevations.

Monteverde

Monteverde, including the vicinity’s downtown core (called “Santa Elena”), is built atop Costa Rica’s Tilaran Mountain Range. The majority of streets in and around Santa Elena are curvy and hilly. The town’s elevation is approximately 1,300 meters above sea level, though some attractions are located at higher elevations.

Weather

La Fortuna / Arenal

La Fortuna / Arenal is primarily warm and sunny. Area temperatures average between 25-30 degrees Celsius, with the most sun hitting the area during the dry/summer season, as you might suspect. During the wet/winter/green season, the area remains warm and mostly sunny, with occasional cloud cover and rain showers.

Monteverde

Monteverde is generally chilly and cloudy year-round but also experiences sunshine and warmth. Area temperatures average between 18-20 degrees Celsius with warmer temperatures recorded during the dry/summer season. Given the destination’s high elevation, cloud cover is frequent. Wind and rain are common, especially during the wet/winter/green season.

Languages spoken

Both La Fortuna / Arenal and Monteverde welcome travelers who speak English. Though most Costa Ricans aren’t bilingual, many individuals who work in the tourism industry in La Fortuna / Arenal or Monteverde have at least a basic understanding of English, if not the ability to converse in Spanish and English.

General necessities

Both La Fortuna and Monteverde have grocery stores, banks, ATMs, laundromats, pharmacies, churches, medical clinics, and dental clinics. Neither destination has a hospital; the closest hospital is a 60-minute drive from La Fortuna / Arenal in Ciudad Quesada, and a 75-minute drive from Monteverde in Puntarenas.

Thinking about making a day trip between La Fortuna / Arenal and Monteverde? Read our related blog post:

How To Make A Day Trip To Monteverde from La Fortuna (Arenal) Or Vice Versa

Can/should I visit both La Fortuna / Arenal and Monteverde?

Unless you’re just diving into your Costa Rica vacation planning, you’ve probably already heard that La Fortuna / Arenal and Monteverde are two of Costa Rica’s top destinations. Most visitors split their time in Costa Rica at a coastal destination (usually during the latter part of their trip) and an inland area, such as La Fortuna / Arenal or Monteverde. Though the Pacific and Caribbean coasts have crystalline beaches and warm water, Costa Rica’s inlands invite exploration of wildlife-rich rainforest and cloud forest ecosystems. Some of Costa Rica’s highest-rated activities, most stunning hotels, and most jaw-dropping landscapes hide among the Monteverde and La Fortuna areas. They’re sprawled out over an inland region you really shouldn’t miss.

If you have more than a week to travel around Costa Rica, you’ll find that visits to both La Fortuna / Arenal and Monteverde are possible, in addition to time spent relaxing on a beach elsewhere in the country. If your time in Costa Rica will be short, however, or if you must adhere to a strict travel schedule, you may need to choose between visiting either La Fortuna / Arenal or Monteverde if you want to save some time for visiting a coastal destination too. Given that Monteverde and La Fortuna are unique destinations both worthy of a visit, deciding whether you should visit La Fortuna / Arenal or Monteverde during your vacation may be one of the toughest and most stressful trip-planning decisions you’ll make.

Need help deciding how many destinations you should visit according to the amount of time you’ll have in Costa Rica? Don’t miss our Costa Rica itinerary-planning tips and recommendations:

Costa Rica Itinerary: 5 days in Costa Rica (i.e., 4 nights and 5 days in Costa Rica)
Costa Rica Itinerary: 8 days in Costa Rica (i.e., 7 nights and 8 days in Costa Rica)
Costa Rica Itinerary: 10 days in Costa Rica (i.e., 9 nights and 10 days in Costa Rica)
Costa Rica Itinerary: 12 days in Costa Rica (i.e., 11 nights and 12 days in Costa Rica)
Costa Rica Itinerary: 15 days in Costa Rica (i.e., 14 nights and 15 days in Costa Rica)

QUESTION TO COMMENT ON: Have you been to La Fortuna / Arenal and/or Monteverde? Which did you choose to visit, and why?

Pura vida!

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How To Decide Between La Fortuna / Arenal or Monteverde (or Why You Should Visit Both)
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How To Decide Between La Fortuna / Arenal or Monteverde (or Why You Should Visit Both)
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We compare and contrast La Fortuna / Arenal and Monteverde, plus offer a quiz, photos, and free discounts for both areas to help you decide!
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The Official Costa Rica Travel Blog
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