Should You Visit La Fortuna / Arenal or Monteverde In Costa Rica (Or Both)?
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COSTA RICA VACATION PLANNING: ARE YOU GAME?
Building a Costa Rica vacation itinerary is a lot like playing Tetris. The object is to arrange each piece so it falls perfectly into place in accordance with all of the other pieces. Pieces cannot overlap each other, so careful attention must be paid to the structure of the entire game at all times, otherwise it’s easy for pieces to collect on top of one another. When that happens, you can get in over your head pretty quickly, and before you know it, the game’s over.
If you approach your Costa Rica trip planning in a similar manner–carefully calculating your choices, planning aspects of your vacation in accordance with other parts, and not letting your vacation vision escape you–you’re bound to find the perfect fit. In other words, you’re more likely to experience a Costa Rica vacation that provide you with what you aim to get out of the trip. In the game of Tetris, you familiarize yourself with the pieces so you are prepared to make educated and logical choices about what to do with each when it comes time to play. When planning a trip to Costa Rica, familiarizing yourself with the various aspects of trip building (such as selecting destinations to visit, accommodations to stay at, activities to participate in, and transfer services throughout) fulfills the same purpose, best preparing you to make informed decisions regarding your travel experience.
Unless you have an endless budget, years to travel for, and no care in the world, your game parameters are likely set out for you; that is to suggest that your vacation plans will be affected, at least in some way, by the amount of money you have to spend, the amount of time you have to travel for, and/or any number of personal factors, needs, or preferences. In a country such as Costa Rica where the vast number of destinations and attractions that travellers have to choose from can be overwhelming, it’s safe to say that you’ll be given far more pieces than you’ll be able to make fit. The trick then, is to determine which ones interest you the most so you can incorporate those–and only those–into your trip.
LA FORTUNA / ARENAL OR MONTEVERDE, OR BOTH?
Although not everyone enjoys the beach, the majority of travellers who reach out to us for Costa Rica vacation planning assistance request that part of their trip be spent at a coastal destination. The remaining vacation time (typically the first half) is left open for visiting Costa Rica’s inland areas–most notably, the La Fortuna / Arenal or Monteverde regions. Planning visits to either one (i.e., La Fortuna / Arenal or Monteverde) or both (i.e., La Fortuna / Arenal and Monteverde) of these destinations can positively impact the trip experience by providing unique Costa Rican experiences that are not provided along either of the country’s coasts. In fact, some of the country’s highest-rated activities, most stunning hotels, and most breathtaking landscapes are hidden among the inland region; a visit is not to be missed.
Combine an interest in visiting both Costa Rica’s inland region and one of its coasts, and you can imagine how quickly a seven or eight-day vacation can fill up. Travellers who have more time to travel for will find that visits to both La Fortuna / Arenal and Monteverde are possible, in addition to saving time for rest and relaxation at the beach. However, travellers with shorter itineraries and/or stricter travel schedules may need to choose to visit only one of the two areas–either La Fortuna / Arenal or Monteverde–if they wish to spend time at a coastal destination too. Given the unique appeal of both La Fortuna / Arenal and Monteverde, it is no wonder that having to choose one destination over the other is a difficult and stressful task.
- If you’re wondering how many destinations you should plan to visit during your Costa Rica trip according to the approximate number of days you plan to spend in the country (i.e., if you are questioning whether you have enough time to visit La Fortuna /Arenal and Monteverde), don’t miss the “Here’s How Many Places You Should Visit” section of our related Costa Rica Itinerary posts 5 Days In Costa Rica, 8 Days In Costa Rica, 10 Days In Costa Rica, 12 Days In Costa Rica, and 15 Days In Costa Rica.
- If you plan to stay in one of the two areas (i.e., either La Fortuna / Arenal or Monteverde) but you are interested in making a day trip to the other (i.e., a day trip to Monteverde from La Fortuna / Arenal, or a day trip from La Fortuna / Arenal to Monteverde) don’t miss our related blog post How To Make A Day Trip To Monteverde from La Fortuna (Arenal) Or Vice Versa.
Which area is better, La Fortuna / Arenal or Monteverde?
Have you asked yourself the following question…
Which is better La Fortuna / Arenal or Monteverde?
If so, you’re not alone; the question is one of the most popular we are asked by travellers. Although it is impossible for us to label one of the two destinations as “better” than the other given that such a proclamation would be dependent on a number of traveller-specific factors, it is possible for us to compare and contrast both destinations to help you make your own informed decision regarding whether it would be best for you to visit La Fortuna / Arenal or Monteverde during your trip. So, before you decide which location–either La Fortuna / Arenal or Monteverde (or perhaps both) will make the cut, consider what each has to offer.
LA FORTUNA / ARENAL OR MONTEVERDE: SIMILARITIES AND DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE TWO
La Fortuna / Arenal or Monteverde: Travel distance from the San Jose (SJO) Airport
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 duration could take longer)
Monteverde is located approximately 3.5-4 hours from the SJO Airport (via direct, ground transportation–depending on the type of ground transfer service used, the route duration could take longer)
La Fortuna / Arenal or Monteverde: Travel distance from the Liberia (LIR) Airport
La Fortuna / Arenal is located approximately 3-3.5 hours from the LIR Airport (via direct, ground transportation–depending on the type of ground transfer service used, the route duration could take longer)
Monteverde is located approximately 3-3.5 hours from the LIR Airport (via direct, ground transportation–depending on the type of ground transfer service used, the route duration could take longer)
- If you plan drive yourselves to or from La Fortuna / Arenal or Monteverde via either of the country’s two international airports, don’t miss our related blog posts Driving Directions To The SJO Airport / Driving Directions From The SJO Airport and Driving Directions To The LIR Airport / Driving Directions From The LIR Airport
La Fortuna / Arenal or Monteverde: Surrounding road conditions via San Jose/Alajuela
La Fortuna / Arenal is accessed via paved roads. Sections of the stretch of road between San Ramon and La Fortuna are mountainous and curvy, however the road conditions for the route are decent overall.
Monteverde is accessed via a combination of paved and bumpy roads. Sections of the stretch of road between the Pan American Highway and Monteverde are mountainous, curvy, bumpy, and slow-going, causing the road conditions for the route to be moderate to poor overall.
La Fortuna / Arenal or Monteverde: Surrounding road conditions via Liberia
La Fortuna / Arenal is accessed via paved roads. Sections of the stretch of road between Tilaran and La Fortuna are mountainous and curvy, however the road conditions for the route are decent overall. This route also provides travellers with a scenic view of Lake Arenal.
Monteverde is accessed via a combination of paved and bumpy roads. Sections of the stretch of road between Tilaran and Monteverde are mountainous, curvy, bumpy, and slow-going, causing the road conditions for the route to be moderate to poor overall.
La Fortuna / Arenal or Monteverde: Transportation options and access to/from the area
La Fortuna / Arenal can be accessed via public bus, taxi, shared shuttle service, vehicle rental (travellers are able to drive to/from the area themselves), private transfer service, and domestic flight (the La Fortuna/Arenal airport is located ten minutes outside of La Fortuna/Arenal in El Tanque).
Monteverde can be accessed via public bus, taxi, shared shuttle service, vehicle rental (travellers are able to drive to/from the area themselves), and private transfer service. Monteverde does not offer a domestic airport. For this reason, flights to/from the area are not available.
La Fortuna / Arenal or Monteverde: Area elevation
La Fortuna / Arenal–including the entire downtown core and the majority of the town’s outskirts–is built upon flat land. The majority of streets run straight and flat (with the exception of some stretches of road around the Arenal Volcano). The town’s elevation is approximately 300 meters above sea level (some attractions exist in locales at higher elevations).
Monteverde–including the downtown core (called Santa Elena) and the majority of the town’s outskirts (including Monteverde and Cerro Plano)–is built atop Costa Rica’s Tilaran mountain range. The majority of streets are curvy and hilly. The town’s elevation is approximately 1300 meters above sea level (some attractions exist in locales at higher elevations).
La Fortuna / Arenal or Monteverde: Area weather
La Fortuna / Arenal is primarily warm (on average, between 25-30 degrees Celsius) and sunny (more so during the dry/summer season). During the wet/winter season, the area remains warm and mostly sunny, with occasional cloud cover and rain showers.
Monteverde is chilly (on average, between 18-20 degrees Celsius) and cloudy year round (warmer temperatures are recorded during the dry/summer season). Given its high elevation, cloud cover is frequent, as is wind, which is most rampant (together with rain showers) during the wet/winter season.
La Fortuna / Arenal or Monteverde: Languages spoken
Both La Fortuna / Arenal and Monteverde welcome the practice of the English language. Although not all Costa Rican’s are bilingual, a large percentage of the population living in the La Fortuna (Arenal) and Monteverde regions has a basic understanding of English and the majority of individuals who work in the tourism industry can converse in both languages (English and Spanish).
La Fortuna / Arenal or Monteverde: Atmosphere
La Fortuna / Arenal offers a mixed urban-rural feel. The downtown core offers urban amenities while the outskirts offer more natural settings, local farms, and small, quiet neighbourhoods.
Monteverde offers a small-town, rural feel. Shy of the urban development in La Fortuna (Arenal), Monteverde’s downtown core is small, nearly non-commercial, and more representative of Costa Rica’s farming population.
La Fortuna / Arenal or Monteverde: General necessities
Both La Fortuna and Monteverde offer grocery stores, banks, ATMs, pharmacies, churches, and emergency worker sites.
La Fortuna / Arenal or Monteverde: Area tourism
La Fortuna / Arenal is arguably the most popular tourist destination in the entire country. A wide variety of tours/activities, accommodations, shops, and dining options are available in and around the downtown core.
Monteverde grows in popularity with each passing year. The area offers a wide variety of tours/activities, accommodations, shops, and dining options as the La Fortuna (Arenal) area does, however given that the region is still up-and-coming, Monteverde offers a slightly less “in-your-face” tourist experience.
La Fortuna / Arenal or Monteverde: Accommodations
La Fortuna / Arenal offers more than accommodation options, ranging in style, size, amenities, and price. As hotel diversity is widespread, so too is traveller’s choice. In and around the La Fortuna / Arenal region it is possible to find clean, safe, inexpensive, economy-quality, cabin accommodations on the same road as a four-star, resort-quality, luxurious hotel. Similarly, travellers can opt to stay at modern accommodations featuring onsite hot springs just as easily as they can choose to take up room and board at a sustainable, organic, holistic, yoga eco-lodge. La Fortuna / Arenal truly has it all, which is likely the reason why the area appeals to such a large percentage of travellers. Of course, the vast number of accommodation options available is a requirement for the area given the amount of tourism that it caters to on an ongoing basis. Still, despite the abundance of hotels, it is important to note that accommodations can fill up quickly during the high and peak seasons (advance reservations are required).
Monteverde offers more than forty accommodation options, also ranging in style, size, amenities, and price. However, the range of hotel variety in the Monteverde region is short compared to the abundance of diverse accommodation options found in the La Fortuna / Arenal region. Surely, this is due to the fact that Monteverde is geographically smaller than La Fortuna / Arenal and serves a lesser volume of visitors. In addition, given the rural, farming community that Monteverde encompasses, the majority of accommodation choices are small, family-run, boutique-style, cabins and lodges that offer rustic (more so than elegant) nightly stays. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, however for the most part Monteverde is not the destination of choice of travellers who seek resort-quality accommodations gold-plated in luxury.
La Fortuna / Arenal or Monteverde: Dining
La Fortuna / Arenal and Monteverde offer a wide variety of dining options ranging from local Costa Rican restaurants (offering traditional culinary dishes) to more modern dining retreats (featuring international cuisine). Both areas provide a selection of dining options within walking distance of the downtown core, as well as additional restaurants spread out among the outskirts of town.
La Fortuna / Arenal or Monteverde: Tours, activities, and attractions
La Fortuna / Arenal is nicknamed the epicenter of adventure. It is home to the Arenal Volcano–the area’s largest attraction (physically and figuratively-speaking) around which a number of adventure-based activities have been created. Most notably, hiking tours through volcano trails (including the 1968 Trail and the Silencio Trail) as well as trails through the Arenal Volcano National Park top the list, with horseback riding tours, mountain biking tours, and ATV run around the volcano not far behind. Given its proximity to the volcano, the La Fortuna (Arenal) area is home to a number of volcanic hot spring attractions (please see our related blog post The Best Arenal Hot Springs In Costa Rica: Comparing 7 Popular La Fortuna Hot Springs for more information about each). La Fortuna / Arenal also offers the stunning La Fortuna Waterfall, among other breathtaking cascades (please see our related blog post La Fortuna Waterfall And Other Arenal Waterfalls Worth A Visit for more information about each), as well as a wide variety of excursions including canyoneering tours (i.e., canyoning and waterfall rappelling), canopy tours (i.e., zipline tours), white water rafting tours, hanging bridge tours, aerial tram rides, and safari float tours. Day tours to the Venado Caves, Rio Celeste, and the Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge round out an otherwise jam-packed destination dossier, highlighting the fact that most of Costa Rica’s not-to-miss activities can be enjoyed in the region.
Monteverde is equally attractive, albeit to a more specific type of traveller. Those who are enthralled by nature–including its sights, sounds, and bird, insect, reptile, and amphibian inhabitants–will fall in love with Monteverde. The area is home to much of Costa Rica’s protected land space and offers a number of rainforest preserves (including the Monteverde Biological Reserve, the Santa Elena Biological Reserve, and Children’s Eternal Rainforest reserves) that travellers are welcome to visit. Guided tours through each are a popular interest, as are visits to local mariposarios (“butterfly conservatories/gardens”), ranarios (“frog exhibits”), and serpentariums (“snake exhibits”). Staple rainforest adventures including aerial tram rides, hanging bridge tours, and canopy tours (i.e., zipline tours) are run in the area, as are tours that aim to offer a glimpse into the daily life of Costa Rican workers, showcasing a variety of plantations and processing systems that produce coffee, chocolate, sugar cane, and cheese.
- Since La Fortuna / Arenal and Monteverde both offer canopy tours (i.e., zipline tours) and hanging bridge tours, please see our related blog posts The Best Zipline In Costa Rica: Comparing 6 Popular Canopy Tours In Arenal And Monteverde and The Best Hanging Bridges In Costa Rica: Comparing 4 Popular Hanging Bridges In Arenal And Monteverde for comparisons of tour experiences provided in each region.
QUESTION TO COMMENT ON: Have you been to La Fortuna / Arenal or Monteverde before? What did you think? Have you been to both La Fortuna / Arenal and Monteverde? Which did you prefer, and why?
If you’re more of a visual learner, take a moment to view our gallery photos below showcasing merely a fraction of the experiences we have had in La Fortuna / Arenal and Monteverde.