Must-Know Info About La Fortuna Costa Rica From Longtime Residents
Last updated on May 10th, 2022 at 12:06 pm EST
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Get the Costa Rica info you need by browsing our article's TABLE OF CONTENTS:
- We love La Fortuna Costa Rica
- La Fortuna basics: What to expect
- Tours, activities, and attractions
- Getting around La Fortuna
- Itinerary planning
- Other things worth knowing about La Fortuna Costa Rica
- Additional resources
We love La Fortuna Costa Rica
Though we’ve spent more than a decade exploring nearly every corner of Costa Rica, La Fortuna is our absolute favorite destination in the country. It’s also one of two places in Costa Rica that we’re proud to call home, and we’ve done so (off and on) since 2007. We’ve experienced just about everything there is to do in La Fortuna, we’ve dined at restaurants and stayed at hotels all over town, and we formed some of our best friendships and business partnerships with the area’s locals. To say the least, we’re advocates of the Arenal area at large and we’re certain we know the region better than most other travelers. Especially those who drop in, spend a few days, and go on to create (or worse, sell) online “La Fortuna city guides” that don’t offer much beyond links to hotel booking sites that provide monetary kickbacks to the guide’s creators.
Fortunately, we won’t subject you to that kind of city guide. Google (and other search engines) can provide you with the names of most La Fortuna-area businesses if you want or need them. Also, there are several ways you can secure bookings for hotels in Costa Rica (e.g., through online booking websites or through Costa Rican hotels directly); you don’t need to click on a blog link to do that. What we’re guessing you actually want is a resource that can provide new and sound information about La Fortuna Costa Rica that’s based on knowledge and firsthand experience acquired over several years, ideally compiled by individuals who have long had (and continue to have) close ties to the town. If so, keep reading below and know that we’re grateful you prefer valuable content.
La Fortuna basics: What to expect
A sample of our personal photos from around La Fortuna:
Atmosphere and presence of tourism
First, let’s address the giant elephant (tapir?) in the room: La Fortuna is touristy. You’ll find a ton of tourism development in and around town, from hotels and restaurants to adventure centers and tourism offices. You’ll also find a ton of variety within each of these categories, from small hostels to exclusive resorts; fancy places to eat and inexpensive, family-style soda restaurants; large-scale adventure parks and small, intimate-feeling attractions; and reputable tour operator offices and street-corner salespeople. Though the abundance of tourism that exists in La Fortuna repels some travelers, most others are drawn in by the ample opportunities there are to craft an ideal vacation. Regardless of whether you’re on a budget or on your dream honeymoon, you can build your ideal Costa Rica vacation with the diverse tourism options that flood La Fortuna Costa Rica.
Despite the big role that tourism plays in La Fortuna, the destination has a small-town vibe. Most locals who don’t work in tourism work in agriculture and tend to the farms and fields that sprawl out over the Arenal area at large. Nearly everyone in town goes to bed early so they can rise early, either to head off to work or to participate in early-morning activities when wildlife viewing is optimal, the temperature is comfortable, and rain clouds haven’t yet rolled in. La Fortuna’s nighttime scene is rather lackluster (you’re more likely to see people bustling around town between 7:00-8:00am than 7:00-8:00pm), and the few low-key bars you’ll find around town are most often frequented by tourists.
Also around town are a collection of establishments that give La Fortuna a mixed urban-rural feel. In La Fortuna’s 20-block, rectangular core, you’ll encounter shops bursting with commercial souvenirs, local residents selling lottery tickets on street corners, trendy cafes serving cups of authentic Costa Rican coffee, oversize billboards that advertise the area’s most popular experiences, and a rodeo stadium that hosts cultural civic festivals. The town also has banks, ATMs, gas stations, medical clinics, pharmacies, a police station, a fire station, a post office, laundromats, a Catholic church, grocery stores, and several other services you might want or need to access during your visit.
Language: Is English spoken in La Fortuna?
English (broken) is widely spoken in La Fortuna. Though most Costa Ricans aren’t bilingual, the majority of locals who work as tour guides, restaurant wait staff, and hotel reception staff in La Fortuna are able to converse in Spanish and English. Many other individuals who work in the tourism industry, including drivers and hotel cleaning staff, as well as other townspeople, such as individuals who work at banks, pharmacies, and grocery stores, have at least a basic understanding of English. Since La Fortuna’s economy relies heavily on tourism, tourists (and the practice of the English language) are welcome in La Fortuna.
A sample of our personal photos from some of the La Fortuna hotels we’ve stayed at:
La Fortuna attracts a wide range of visitors in part due to the plethora of accommodations in and around town. Accommodation options vary across type (e.g., hostels, hotels, lodges, resorts, and Airbnb/vacation home rentals), structure (e.g., low-rise buildings, high-rise buildings, and individual bungalows/cabins/villas), style (e.g., modern, classic, rustic, and outdated), size (e.g., some properties only offer a handful of rooms and others have more than 50 rooms), features and amenities (e.g., adjoining rooms, on-site hot springs or a spa, on-site trails or adventure tours, and a complimentary breakfast), and price (e.g., a bed in a hostel dorm can be obtained for $15/night but private villas at resort-quality accommodations run over $1,000/night). Several hotels in La Fortuna recognize Costa Rica’s high and low seasons and change their prices accordingly. Click here for more information about Costa Rica’s high and low seasons, including when is the least expensive time to visit (trips to La Fortuna included).
La Fortuna accommodations also differ by location. Though most economy accommodations cluster around downtown La Fortuna, other accommodations of standard quality, superior quality, and resort quality are found in the environs, mainly along Road 142 as it departs from downtown La Fortuna to the west and curves around the Arenal Volcano. Along (and just off of) this road is where several of La Fortuna’s top-rated accommodations are located. Though these accommodations can sit anywhere from a 5-minute drive to a 15-minute drive outside of downtown La Fortuna, most are still considered “La Fortuna hotels” by tour operators. This means that the La Fortuna tour operators and adventure parks that automatically include complimentary transportation to/from La Fortuna hotels with their tours will include a pick-up and drop-off service at these hotels for free. For more information about this topic, please see our related blog post: Costa Rica Tour Transportation: Hotel Pick-Ups And Drop-Offs.
A sample of our personal photos from some of the La Fortuna restaurants we’ve eaten at:
Dining opportunities in La Fortuna are less varied than accommodation options, but there are still plenty of restaurants to choose from. Several traditional Costa Rican restaurants (called soda restaurants) are scattered around town. They serve the most authentic Costa Rican food and offer the lowest meal prices. Other, slightly fancier, restaurants in town fuse Costa Rican cuisine with international dishes, mainly of American, Italian, and Asian influences. As easily as you can try a fabulous Costa Rican casado in La Fortuna, you can also grab a hamburger, a pizza, a plate of pasta or Chinese food, a sushi boat, or another beloved order from around the world.
You’ll find the highest concentration of restaurants in downtown La Fortuna, but most hotels and resorts that sit on the outskirts of town have their own on-site restaurant that’s open to the public. The majority of those restaurants serve Costa Rican cuisine alongside a handful of international meal options too. In general, meal prices at hotel restaurants are higher than meal prices at restaurants in downtown La Fortuna.
Tours, activities, and attractions
A sample of our personal photos from some of the La Fortuna tours and activities we’ve experienced:
Nicknamed the epicenter of adventure, La Fortuna is Costa Rica’s playground. There is so much to see and do around town, so come eager and excited to explore. You should also come ready to spend money on nature and adventure experiences. Even though several experiences can be had on the cheap, given the sheer volume of offerings in town, you’ll likely spend more on tours and activities in La Fortuna than at any other Costa Rica destination you choose to visit.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. Here’s a list of tours and activities you can experience while in La Fortuna Costa Rica:
- Aerial Trams
- ATV Tours
- Bee Tours
- Boat Tours
- Canoe Tours
- Canopy Tour (zip-lining)
- Canyoning/Rappelling Tours
- Cave Tours
- Cooking Classes
- Dance Lessons
- Food Tours (i.e., coffee and chocolate tours)
- Hanging Bridge Tours
- Hiking Tours
- Horseback Riding Tours
- Hot Springs Visits
- Kayaking Tours
- Mountain Biking Tours
- National Park Tours
- Night Tours
- Obstacle Course Runs
- Rafting Tours
- Rock Climbs
- Safari Float Tours
- Swimming Holes
- Tarzan Swings
- Tubing Tours
- Volcano Tours
- Waterfall Visits
- Waterfall Jumping Tours
- Watersports on Arenal Lake
- Wildlife Center Visits
Popular adventure centers, parks, reserves, and hiking spots in the area include:
- Arenal Volcano National Park: a two-sector, government-protected national park that’s open to the public for guided and self-guided hiking and/or bird-watching
- Arenal 1968: a privately-owned reserve that’s open to the public for guided and self-guided hiking and/or bird-watching
- Silencio Trail: a privately-owned reserve that’s open to the public for guided and self-guided hiking and/or bird-watching
- Arenal Sky Adventures Park: a privately-owned, large-scale adventure park that’s open to the public for guided aerial tram rides, guided zip-lining canopy tours, and guided or self-guided hanging bridges tours
- Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park: a privately-owned, large-scale adventure park that’s open to the public for guided and self-guided hanging bridges tours, guided bird-watching tours, guided night tours, guided horseback riding tours, and guided canyoning tours
- Club Rio Outdoor Center: a privately-owned, medium-scale adventure park at the resort-quality Springs Resort & Spa that’s open to the public for guided tubing tours, guided kayaking tours, guided horseback riding tours, guided rock climbs, guided wildlife exhibit tours, and self-guided hot spring visits
- Arenal Mundo Aventura Ecological Park: a privately-owned, medium-scale adventure park that’s open to the public for guided zip-lining canopy tours, guided horseback riding tours, guided rappelling tours, guided indigenous presentations, guided bird-watching tours, and guided night tours
- Arenal Natura Ecological Park: a privately-owned, small-scale adventure park that’s open to the public for guided and self-guided wildlife exhibit tours, guided bird-watching tours, guided night tours, and guided photography tours
Surely, you won’t have a month to spend in La Fortuna in order to do and see everything, so one of the first things you should do if you plan to visit La Fortuna is decide which tours and activities interest you the most. Several are half-day tours which means you can experience two (sometimes three) in one day. In addition, a few La Fortuna tour operators including Canoa Aventura, Desafio Adventure Company, and the Springs Resort / Club Rio offer 1-day Arenal Combo Tours that combine several La Fortuna attractions into one full-day event. The most common experiences to be grouped together and sold as combo tours include Arenal Volcano tours, hiking tours, hanging bridges tours, waterfall tours, safari float tours, white-water rafting tours, zip-lining tours, canyoning/rappelling tours, tubing tours, horseback riding tours, and hot springs visits.
Don’t miss the free discounts we offer for La Fortuna tours, activities, and attraction entrance fees in our discount database:
Here’s a sample of the La Fortuna tour discounts you’ll find in the database:
In addition to everything you can do in the La Fortuna vicinity, there’s plenty more you can experience with a 2-hour drive from town. Day tours to several of Costa Rica’s top attractions, including the Cano Negro Mixed Wildlife Refuge, Rio Celeste inside the Tenorio Volcano National Park, and the Venado Caves run daily from La Fortuna. White-water rafting excursions on several rivers, including Costa Rica’s infamous Pacuare River, can also be enjoyed to and from La Fortuna.
A sample of personal photos from some of the day trips we’ve made to and from La Fortuna:
A sample of personal photos from some of the La Fortuna hot springs attractions we’ve visited:
To learn more about La Fortuna’s various hot springs options, please read our Arenal Hot Springs Guide here.
In addition to the public hot springs displayed above, several other (private) hot springs are accessible to guests of some La Fortuna Costa Rica hotels:
Getting to and from La Fortuna Costa Rica
La Fortuna sits an approximate 3-hour drive from Costa Rica’s SJO Airport (near San Jose) and LIR Airport (near Liberia). Transportation options to and from La Fortuna via either airport include:
- Ground transfers via shared shuttle services
- Ground transfers via private transfer services
- Ground transfers via city-to-city transportation-inclusive tours (sometimes called “Adventure Connections” and more generally referred to as “tour transportation”)
- Ground transfers via taxi services
- Ground transfers via public transit (i.e., public buses)
- Ground transfers via a personal car rental (or van rental)
- Air transfers via domestic flights into the FON Airport in El Tanque, a small airport that sits an approximate 10-minute drive east of downtown La Fortuna
Though most people travel to La Fortuna from San Jose or Liberia, the third most visited destination to precede or follow a visit to La Fortuna is Monteverde. Transportation options between La Fortuna and Monteverde include all of the options listed above with the exception of domestic flights (Monteverde does not have an airport). In addition, you can also travel between La Fortuna and Monteverde across Lake Arenal via a boat service called either the van-boat-van service, the jeep-boat-jeep service, or the taxi-boat-taxi service, depending on which company you book through.
Map of La Fortuna Costa Rica
The main roads that connect with downtown La Fortuna are paved. These include:
- Road 142: Downtown La Fortuna’s main drag. This road runs east-west through La Fortuna where it is a one-way road as far west as Road 702 (see below). Traffic flows west on Road 142 in the downtown core. Road 142 continues west out of La Fortuna, curves around the Arenal Volcano, and skirts around Lake Arenal.
- Road 702: The most traveled road in downtown La Fortuna that runs perpendicular to Road 142. This road runs north-south in La Fortuna, from as far south as the city of San Ramon to as far north as the center of La Fortuna. Road 702 meets Road 142 one block west of La Fortuna’s central park and church.
If you plan to enter La Fortuna from the south (via San Ramon and/or Chachagua), you’ll find the curvy Road 702 is well-kept but travels over mountainous sections of cloud forest. Avoid driving this road at night when darkness and fog can make the route unsafe.
If you plan to enter La Fortuna from the west (via Nuevo Arenal, Liberia, Rincon de la Vieja, and/or Guanacaste beach destinations), you’ll find Road 142 fairly flat but curvy. Drive cautiously as some curves are sharp and wildlife/pedestrians can suddenly appear around corners.
If you plan to enter La Fortuna from the east (via Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui), you’ll find Road 142 primarily flat with only a few curves. Thanks to a new highway extension that connects La Fortuna to the Sarapiqui area, this route provides the easiest drive into/out of La Fortuna.
La Fortuna’s bus station is located on the south side of town, one block south of Road 142 and one block east of Road 702 (beside the Mega Super grocery store). Buses arrive at and depart from the station to/from several destinations in Costa Rica, most notably San Jose, San Ramon, Tilaran, and Ciudad Quesada.
Getting around La Fortuna
La Fortuna’s flat, downtown core is rectangular in shape. It covers a space of roughly 6 blocks (east to west) by 2 blocks (north to south), which is easy to walk around. Most streets are paved and have sidewalks (at least on one side of the road). Though exact travel times depend on how fast or slow you walk, on average, you can explore most of the town center on foot in about 1 hour.
La Fortuna doesn’t have public parking lots so parking opportunities are sometimes scarce. The most common place to park in La Fortuna is along the north side of the central church in the middle of town (across the street from the post office). You’ll find several free, marked parking spaces there, though they can be difficult to come by when the church is in session. Locals often park along the sides of streets, but we don’t recommend this to travelers. Since some of La Fortuna’s streets are narrow, street parking poses a risk of damage to rental cars.
La Fortuna’s taxi stop is located on the east side of the central church in the middle of town (across from Banco Nacional). Typically operating between the hours of 6:00am and 10:00pm daily are official red taxis that can take you wherever you need to travel within the Arenal region. If you’re in downtown La Fortuna and you need a taxi, you can use one of the drivers that are parked in the taxi lineup. The fair practice is to approach the first driver in the lineup.
One of the most common questions we’re asked about Costa Rica itinerary planning is: “How many days should I spend in La Fortuna / Arenal?” While we’d love to be able to deliver a quick and easy response (most resources suggest 2-3 days), the truth is, the most accurate answer depends largely on the types of experiences you want to have in Costa Rica, how long they take, and when they’re available.
To answer these questions for yourself and to formulate your own ideal La Fortuna itinerary, follow these 5 steps:
- Determine which things you want to do and see in Costa Rica (i.e., create your Costa Rica bucket list).
- Determine how many of those things you can experience in La Fortuna.
- Of the things you can experience in La Fortuna, find out how much time you’ll need for each (i.e., determine the duration of each guided or unguided activity you want to participate in).
- Of the things you can experience in La Fortuna, find out the daily schedule for each (i.e., determine whether they’re available once daily at a set time, whether they’re available several times daily at set times, or whether they allow you to select your own preferred times).
- Lastly, as if you’re doing a puzzle and each thing you want to experience in La Fortuna is its own piece, fill your travel days one by one according to the duration and schedule of each tour or activity. The total number of travel days you fill is how many days you should spend in La Fortuna / Arenal.
Alternatively, if your time is flexible but your budget is tight, follow the steps outlined above and prioritize costs. In other words, once you narrow down the things you want (and are able) to experience in La Fortuna, determine the cost of each, then fill your travel days until you run out of funds. How many days you can afford to be active is how many days you should spend in La Fortuna.
If you need help identifying which specific tours and activities are available in the La Fortuna area, feel free to browse through the various options on our sister site’s La Fortuna / Arenal Tour Discounts page for inspiration. If you click on any tour or activity listing on that page, a new page will open that displays the available start times, the duration, and the cost of the experience. With this information, you’ll be sure to build a La Fortuna itinerary chock full of everything you want for your trip and not an item more.
Other things worth knowing about La Fortuna Costa Rica
La Fortuna and Arenal terminology
La Fortuna de San Carlos is the town’s official name, though it’s colloquially referred to as Arenal after the town’s resident volcano, the Arenal Volcano. In general, when people speak of “Arenal” as a destination, they’re referring to the La Fortuna area at large which encompasses the following areas:
- All of downtown La Fortuna.
- Neighborhoods that sit south of downtown La Fortuna including Barrio Pilo and those that fall along the road to the Rio Fortuna Waterfall (also called the “La Fortuna Waterfall”).
- Neighborhoods that sit west of downtown La Fortuna including La Palma and those that fall along Road 142 as far west as the dam at Lake Arenal and the Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges.
La Fortuna sits roughly 300 meters above sea level but some attractions in the area are built at higher elevations.
The primary ecosystem you’ll encounter around La Fortuna is the rainforest. Though downtown La Fortuna and the region that encircles the town is a flat, open, deforested space, several areas on the outskirts of town are hilly, densely forested, and provide fantastic wildlife-spotting and bird-watching opportunities.
Opportunities to spot wildlife in La Fortuna are endless. We’ve been fortunate enough to see countless species of resident and migratory birds (including toucans), butterflies (including blue morphos), sloths, monkeys peccaries, coatis, agoutis, bats, frogs, iguanas, lizards, snakes, spiders, and ants all in La Fortuna. Rescued wildlife of several other types, including wild cats and crocodiles, can be seen at rescue and rehabilitation centers around La Fortuna, including those at Proyecto Asis and the Club Rio Outdoor Center.
Want warm and sunny days in La Fortuna? You’ll find them throughout the year in La Fortuna. Area temperatures average between 25-30 degrees Celsius, with a greater likelihood of sunshine during the dry/summer season (typically mid-December to April), as you might suspect. During the wet/winter/green season (roughly May to mid-December), La Fortuna remains warm but receives occasional cloud cover and rain showers. You can read more about the weather in La Fortuna here, including how to best plan for La Fortuna’s weather and what there is to do when it rains.
If you’re planning a trip to La Fortuna Costa Rica, don’t miss these helpful resources:
QUESTION TO COMMENT ON: Have you been to La Fortuna? What did you choose to do in or around town?