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Should You Visit La Fortuna (Arenal), Monteverde, Or Both Destinations During Your Costa Rica Vacation?

Should You Visit La Fortuna (Arenal), Monteverde, Or Both Destinations During Your Costa Rica Vacation?

NOTE: The content on this page was last updated on July 9th, 2017.

tetris

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, game over.

If you approach your 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 vacation that carries out that which you aim to get out of your trip. In 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 to/from each to pull everything together) 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 say 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 interest you the most so you can incorporate those, and only those, into your trip.

If you could only visit one location, would it be La Fortuna (Arenal)...
If you could only visit one location, would it be La Fortuna (Arenal)…

Although not everyone enjoys the beach, the majority of travellers who reach out to us for 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 in-land areas–most notably, the La Fortuna (Arenal) and Monteverde regions. Planning visits to one (or both) of these destinations can positively impact vacations by providing unique Costa Rican experiences that cannot be had along either coast. Some of the country’s highest-rated activities, stunning hotels, and most breathtaking landscape are hidden among the in-land region. A visit is not to be missed.

...or Monteverde?
…or Monteverde?

Combine an interest in visiting both the in-land region and the coast, and you can imagine how quickly a 7 or 8-day vacation plans itself. For those travellers who have more time to travel for, visits to both La Fortuna (Arenal) AND Monteverde are possible, in addition to saving time for rest and relaxation at the beach. However, travellers who have stricter schedules typically find themselves having to choose one of the two areas–either La Fortuna (Arenal) OR Monteverde–and given the unique appeal of both destinations, it’s no wonder having to choose one over the other can be a stressful task.

Tip:

Although it is impossible for us to label one of the two areas as ‘better’ to visit than the other, it is possible for us to spoil travellers with tidbits of information regarding both destinations, helping them make informed decisions regarding their trip. Before deciding which location will make the cut, consider what La Fortuna (Arenal) and Monteverde have to offer.

Nikki in La Fortuna (Arenal) & Ricky in Monteverde
Nikki in La Fortuna (Arenal) & Ricky in Monteverde

DEFINITE DIFFERENCES AND STRIKING SIMILARITIES BETWEEN LA FORTUNA (ARENAL) AND 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)

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)
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La Fortuna Waterfall in La Fortuna (Arenal)

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.

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.
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Ricky – Monteverde Biological Reserve in 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 10 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.

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).
A Sunny Arenal Volcano in La Fortuna (Arenal)

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.
A Cloudy Cloud Forest in 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).
Souvenir Shops in Downtown La Fortuna

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.

General necessities:

  • Both LA FORTUNA (ARENAL) and MONTEVERDE offer grocery stores, banks, ATMs, pharmacies, churches, and emergency worker sites.
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Rural Farming Communities & Coffee Plantations in 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.
Ricky – Royal Corin Luxury Resort

Accommodations:

  • LA FORTUNA (ARENAL) offers 80+ 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 4-star, resort-quality, luxurious hotel. Similarly, travellers can opt to stay at modern accommodations featuring on-site 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 40+ 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.
Monteverde Villa Lodge’s Rustic Accommodations

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 amongst the outskirts of town.
Arenal Volcano Sightseeing in La Fortuna (Arenal)

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 the volcano trail (El Silencio Trail) and 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 Hot Springs In La Fortuna/Arenal: Baldi, Ecotermales, Tabacon, Or The Springs Resort 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 (Costa Rica) Waterfalls: Yes, There Are More Than Just One! for more information about each), as well as a wide variety of excursions including canyoneering tours (waterfall rappelling), canopy tours (ziplining), 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, Santa Elena, 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 butterfly conservatories, ranarios (frog exhibits), and serpentariums (snake exhibits). Staple rainforest adventures including aerial tram rides, hanging bridge tours, and canopy tours (ziplining) 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.

Tip:

Nikki – Children’s Eternal Rainforest in Monteverde

QUESTION TO COMMENT ON: Have you been to La Fortuna (Arenal) or Monteverde before? What did you think? Been to both? Which did you prefer, and why?

Pura vida!

If you’re more of a visual learner, take a moment to view our gallery photos below showcasing some of the highlights of La Fortuna (Arenal) and Monteverde.

ARENAL PHOTO GALLERY

MONTEVERDE PHOTO GALLERY

Nikki and Ricky

DIY Costa Rica

Costa Rica tour discounts



20 thoughts on “Should You Visit La Fortuna (Arenal), Monteverde, Or Both Destinations During Your Costa Rica Vacation?”

    • reversecommuter –
      Awe (blush) – thanks so much for the compliment! 🙂 Love your trendy tips at Reverse Commuter too! Thanks to you I’m going to start re-introducing belts into my wardrobe – ha ha!
      Pura vida!

  • If you decide to visit Monteverde, I highly recommend Hotel Las Orquideas. http://www.orquideasmonteverde.com/index.php It’s a small bed-and-breakfast style hotel run by the family of a good friend. I stayed for a week with a group of friends, and Danilo and his family are among the most hospitable and fun people I’ve ever met. They’re very knowledgeable about the area, and can help plan your whole trip. Highly, highly recommended.

    • ThatSummersGuy –
      Great tip – thanks so much for sharing! Great experiences are all about service, and nothing beats local, authentic, ‘home-grown’ service found most often by word-of-mouth recommendations. Company ownership can make or break great business, so it is great to learn about the people behind the enterprise. 🙂
      Pura vida!

    • buenosdiasbinkie (Mary) –
      Thanks so much for commenting! I just scrolled through your blog (especially the “Costa Rica” category) and couldn’t find an article that I wouldn’t be interested in reading – all posts intrigue us! I cannot think of a better sign that a blog is entertaining and worthy of a read than it being able to capture readers’ attention post after post, so keep up the great work!
      On a side note, would you be interested in contributing a guest post to the Costa Rica Blog Network (www.costaricablognetwork.com)? We’d love to share your tips with other Costa Rica travellers via Costa Rica Travel Blog. If you’re not interested, no problem! I just thought I’d throw the link out as an option as your posts are great reads. 🙂
      Pura vida!

  • You are right about planning. My husband spent nearly a year mapping out our first trip. But we did not take the typical route to Arenal. Instead we chose Pias and Peace Lodge. For us it was magnificent. Thats what led us to Manuel Antonio, because of time constraints and travel. Then it ended up being our home for 8 mos! Getting your transportation worked out ahead of time seems to be one of the keys to success. Lovely photos. How I miss CR…

    • dweezer19 –
      Come back to Costa Rica! 🙂 The route between San Jose/Alajuela and La Fortuna/Arenal via Poas/La Paz is incredible! It was closed for a while there after the earthquake, however is back in business and just as beautiful. One of the best views is accessed by making the trip around the mountainside and looking down the cliff at the waterfall in the distance – gorgeous! A scary drive however, on cloudy days, but magnificent nonetheless as you put it. I bet you loved Manuel Antonio too. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts about transportation – we agree 100%, since transportation is usually one of the trip items that travellers take on the most stress about, it is great to get the transfer service details worked out well in advance (regardless of whether travellers choose to drive themselves around the country or rely on alternative transportation between routes) and to avoid any “surprises” come trip time.
      Pura vida!

  • Thanks for the great information! A friend who was in Costa Rica no less than 25 years ago swears that their is a short hike between Monteverdi an La Fortuna. Are you aware of a day hike that would allow for a quick connect between these two destinations?

    • Lori –
      Hmmm… I am aware of a hiking option that is run between the two areas, however the connect is not a quick one so perhaps your friend is thinking of something different. The hike we have in mind is run by the ACMCR and exists between the San Gerardo Biological Station (which requires an approximate 1 hour-long hike just to get to the station from the Santa Elena Reserve in the Monteverde area) and then ends up in El Castillo (an area located on the La Fortuna/Arenal side, although an approximate 25-30 minute drive from downtown La Fortuna). Excluding the hour-long hike to get to the biological station, the hike from there to El Castillo is another approximate 6 hours. 🙁 There are a few other trails that lead from one area (Monteverde) to the other (La Fortuna/Arenal) but they are longer in length, hike duration, and require an overnight stay, so I doubt these are what your friend had in mind. Perhaps he/she was thinking of the San Gerardo (Monteverde) – La Fortuna/Arenal (El Castillo) hike option?
      Pura vida! 🙂

  • Thanks for a nice review. I actually used your website a lot planning my trip to Costa Rica! I have been to Monteverde and I loved the urban town spirit. They have an amazing coffee farm there, also since the town is on the hill the views from there are amazing. The only sad thing is that there are so many tourists in Cloud Forest Reserve now that it is impossible to see any animals. Only when we went to the less famous Ecological Sanctuary did we see the monkeys.

  • Nice overview, I actually used your website a lot while planning my trip to Costa Rica, it is super helpful. I have been to Monteverde and I loved the rural spirit of the little town, which opened amazing views over the lowlands. There are some great coffee farms in there. The only sad thing is that because there are many tourists it was impossible to see any wildlife in cloud forest reserve. Only after going to less famous Ecological Sanctuary we were able to see the cute monkeys.

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