La Fortuna: A Travel Guide

la fortuna a travel guide

La Fortuna is undoubtedly one of Costa Rica's top tourist destinations. A place where the natural environment and adventure meet, La Fortuna brings together all of the attractions you would expect to find in Costa Rica into one place. You will find yourself exploring the rainforest's canopy and wildlife, detoxing in the thermal hot springs, or viewing the volcano in this small and idyllic town.

Arenal Volcano

Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica's most famous and perfectly shaped volcano, can be seen from almost any vantage point in town, but it wasn't always a peaceful mountain. On July 29, 1968, after hundreds of years of dormancy, Arenal erupted, destroying three nearby towns. One town, La Fortuna, escaped the eruption unharmed. For the next 40 years the volcano continued to erupt, spewing red glowing lava down the face of the mountain. This, of course, attracted tourist from all over the world to watch this magnificent scene.

Today, Arenal Volcano no longer erupts, but it hasn't left the area in the dark.. In the wake of its eruption La Fortuna became a tourism mainstay for Costa Rica. A whole tourism industry blossomed throughout the area drawing tourist, adventurers, birders, and others to partake in all it has to offer.


What to Do

Rainforest canopy at Mistico Hanging Bridges

One of the reasons that La Fortuna is such a large tourist attraction is because there are such a large number of things to do around the town. Often referred to as the 'Adventure Capitol of Costa Rica,' you can experience all of the adventure tours that are characteristic of of Costa Rica while in La Fortuna. You can explore the rainforest canopy from hanging bridges or zip-lining, explore waterfalls and volcanoes, and soak in thermal hot springs.

Even though you can do many things on the cheap, with the sheer number of attractions mean you will probably spend more on adventures in La Fortuna than anywhere else in Costa Rica. I recommend deciding before hand what you are wanting to do, check the locations and schedules of those activities, and then seeing if you are able to group multiple activities into one place/day. This will save you both time and money. Here are a few of the things that I did while there.

Mistico Hanging Bridges

Hanging Bridge at Mistico

There are a number of adventure parks that have hanging bridges in the area, so it really just depends on your preference and price point. If there are a number of activities that you want to do, I suggest seeing which park offers the majority of them and go with that, as it will usually save you money.

Poison Dart Frog at Mistico Hanging Bridges

Mistico Hanging Bridges is a privately owned adventure park that is open to the public and offers both guided and self-guided tours of the hanging bridges (and more). The park has a number of hanging bridges that allow you to view the rainforest canopy from different heights (one with a great view of Arenal Volcano), a waterfall, and wildlife. I did a self-guided tour, so I didn't see a lot of wildlife, but I did see a pizote (coati), tucan, and poison dart frogs.

Cost: Adult = $26, Seniors (65+) = $21, Teen (11-18) = $16, Children (0-10) = Free
Reservations: Buying your ticket before hand is recommended, especially during COVID. Tickets must be bought for a specific entry time. This can be done on their website: Mistico Hanging Bridges.

Arenal National Park

Arenal Volcano and old lava flow at Arenal Volcano National Park

Arenal National Park is a government protected area around the Arenal Volcano. The public section of the park has two sectors west of the volcano; the main sector nearer the volcano and the other near the lake.

The main sector has a loop road that take you nearer to the volcano and has a great view of the volcano. This sector also has a 2-4km trail where you can spot a few different species of birds and ends at a lava flow from the volcano. The other sector is a 1km paved trail to an overlook of the lake and also has a observation tower for the volcano.

Montezuma Oropendola at Arenal Volcano National Park

This is a nice park if you are a birder or want to get a bit closer to the volcano (though you are still pretty far from it), but, in my opinion, it was a bit lack luster.

Cost: Adult = $15, Child = $5
Hours: 8am - 4pm

Thermal Hot Springs

People soaking in the free thermal hot springs.

Due to the volcanic activity of Arenal Volcano there are numerous places where you can enjoy a soak in thermal hot springs. Most of the high-end hotels and resorts have hot spring packages open to the public at a varying range of cost.

I personally have not experienced the thermal hot springs at any of these spots. I instead chose to go to a local spot that is free and mostly visited by locals (though there are usually some tourists there also). The spot is just off the road in a spring that flows down from the volcano. You can find the actual location here. There are usually parking attendants along the road that will ask for a small tip for watching your car.


Where to Eat

local restaurant soda mima la fortuna costa rica
A local restaurant, Soda Mima

Since La Fortuna is such a large tourist attraction there are restaurants for all budgets and palates. There are several traditional restaurants in town (called Sodas) that offer authentic Costa Rican food and are usually the cheapest places. If this is not what you are looking for, there are also many places offering international cuisine like American, Italian, Asian, and Mexican food. Most restaurants are clustered in the downtown area, but most of the high-end hotels outside of town also have restaurants that are open to the public.

tacos chipotles tex mex la fortuna costa rica
Delicious tacos from Chipotle's Tex Mex

There are also a few grocery stores in town where you can buy food to cook yourself. I used this as an opportunity to save a bit of money and make sandwiches at a viewpoint of Arenal Volcano. If you are looking to try some new craft beers from Costa Rica, the owner of Pollo Fortuneño brews three that are sold there!


Where to Stay

Because La Fortuna is one of the top tourists locations in Costa Rica, there are numerous options for lodging. Whether you are looking for budget hostels, mid-range hotels, inclusive resorts, or an Airbnb, La Fortuna has many options for you. Most budget hostels and hotels are found in the downtown area, while high-end hotels and resorts are all found outside of town (mostly to the west). When booking my hotels, I always use Agoda to find the best hotel in my location and price range.


How to Get Around

The town of La Fortuna is not that large and its main center can be easily walked. So if you are staying at a place in town and are going to a restaurant, souvenir shop, etc. then walking is your best option. Unfortunately for tourist, all of the attractions that draw people to La Fortuna lay a considerable distance outside of the city. The best and most cost efficient way to get to these locations is by renting a car. There are a number of car rental companies in town.

If you don't feel like driving, the next best option would be to plan your trip through a tour company. Most tours in La Fortuna provide shuttle buses to and from the attractions and you can usually combine a few places into one package.

There are also options for renting scooters and bicycles in town, just ask your hotel for the nearest location. If all else fails, you can use a taxi/Uber, but it will be costly. A one way trip to the national park will cost around $20.


How to Get There 

With numerous volcanoes and windy single lane roads, travel around Costa Rica can often be a time consuming endeavor. Fortunately, the scenery and views are diverse and always spectacular. Your options to get to La Fortuna are possibly even more diverse than the landscape.

la fortuna costa rica pinned loaction


By far the cheapest option to get to La Fortuna is by public bus. Like easy options usually are, the bus is also more of a headache and slower than the other options. But if you want to travel on the cheap or more like a local, then the bus is the best option. Make sure that you have Colones!

From SJO (airport) - There is no direct bus from the airport to La Fortuna. To get there you will need to first go to the nearby bus station, La Radial. The orange airport taxis can take you (they speak English), but they will be expensive. If you cross the road and go to the other side of the parking garage, to the main road, you can get a red city taxi for cheaper or catch the bus to the station there.

Once at the bus station, you can then buy a ticket onward. The total travel time (dependent on traffic) will take about 4 hours and cost about $5. Here there are three direct buses to La Fortuna at 6:45am, 9:10am, and 12:20pm. If you miss these, there are buses every hour (on the half hour) that will take you to La Fortuna with a stop in San Carlos (Ciudad Quesada).

From Liberia
- There is no direct bus from Liberia to La Fortuna. To get there you will need to make a couple of stops along them way. The total time will take from 4-8 hours depending on your timing and traffic and will cost about $8. For this you will need to take a bus from Liberia to Cañas (every 30 minutes) - Cañas to Tilarán (every hour 5am-10am; then 11:30am, 1pm, 2:30pm, and 5pm) - Tilarán to La Fortuna (at 7am and 12:30pm).


Came across this little guy (pizote) on my drive from Lake Arenal

If public buses are not for you, there are other transfer options to pick from to get to La Fortuna. Shuttles are easier, faster, and can be more comfortable than the public buses, but are considerably more expensive. Shared, and private, shuttles are available from both the San Jose/airport area and Liberia and take about 3 hours. These shuttles can start at about $50/person and go up from there.


I you don't have the time or just like to travel more luxuriously, there is a domestic airport outside of La Fortuna you can fly into. From there you can take a taxi to your hotel. If you are flying to La Fortuna, I suggest using the Skyscanner widget below to book yourself a cheap ticket.

Car Rental

There are many places in Costa Rica that you can not get to by other transportation, other than taxi, so renting a car is a great option if you plan on seeing some of the more off the beaten road attractions after La Fortuna. As mentioned above, many of the attractions La Fortuna is known for are also not within walking distance, so renting a car, if only for La Fortuna, will save you a lot of money while you are there.

From SJO (airport) - There are two great routes to take from the airport to La Fortuna and both are about 2.5 hours (depending on traffic). The first option is going west of Poas Volcano; taking 141 (then 35) north to San Carlos and then 4 across to La Fortuna. If you are wanting to visit Sarchi (known for its wood working and intricately painted oxcarts) during your trip then this is the route for you since it will pass nearby.

The second option, and my personal favorite, is going straight north up 712 to 126, through Vara Blanca, to San Miguel. Turn west on 140 to Aguas Zarcas, where you turn north on 250 (then 751) to Los Lotes. Then turn west on 4 to La Fortuna. This is the most beautiful route in my opinion. The Vara Blanca region is commonly referred to as the 'Switzerland of Costa Rica.' If you plan to visit La Paz Waterfall then this route you should take since it passes beside it.

View of Lake Arenal from the road

From Liberia - The route from Liberia to La Fortuna will take about 2.5 hours (depending on traffic) and is a very beautiful route. To drive to La Fortuna you take Highway 1 southeast to Cañasand then 142 up and around the northern side of Lake Arenal to La Fortuna. The stretch along 142 is very scenic and has many viewpoints looking down on the lake.

Have you been to La Fortuna?

What was your experience?


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la fortuna a travel guide


  1. Lovely pictures, Justin. And good tips. I really enjoyed viiting all these places when I was in the area of La Fortuna. I loved the Arenal Lodge which has the best view of the volcano. Best wishes, Ruth

    1. Hi Ruth. It is great to hear from you!

      I'm glad you enjoyed the post. It's a great place with so much to do. Thanks for the suggestion of Arenal Lodge as well.


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