4 Days in Costa Rica: Arenal and La Fortuna

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4 Days in Costa Rica: Arenal and La Fortuna

Welcome

The small town of La Fortuna and the majestic Arenal Volcano create a remarkable duo that’s perfect for travelers seeking both adventure and tranquility. Our first visit to La Fortuna was the second half of a one-week Caribbean Coast and Volcano trip. We started in Puerto Viejo for the beach and ended in La Fortuna for the activities and thermal hot springs. 4 days was the perfect amount of time before continuing on to our next destination. Let’s check it out!

Getting to Arenal and La Fortuna

La Fortuna is usually around a 2.5-3 hour drive from either the San Jose or Liberia airports, but it can be longer with weather or road closures. This makes it a great option if you’re looking to mix up your trip with both mountain and beach destinations. The highways are easy to navigate using Waze or Google Maps. Be prepared for detours and check your route before blindly following the navigation.

Transportation

Flights

When looking into flights, you can select either airport code SJO (San Jose), or LIR (Liberia). San Jose is the primary airport in the middle of the country and a great all-around option. Liberia is the smaller secondary airport in the north of Costa Rica. Flights into Liberia can be more expensive, and any may only make sense if you’ll be spending time in the northern beach cities.

We love to take red-eye flights whenever possible. You’ll touch down, pick up a rental car or shuttle, and be in LA Fortuna by check-in time. If your flight arrives later in the evening like our non-stop does from LAX, spend the night at a nearby airport hotel and get a fresh start in the morning. It’s not enjoyable driving the 3 hours at night when you’re exhausted from a long travel day.

Rental Car or Shuttle

We always recommend renting a car for your trip. It gives you the freedom to explore on your own time. You can easily take day trips to the surrounding areas and make the most of your time in Costa Rica. We’ve tried a few different rental companies and prefer Economy Rent-A-Car. We have a contact that sets up our rentals, so shoot us a message if you want his WhatsApp info.

Rental car prices and insurance requirements can be extremely confusing, so don’t miss our full guide to renting a car in Costa Rica. We highlight the different insurance options so you aren’t surprised at the rental counter.

If you don’t want to make the drive from Liberia or San Jose, ILT Travel is a great shuttle option. We’ve used them a few times when traveling with larger groups, and their English-speaking drivers were friendly and professional.

Guide to Arenal
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Our amazing Airbnb on the Volcano

Lodging

There is no shortage of lodging options in La Fortuna. Many people opt to stay in a resort that offers on-site thermal pools to experience the volcanic waters within their accommodation. We prefer staying in vacation rentals that offer more privacy. But what if you could have both? We found an epic vacation rental on Airbnb that ticked both boxes. More on that below.

Hotels

For those who want the resort experience, here are some links for highly rated hotels and resorts on Tripadvisor.
Tabacon
Hotel Los Lagos
Hotel El Silencio del Campo

Vacation Rentals

There are tons of options for vacation rentals in the area. This is the Airbnb we stayed at. It was the best of both worlds because it’s located on the property of Hotel Los Lagos, so in addition to being more private, you also have access to all of the hotel amenities. From the private thermal heated dip pool, the Arenal Volcano is directly in front of you. We ended every night in the warm water, watching the distant lightning storms and fireflies light up the night sky. Our host, Santiago, has a few listings in the area, and all of them are top-rated. Take a look at his Airbnb profile here.

Our guide to Arenal
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Our private dip pool looking up at Arenal

Day 0 – The Travel Day

Maybe you’re flying into Liberia or San Jose before driving to La Fortuna. Maybe you’re driving 5 hours from Puerto Viejo like we did. This is your day to get to La Fortuna, decompress, and enjoy your first night exploring the town.

Day 1 – Zipline or River Rafting

That’s enough decompressing. Let’s get it going and start the trip with some adrenaline. Zip lining or river rafting are fun options for a first day in La Fortuna.

Day 2 – La Fortuna Waterfall and El Salto

The La Fortuna Waterfall is a must-see item on your list of activities. It’s located about 10 minutes out of downtown and there’s a good amount of parking at the ticket office. Admission is USD $18 for adults and free for children 8 years old and younger. There’s a viewpoint at the top of the hill for those who don’t want the 500-step trip down to the base of the waterfall. At the bottom, you’ll be able to swim in either the main falls or the calm pools down about 50m. It can get busy so we recommend buying your skip-the-line ticket here before you go. 

The El Salto Rope Swing is another option for dipping into a nearby river. TikTok and IG have built this up to be one of the best things in La Fortuna. It’s not. In fact, it’s the most overhyped thing I’ve seen in Costa Rica. I recommend checking it out only if you have a genuine interest in trying the rope swing or book a complete tour like this. Otherwise, it’s a pass.

Tons of people at El Salto

La Fortuna Waterfall is much better!

Day 3 – ATV Tour and Natural Hot Springs

There are dozens of ATV Tour operators in La Fortuna, so I spent some time researching on TripAdvisor and liked ATV Tours La Pradera. I messaged our Airbnb host to see what he recommends, and La Pradera was his pick. It was decided. We booked and had so much fun cruising around the city and into the mountains for a beautiful view of the Arenal Volcano. It was a small group and safety was a priority. It’s not the most adrenaline-inducing ATV tour we’ve taken. Maybe a 5/10 for thrill, but the pace was fast enough and we got up to some nice viewpoints. Check availability here.

You’re covered in mud and dust after the ATV tour, so what better time to rinse off in the free natural hot springs? Rio Chollin is the perfect place to bypass the $70+ entry fees at the nearby resorts and go hang in a natural thermal river. You’ll pay a few dollars to park on the road, and the unofficial parking attendant will watch your car. He’ll direct you where to find the different pools and you’re off. You don’t have to pay him to park, but we prefer to pay a few dollars so he watches the car while we’re enjoying the hot springs.

Cruising on ATVs

Arenal Hot Springs
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Then a dip in the free hot springs!

Day 4 – Mistico Hanging Bridges and Arenal National Park

We really enjoyed our time at the Mistico Hanging Bridges Park. The 3.2 km nature walk covers some beautiful terrain and the suspension bridges are a unique experience. Tickets for adults, teenagers, and seniors are $32, $21, $26 respectively, and children under 10 are free. Like most activities in Costa Rica, get there early to avoid the crowds. We had the place to ourselves at 8am before the tour busses arrived. Book in advance to secure your tickets here.

The Arenal Volcano National Park is on the way back into town. The tickets are $15 for adults and $5 for children. There are a few different viewpoints in the park. The first and easiest is a short drive up from the main parking area. The map was a bit confusing so we ended up walking that way first, only to realize at the top that it would have been easier to drive. Anna spotted a yellow eyelash viper so keep your eyes out for wildlife!  Tickets can be purchased in advance at the official National Park website here.

Mystico Hanging Bridges

Arenal Volcano National Park
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A yellow eyelash viper at Arenal N.P.

Arenal and La Fortuna Activities

  • Arenal Volcano National Park: Explore the trails of this stunning park and witness the impressive Arenal Volcano, which is still active.
  • Free Hot Springs: Enjoy one of the many natural hot springs in the area, heated by the volcanic activity. Some favorites are near the Tabacon Thermal Resort.
  • La Fortuna Waterfall: Visit this stunning waterfall and cool off in the natural pool at its base.
  • Hanging Bridges: Hike through the rainforest canopy on the Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park.
  • Lake Arenal: This lake is perfect for water sports like wind surfing, paddle boarding, and fishing. Or you can just enjoy a picnic on its shores.
  • El Salto Rope Swing: A simple rope swing that lands in the river.
  • Caving at Venado Caves: Get adventurous and explore these amazing underground caves.
  • Whitewater Rafting: Experience the thrill of rafting on one of the nearby rivers such as the Balsa or Toro rivers.
  • Zip lining: Enjoy the rainforest from above with a thrilling zipline tour.
  • Chocolate and Coffee Tours: Learn about the processes of making chocolate and coffee, and of course, enjoy some tastings!

Don’t Miss Restaurants

  • Soda Mima
  • Pollo Fortuneño
  • La Street Bistro
  • Red Frog Coffee Roasters
  • Cafe Metropoli
  • Super Tropicana La Palma – A great market for local craft beer.

Arenal and La Fortuna Travel Tips:

  • Get an early start on your day and arrive to beat the crowds.

Don’t Forget

You can buy almost anything you need in La Fortuna, but the prices of some items may surprise you. Sunscreen can cost upwards of $20 USD for a normal size tube at the local market. Some of our don’t forget items are listed below.

Sunscreen – Reapply all day when you’re outside. The sun is no joke here!
Bug Spray – Mosquitos and other bugs are around all day, especially in the shady areas near still water.
Quick-dry towel – These quick-dry towels are also sand free.
Waterproof hat – I like this floating hat, but any good hat works.
Polarized sunglasses – They don’t have to break the bank. Check out these polarized sunglasses by Blenders.
Waterproof phone case – Great if you’re planning on water activities.

Let’s Go

So that’s our 4-day trip to La Fortuna and Arenal. Remember, this itinerary is just a starting point. Feel free to customize it to suit your preferences and add additional activities or destinations along the way.

Thinking about where else to go for your Costa Rica adventure? Add some time in Playa Flamingo for the perfect mountain and beach combo trip. Check out our guide to Playa Flamingo here.

Note: Always check travel advisories, local regulations, and current conditions before planning your trip.

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Cody & Anna

Cody and Anna Traxler

We’re Cody and Anna, and we’ve fallen in love with Costa Rica over the past decade. We’re not experts in every part of the country, but our countless adventures have inspired us to create this travel guide. Our goal is to share our experiences and help you jet off on your own unforgettable journey. Enjoy Ultimate Pura Vida and start planning here 🤙

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