At the top of most lists of must-see destinations in Costa Rica, you’ll find La Fortuna.
And for good reason: there’s excellent hiking, horseback riding, zip-lining, canyoneering (rappelling down cliffs and waterfalls), wildlife spotting, and so much more. With a myriad of ways to get active and explore the area, you might feel overwhelmed with options. To avoid this, here’s our guide to the top things to do in the “adventure capital” of the country, La Fortuna, Costa Rica.
Explore the Arenal Volcano
The Arenal volcano is unmissable when you’re in La Fortuna. I’m talking literally and figuratively. You can’t possibly miss the conical volcano that soars into the clouds and serves as the ever-present backdrop to the town, and you should absolutely take a hike around it.
Although it ceased erupting regularly in 2010, you can still see the occasional puff of smoke erupt from the top. This also means you can’t hike to the summit for safety reasons, but there are ample hiking trails through the rainforest that pass by old lava flows around the base. On the way up, you might spot hummingbirds and other wildlife, too.
For those who don’t feel like hiking, there’s always the option of taking the Sky Tram. This gondola takes you up 4,100 feet (1,250 m) so you can enjoy panoramic views of the southern face of the volcano, the rainforest and Lake Arenal.
Get active on Lake Arenal
Lake Arenal, Costa Rica’s largest lake, is actually man-made. In 1979, a dam was created, and the lake enlarged to create hydroelectric power for the country. In addition to being a great source of green energy, the lake is also the epicenter of water-based fun in the area. It is considered one of the world’s best windsurfing and kite surfing areas. So, if you’re looking for something a little more beginner-friendly, I recommend kayaking or stand-up paddle boarding on the deep blue water.
Hike to La Fortuna Waterfall
For me, the absolute highlight of my trip to La Fortuna, was Catarata La Fortuna. The waterfall is a lofty 70 m high, and the only way to get to it is to hike down about 400 steps (and then hike 400 steps up on the way back). So, make sure you’re wearing good shoes; it can be a slippery hike if you’re in flip-flops. On the way down, the thundering crash of water hitting water taunts you, but when you finally arrive, the sight of the towering waterfall and a quick dip in its pool make the hike worthwhile.
Ever the waterfall-chaser, I loved scaling the rocks around the pool and jumping into the chilly water. Just be careful when swimming where the water plunges into the pool – the current can pull you under the water if you get too close. If you are also a waterfall fan and feeling adventurous, there are many canyoneering tours in the area where you can rappel down cliffs and waterfalls.
Soar through the rainforest canopy
La Fortuna has some of the best zip-lining in the country. Not only will you be flying through the beautiful rainforest, but you’ll also get fabulous views of the volcano in the background on clear days. I had a great time soaring through the air (and I’m in my mid-twenties), but this can be a great way to explore the rainforest with your little ones if you’re traveling as a family.
Go on safari
The Arenal Volcano National Park is filled with birds and other wildlife, but if you’re looking for a fabulous floating safari, the Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge is just a day trip away from La Fortuna. Spend the day floating down the Rio Frio, spotting howler monkeys, three-toed sloths, jaguars, river turtles and maybe even freshwater sharks as you float along the river.
If you like the idea of combining getting active with spotting some wildlife, I suggest a day trip white-water rafting down the Pacuare River. Here, you can navigate category 3 and 4 rapids as lazy sloths in the canopy above gaze down at you.
Relax in the natural hot springs
Another must-do in La Fortuna is a soak in a natural hot spring. The nearby Arenal volcano is still active, so that means there are ample lava-heated hot springs in the surrounding area. There are numerous resorts that offer day passes to access their pools. Personally, I recommend Tabacon Hot Springs. They have river pools of varying temperatures, as well as a swim-up bar and a thermal water slide. (Visit hot springs as an included activity on Intrepid Travel’s 9-day Costa Rica Express trip!)
But if you’re trying to save money or you’re after a more authentic experience, do as the locals do and take advantage of the secret hot spring in the naturally-heated Tabacon River. You may feel a little sketchy trying to find it – you have to walk along the side of the road, go under a small bridge and keep walking until you see the river – but with the help of any local, it’s easy to find and well worth the walk.
Already planning your trip to La Fortuna? Check out Intrepid’s range of small group adventures in Costa Rica.
(Image credits from top to bottom: iStock/stellalevi, Intrepid Travel x2, Christina Campo x2, Intrepid Travel)