La Fortuna, like Monteverde, is located in the rainforest and interior of Costa Rica. The difference is that La Fortuna is lower in elevation and therefore the temperature is also higher than in Monteverde. La Fortuna has a beautiful natural environment with the Arenal volcano as its landmark and highlight. Multiple activities and attractions are located around La Fortuna. Good to know that the activities and attractions are all outside the city. If you have your own transportation then you can reach them easily. If you travel by public transport, you can go by organized transport of the activity (shuttles) or cab. Another way to get from A to B with all the freedom is to rent a scooter/motorbike. Then you pay about $45 for a day.
Mistico Hanging Bridges
Like Monteverde, suspension bridges were made in La Fortuna to connect the different mountains. La Fortuna’s 6 Mistico Hanging Bridges are located about 10 kilometers outside the city. The longest bridge is almost 100 meters long and the highest hangs 55 meters above the ground. The bridges are connected by a park with walking paths through which you can walk with or without a guide. Some of the bridges have nice views of the surrounding area and of the Arenal volcano. And between the bridges you walk through the forest where you can see several animals, spider monkeys, species of birds and nose bears for example. The park is open daily from 6 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. (last time to enter is 3:30 p.m.), costs $26 per adult, and tickets are reserved in advance through their website. Closed shoes are mandatory and keep in mind the changeable weather where, as in Monteverde, a rain shower is not inevitable. If you want the bridges to yourself as much as possible, go earlier in the morning and avoid weekends.
You get to the Hanging Bridges with a local bus, but it doesn’t run frequently and until you reach the main road, after which you have to walk more than 2 kilometers. Another option is the park’s own shuttle service ($20 per person round trip), or the cab ($20) and back such as hitchhiking.
La Fortuna Waterfall
La Fortuna Waterfall is a 70-meter-high waterfall surrounded by greenery. After the park entrance, you have to walk down over 500 steps to get to the waterfall. Once at the waterfall, the sound of falling water and the refreshing spray meets you. You can swim at the waterfall, just keep in mind there is a strong current and fresh water. But a refreshing dip in the water can be wonderful. After the entrance there are several changing rooms and showers you can use.
The park is open daily from 7 a.m. – 5 p.m. and costs $18 per person. Try to avoid weekends and go either early in the morning or later in the afternoon when the buses with groups have left again. The waterfall light about 5 kilometers from La Fortuna. This can be done on foot, by cab, shuttle or by your own transport.
The Arenal volcano is one of La Fortuna’s most famous sights and can be seen from many points in the area, provided the volcano is not covered by clouds. The volcano is not allowed to be climbed, but you can do some good hiking around the volcano and be surrounded by nature. One of the most famous hikes is the Arenal 1968 hike. Many species of birds, monkeys, and other animals live on and around the volcano. You can visit Arenal National Park itself (entrance $15) with or without a guide or with a (half) day tour where you not only visit the volcano but also other sights. On those tours, prices start around $50 and can be booked in ho(s)tels and tour companies. Near the volcano is also a lookout point (Mirador El Silencio) that you can visit for $9 per person.
Hot springs (free and paid)
An eruption of the Arenal volcano in 1968 created a new attraction in La Fortuna, the hot springs. The eruption caused an underground river to be heated by the volcano, creating several thermal hot springs closer and a little farther from La Fortuna. There are hot springs to visit for various budgets, with the Tabacón Thermal Resort and Hotel being the most luxurious and most expensive (around $100 for a day pass). In addition, you can go to the Eco thermals or the Vulcano Lodge, among others, as mid-range accommodations. Also, there are free hot springs (search on Google, free hot springs) with lovely hot water and also a popular place for locals to spend their free time together. Again, go early and avoid weekends if you want the hot springs more to yourself. You only pay $1 parking at the free hot springs.
Coffee and/or chocolate tour
As in several places in Costa Rica, coffee and chocolate tours are available in La Fortuna. In which the process from plant to product is explained and shown, and there is always some trial component. Often the tours are around $25 per person.
About a 1.5-hour drive from La Fortuna is Rio Celeste, or the “light blue river. Here you will find a waterfall surrounded by clear turquoise water. It’s a well liked activity, however Rio Celeste is difficult to reach by public transport and joining a tour or hitchhiking is the best way to get there.
A well-known activity in La Fortuna is doing a night tour where you will explore the natural nightlife through a flashlight. In particular, the well-known red-eyed frog is a favorite animal that emerges especially at night. There are tours that take place in an almost unnatural environment by creating the environment so that there are animals (such as sloth parks) or that the guides rush from place to place because another guide has just seen an animal there. One place where you most feel like you are walking in a natural animal environment is at Arenal Oasis. There is still a well-maintained hiking trail, but the guides take all the time they need to quietly search for animals. And you can be happy when it rains, mainly frogs like wetness and then like to come out. A tour costs around $40 for a walk from about 6:00 – 8:00 pm, including transportation, and can be booked at the ho(s)tels and tour companies in La Fortuna.
How do you get there and back?
You get to La Fortuna from San Jose by a direct bus that goes once a day from Terminal 7 – 10. This trip takes about 4 hours for €5. You can also travel via Ciudad Quesada. From Terminal 7 – 10, several buses a day go to Ciudad Quesada and once there, several buses go to La Fortuna. This trip takes about 4.5 hours over and you pay about €6.
You can also travel to La Fortuna from either border with Nicaragua. From the Los Chiles border you can take a direct bus. From the southern Peñas Blancas border you take a bus to Cañas, then a bus to Tilarán and from there you take a bus to La Fortuna.
If you come from Monteverde/Santa Elena then you have 2 options. By bus around Lake Arenal with a change in Tilarán. This trip takes about 8 hours and costs about €10 total. An easier and well affordable option is the jeep – boat – jeep tour. Tourist and commercial, but efficient. This ride takes about 3.5 hours from door to door for about $27. It is called jeep – boat – jeep because previously only a jeep could cross the dirt roads. Now minibuses can also do it so it’s actually bus – boat – bus, but that sounds less sexy. You can leave at 8:00 am for under $30 (ask several agencies and compare or ding) and the afternoon option at 2:00 pm always costs $30. You will be picked up at your hotel in La Fortuna and dropped back at your hotel in Monteverde. This tour can also be done visa versa, with the same departure times and costs.
From La Fortuna you can head for Monteverde, Tortuguero, San Jose, Liberia, cross the border into Nicaragua at Los Chiles/San Carlos, or to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca.
If you want to go to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca you will travel via San José. If you want to be able to make the crossing in one day, you must take the bus to Ciudad Quesada at 6:00 a.m. from the bus station in La Fortuna (Terminal de autobuses La Fortuna, next to the Mega Super). There are direct buses to San Jose but they only go in the afternoon and then you probably won’t make the last bus (4pm) from San Jose.
The bus from La Fortuna to Ciudad Quesada costs 1705 colones/€2.60 (you pay on the bus to the driver) and takes about 75 minutes. The bus stops in the terminal of Ciudad Quesada, where you can also find stores like a bakery for coffee and/or sandwiches.
The bus to San Jose leaves at x number of people (around 50), but you probably won’t have to wait long because it runs quickly (especially in the morning). That bus costs 2450 colones/€3.75 (you pay on the bus to the driver) and takes about 3 hours. The bus stops at Terminal 7 – 10. Then you have to switch to another terminal. Terminal Mepe has direct buses to Cahuita/Puerto Viejo de Talamanca at 6.00/8.00/10.00/12.00 (Friday, Saturday and Sunday only)/14.00/16.00. Tickets are purchased at a small ticket office and cost 5485 colones/€8.25 to Cahuita (4.5 hours) and 6380/€9.75 to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca (5 hours). An alternate route from San Jose to Cahuita/Puerto Viejo de Talamanca is via Puerto Limón. For that, you have to go to Terminal Caribeños/Gran terminal del Caribe. From there, a bus leaves every hour for Puerto Limón (at half past one) and there you can change to a bus to Cahuita/Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. The bus to Puerto Limón costs 3675 colones/€5.50 and officially takes 3 hours. Please note that at the time of writing (May 2022) there were many road works on the route from San Jose to Puerto Limón. Please allow for extra travel time.
In Puerto Limón you will arrive at the Terminal Caribeños bus station. For the bus to Cahuita/Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, you have to go to Mepe bus station, a block away. The bus (heading to Sixaola) leaves every full hour, and costs 1415 colones/€2.10 to Cahuita bus station (45 minutes) and 2105 colones/€3.25 to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca (75 minutes). Ticket you buy at the ticket office (boleteria). Please note that on Sundays the bus runs every 2 hours towards Sixoala.