The gateway to Arenal Volcano National Park
La Fortuna is where Arenal Volcano and Chato Volcano are located, along with relaxing hot springs and clear fresh-water rivers. La Fortuna is a little mountain town that is about 4 hours away from the capital city of San Jose. To get here, you’ll drive though some gorgeous mountains, beautiful farm land, and see pretty much every shade of green imaginable along the way. And while the town of La Fortuna itself isn’t much to look at, and is in fact very touristy, the natural areas surrounding the city are the reason to come. I loved it here!
After two nights in San Jose at TripOn Open House Hostel, I linked up with four other backpackers and we decided to go explore the northern part of Costa Rica where La Fortuna is. There was a girl from Portugal, a girl from Germany, a guy from England, a guy from Colorado, plus my native Texas self. We all ended up being pretty great travel buddies and everything worked out really well! Below I’ll mention how to get to this area of Costa Rica, what to do, where I stayed, some yummy restaurants, and other helpful tips and tricks.
I stayed here for 3 nights, in both an eco lodge and in a hostel, explored a hidden local hotspot, found free natural hot springs, and took a road trip to Tenorio Volcano National Park!
How to get there
Using the bus system in Costa Rica is the cheapest option and I personally recommend it. I used the bus system the entire time I was down there and had zero problems! There are multiple bus stations scattered throughout San Jose, so do some research beforehand to make sure you’re headed to the right bus terminal! If you’re leaving from San Jose, you will most likely go to 7-10 Terminal to catch the bus to La Fortuna. To get here from your hostel you can walk, take a taxi, or call an Uber. The cheapest option in the city is definitely Uber! When you make it to the bus station, take the escalators up to the third floor to go buy your bus ticket and then go back down to the first floor to board the bus. It should only be a little over $5USD per person each way.
Sometimes the bus you want might be full and you’ll have to combine two or three routes to get to your destination. But no worries! Switching buses at the stations in Central America is quite easy and if you have any issues, the workers and locals are incredibly friendly and helpful. Plus, if you are ever on a longer route, longer than 4 hours, there will be a stop along the route where you can get out and stretch, use el baño, or get some snacks for the rest of your journey.
When you get dropped off at the La Fortuna bus station, you can either take a taxi (they wait right across the street) or walk to your hotel/hostel. Everything in the town is relatively close together and in walking distance. Uber is available in the major city, but not in the smaller towns like La Fortuna.
Things to do
La Fortuna and the Arenal area are hot spots for exploring nature and viewing wildlife. There are countless hot springs, rivers, hiking trails, caves, bridges, and wildlife rescue centers are all around so there is plenty to do and see. This is really the perfect place for the active nature enthusiast!
Hike Arenal and Cero Volcanos with a tour group – one of the girls I traveled with here used this group, Red Lava, and loved it! I also met two German guys who did this hike and also loved it. My friend Philipp Schmitt, took this epic picture below ↓
Kayak in Lake Arenal (a volcanic lake!!) – Again, I believe the tour group Red Lava can set this up.
Relax in natural hot springs – type in Free Natural Hot Springs River into your Google Maps and go check it out. They’re beautiful! It’s like relaxing in your own private natural hot tub. Bring some beers and a bluetooth speaker and make it a party! Just make sure you clean up your trash. Leave no trace, always.
Explore the “unknown waterfall of La Fortuna” – I was told about this place by a local and was not disappointed! This hidden local gem is a must do. El Salto is a river underneath a bridge just outside of town that has a rope swing and multiple places to jump in. The water is incredibly refreshing, and since no one knows about this place, you will likely have it all to yourself like we did!
Salto is about a mile from the center of La Fortuna and can only be accessed on foot, so wear good shoes that can get wet! To get here: go back to the bus station in town and walk south down HWY 702 about 1 mile until you turn a corner and see a bridge with the river flowing underneath. There is a path shortly before the bridge that leads you to where you can jump in to the water. Enjoy your hidden find!
This was my first time staying in hostels! I read a shit ton of blogs about hostel life and what to pack and how to be prepared and thought I knew it all before I left. But of course, I did not, and have since learned some helpful knowledge about hostel life. And I’ll do a whole post about that later on, so for now here are reviews of where I personally stayed while I was in this area of Costa Rica.
TripOn Open House Hostel was great and they were incredibly helpful in helping us figure out what buses to take and where to go. They also include a great BIG breakfast daily. Emphasis on the BIG because a lot of other hostels will say that they include breakfast, but really it will be a cup of coffee and a piece of bread that qualifies as ‘breakfast’. TripOn had bananas, pineapple, papaya, apples, cereal, eggs, bread, fried plantains, yogurt, and much more. It was delicious and incredibly filling. The hostel dorm rooms were big and the beds had curtains to make them more private. There were also large lockers beside each bed to put your backpack and other belongings in, just make sure you bring your own lock! The location is not in center San Jose, but it is near some great areas with bars, restaurants, and shops. Overall this is a wonderful hostel and I would stay here again if I need a place to stay in San Jose.
Also there are actually TWO TripOn Hostels, and the one I stayed at is on Calle 39. The other one does not offer free breakfast, and I am all about that free food. BUT it does have a pretty cool looking pool, so choose your druthers.
One more tip: the best shower is the upstairs one by the private rooms. It’s the only one with hot water! You’re welcome 🙂
OH! another fun fact: there are no street names in Costa Rica, only Calle ## and Avenida ##. So, when you get directions from a friendly tico, they are mostly likely going to be something like this, “go 500 meters that way and turn left at the big bank, walk another 100 meters and turn right at the coffee shop…” etc. but, in Spanish obviously.
After we all got to La Fortuna, I went to my pre-booked eco lodge and my friends found a cheaper hostel in town. I stayed at Cerro Chato Eco Lodge and it was quiet, quaint, and beautiful. I had my own little cottage with private bathroom and it was pretty much in the middle of the rainforest.
One night at this lodge is around $45USD and to get breakfast it is an extra $5-$6USD. It was a great lodge, but I would not recommend this place for single backpackers. The price is not lucrative for budget traveling, but for couples and groups this is a great spot!
La Fortuna part 2
With 1 night costing $45 at the eco lodge and my friends spending $12 a night at their hostel, I quickly packed up my stuff at the lodge the following morning and joined them at in their hostel dorm room. Hostel Backpackers La Fortuna was much more backpacker style, obviously since it is literally in their name… (Another fun fact: this particular hostel is a part of a chain all around Costa Rica, and I stayed at multiple locations and each was great! So, I highly recommend this chain.) This hostel has a great hammock chill area, a bar, an incredibly uneven pool table that makes for funny games, decent bathrooms, soft beds, and good rooms. Plus, it is right in downtown La Fortuna near some yummy restaurants and great bars.
Always a favorite topic of mine ♥ I am a huge fan of the local Costa Rican cuisine and I had the best arroz con pollo of my trip right in downtown La Fortuna. Our hostel recommended the local restaurant down the road called Soda Viquez. A soda is a small local restaurant with cheap prices that you will find all over Costa Rica. Try a casado or arroz con pollo and add a shit ton of Lizano salsa and I guarantee that you’ll be in heaven. Lizano salsa is this epic inexplainable sauce that is everywhere in Costa Rica that I will now order by the gallon ♥ gotcha some.
Road trip to Rio Celeste
Before coming down to Costa Rica I did a bunch of research and had a few places that I wanted to go and see no matter what and La Fortuna was one of them. Another one was Rio Celeste. This beautiful river and waterfall is located in a national park near La Fortuna, and I was able to convince my friends to rent a car and take a trip to the waterfall! I’m going to do a separate post for Rio Celeste, so stay tuned 🙂
La Fortuna did not disappoint! This small mountain town has a lot to offer and I loved it. Next post will be about Rio Celeste and Tenorio Volcano National Park.
onward and upward,