Why visit La Fortuna & Lake Arenal
One of the top things to do in Costa Rica is to visit the Arenal Volcano. This looming volcano, that towers over the town of La Fortuna, was dormant for many years until 1968 when it erupted violently and killed around 70 people. From 1968 to 2010 it erupted interminably but never again with the force of the 1968 eruption. From 2010 onward it has remained dormant.
The most popular city to stay in while visiting the volcano is La Fortuna, located 3 hours from San Jose’s airport and 2.5 hours from Liberia airport. La Fortuna is situated near the enormous Lake Arenal, which takes up 85 square kilometers and is the largest lake in Costa Rica.
A side note: You can technically stay anywhere alongside Lake Arenal to visit the Arenal Volcano and the surrounding activities. La Fortuna is just the most popular city for visits to the Arenal Volcano. In my case, I chose to stay at Hotel Mystica which was on the far side of Lake Arenal and about an hour drive to the Arenal Volcano.
Read my review on Hotel Mystica here (and stay here especially if you are a yogi!)
Is La Fortuna a tourist town?
As the gateway city, and most popular place to stay for Lake Arenal & the Arenal Volcano you are probably thinking of a super touristy town with overpriced food and shops. La Fortuna somehow evades this description and remains quite local with great charm and culture.
How to get to La Fortuna / Lake Arenal
Lake Arenal is highly developed for tourism and has Route 142, a paved road, running almost entirely around the lake itself. The road is windy, hilly and a two lane road. Often times you will get stuck behind large slow moving trucks. It is frustrating but be patient and wait for a good spot to pass – I saw way too many accidents on this road. It is really important to note that there are only 2 gas stations along this road; one in Nuevo Arenal and one in Tilaran. Don’t let your gas get too low.
More on road conditions in Costa Rica here
More on driving from Monteverde to Lake Arenal here
Tip: Personally, I traveled there in the dry season with a standard rental car. I didn’t rent a 4x4 because I was being cheap (extreme eye roll from me). Don’t be like me… Don’t be cheap, rent a 4x4 with 4 wheel drive.
Renting a car in Costa Rica | Everything you need to know about driving in Costa Rica
Things to do in La Fortuna / Lake Arenal
Like I said before, the entire road around the lake is highly developed for tourism. There are many things to do in La Fortuna and also around the lake. This is what makes Lake Arenal one of the most popular regions in Costa Rica.
Hike Arenal Volcano
Obviously the main attraction of the area. I personally hiked the 1968 trail and LOVED it. It was a hard trail but totally worth it. Full guide for the 1968 Lava Trail here.
La Fortuna Waterfall
La Fortuna Waterfall is AH-MAZING! So we all know I loveeee waterfalls, it is probably my favorite part of traveling, but the La Fortuna Waterfall is one of the best waterfalls in Costa Rica for good reason. The drop is about 75 meters and powerful.
Here is a full post on how to get to the Waterfall
Also the best waterfalls in Costa Rica
The natural hot springs are a great way to relax your muscles after a long day of hiking. I went to the free ones but the many more luxurious ones at the high end resorts surrounding the Arenal Volcano.
Here is a full breakdown of the cost for the Hot Springs (including directions on getting to the free ones!)
I did canyoning in Switzerland and it may be the scariest thing I have ever done. If you have never done canyoning I will warn you it is not for the faint of heart. In Costa Rica, you repel down 200ft waterfalls, jump into small pools from cliffs and basically climb down the mountain by following the river. There are many tour companies in Arenal that offer canyoning.
A smaller dormant volcano directly next to Arenal Volcano. Be warned, this hike is long and hard, bring plenty of water and snacks. If you are staying at the Arenal Observatory Lodge you can start the hike from their private entrance. If not the main entrance charges $8.
Another popular activity that is all over Costa Rica. There are many companies in Arenal that offer zip lining including the same company that is popular in Monteverde: Sky Adventures. Zip Lining in Arenal is a top activity because you get gorgeous views of the lake. Cost: Adults $80 Kids $60
Rio Frio Safari
A safari on a slow moving river in Cano Negro Wildlife Reserve. Great for wildlife watching.
And so many more activities
You can also whitewater raft, horseback ride, bungee jump, go caving, ATV ride....etc. This list could go on and on, there are that many activities in the Lake Arenal area! There are many tour centers around Lake Fortuna, simply go in and book!
Where to stay in La Fortuna / Lake Arenal
Obviously in the well developed tourist area of Lake Arenal there are many places to stay for all budgets. It all depends if you rent a car in Costa Rica and how much you want to drive. I stayed at Hotel Mystica, which was on the far side of Lake Arenal and about an hour drive to the Arenal Volcano.
Read my review on Hotel Mystica here (especially if you are a yogi!)
High End: Nayara Hotel | The Springs | Tabacon | Mountain Paradise
Mid-Range: Arenal Springs | Hotel El Silencio del Campo | Las Lagos Hotel
Budget: Hotel Monte Real | Arenal Montechiari | Hotel Villa Fortuna
Hostel: Arenal BackPackers Hostel | Arenal Hostel Resort | Eco Hostel