Costa Rica has no shortage of adventure activities from bungee jumping, ziplining and rafting, and the Arenal Volcano and La Fortuna town ranks as one of the top destinations in the country for embarking on exciting escapades. If you’re only in this area for a couple days, it can be a bit overwhelming at first when you see the list of things to do in La Fortuna, there are just so many!
So to help narrow it down, here is our list of the best things to do in La Fortuna and Arenal. With a huge lake, plenty of nature trails, waterfalls, rivers, the Arenal Volcano National Park and a vast countryside to explore, you’re guaranteed to have a blast discovering the northern lowlands of Costa Rica.
Whether you’re here for adventure or to relax, you can have it all! Here are our favorite activities in La Fortuna and Arenal.
Canyoning – Waterfall Rappel
Jump down 200 foot waterfalls and tall cliffs deep into the rain forest on a adventure canyoning in La Fortuna. Canyoning, or waterfall rappelling may seem a bit intimidating, but once you start your journey down surrounded by the sights and smells of a lush rain forest, you’ll leave all your fears behind.
This is an adventure for those who don’t mind getting down and dirty, as you’ll end up leaving a lot more wet than when you started. But it’s all worth it, as you experience the rain forest in a unique and exciting way.
We went with a company called Pure Trek and they provide transportation. The tour costs around $100 including lunch and transportation and is a half day tour.
Hiking Cerro Chato
Cerro Chato is the smaller dormant volcano with a crater and lake lying on the southeast side of Arenal Volcano. The two peaks have a lake in between which is what people hike to see.
Be warned, this hike isn’t a leisurely stroll through the forest. Without a clear trail going up a steep hill, you need to give yourself at the very least 4-5 hours for this hike and bring plenty of snacks and water. But the reward is great, on a clear day you’ll see the dazzling green water of the lake where you can take a dip to cool off.
We went on this hike a couple years ago in the middle of a giant thunder storm so we unfortunately didn’t see anything at the top. Despite the bad weather, it was a fun way to introduce my family and friends to the unpredictable weather of Costa Rica.
Since we were staying at the Arenal Observatory Lodge, we started the Cerro Chato hike from there since they have their own entrance. If you’re not staying at the lodge, you can pay an entrance fee ($8 per person last time we went) or you can book the hike with a tour company that takes care of transportation and the entrance fee. The tour with a guide costs around $100 and is all day.
Make sure to wear a rain jacket and good hiking shoes!
This hike is closed as of July 2017 due to the dangerous conditions in rainy season. It is not known when it will be open again (maybe in dry season) but please do not try to hike it as it is illegal.
Rio Celeste Hike
See the magical blue river in Costa Rica on a day trip from La Fortuna. You’ll hike through the rainforest of Tenorio Volcano National Park along side the stunning Rio Celeste. There is a gorgeous waterfall, a hanging bridge and many view points.
At the end of the hike, you can see where the two rivers come together to create the spectacular sky blue color. It’s one of the most beautiful places in Costa Rica and well worth a day trip from La Fortuna!
There are many zipline (canopy) tours in Arenal but our favorite is Skytrek. You get the most spectacular views of Lake Arenal and Arenal Volcano when you’re flying 2000 feet through the air, 600 feet high. You’ll never feel closer to being a bird than on this zipline tour, as you’re soaring over the rain forest with the lake in front of you and the volcano next to you.
If you’re not quite that ambitious, there are other canopy tours such as Athica, Arenal Canopy Tours and Ecoglide that aren’t as high or fast, perfect for those who have never ziplined before or are a bit nervous.
The canopy tour at Sky Adventures costs $80 for adults and $60 for kids. You can also book the ziplining with tour companies who provide transportation. If you rented a car, you can drive to the adventure park entrance and pay for the tour there but I do recommend making reservations, especially in high season since this park gets very busy.
Rio Frio Safari Float
Soak in the splendid nature on this pure safari float down Rio Frio, a slow moving river in the Cano Negro Wildlife Reserve. This area is considered one of the best for wildlife watching as it’s home to an abundance of animals including toucans, three toed sloths, caimans, kingfishers and more.
You float down the river for about 2 hours on a raft, using only paddles to move along so you can get up close and personal with the creatures of the river. All you hear is the soft lap of the water as it brushes up against the raft and the sounds of a dozen birds gliding above your head. It is truly a pure nature experience.
I went with Jacamar Naturalist Tours who provided transportation, guide, lunch and water. It is a half day activity.
Another option if you don’t want or have a full day for the safari float it is to do the Penas Blancas Safari Float. It’s only 20 minutes from La Fortuna though not quite in a river as pristine as Cano Negro but you can still see a lot of wildlife. The safari float rides are one of the best things to do in La Fortuna/Arenal with kids since it’s a very easy going, laid back down surrounded by nature.
No trip to Arenal and La Fortuna is complete without a visit to the hot springs. This area, famous for their hot springs due to the Tabacon river offers the best way to relax and wind down a busy day. Soak in the hot thermal pools to soothe your muscles while enjoying the fresh night time air.
Visiting the hot springs is one of the top things to do in Arenal. Many hotels and resorts have their own hot springs which you can buy a day pass or enjoy if you’re staying there. Some of the most well known ones are Tabacon, Baldi, the Springs, Titoku, Kalambu, Ecotermales and Paradise. Some resorts and hotels also have their own hot springs exclusively for their guests like the Kioro. You can read more about the Arenal hot springs here.
Most of the hot springs allow you to purchase a one day pass or a one day pass with lunch/dinner. Tabacon is the most expensive, it’s around $90 for a day pass with dinner.
One of the free things to do in La Fortuna is to visit the public entrance of Tabacon river where all the locals go. This is the free hot spring in La Fortuna and it’s off the side of the road near Tabacon. There is a small parking lot (you will also see lots of cars parked along the road on weekends).
Mistico Hanging Bridges
Explore the rain forests of Arenal in an eco-friendly way with the hanging bridges, which sits on 600 acres of private land by the lake. It is an easy 3.1 kilometer trail with 16 suspended and hanging bridges, so that visitors can get different perspectives of the rain forest.
Along the way it’s common to spot wildlife like bats, snakes and birds. Though the hanging bridges are one of the more popular activities in Arenal, you’ll still get a true sense of the forest when you’re that high up!
The Mistico Hanging Bridges are near the bridge/dam and you can go by yourself if you have a car or book it with a tour company. I recommend booking it with a company so you will have a guide who can point out wildlife. It’s worth it!
La Fortuna Waterfall
If you’re itching to visit waterfalls in Arenal, the best and biggest one is La Fortuna. This is one of the top things to do in La Fortuna as this waterfall is stunning. Dropping 75 feet into an emerald pool, the La Fortuna waterfall and encompassing rain forest rewards visitors as they complete the 400+ step hike to the base of the fall.
And yes that means 400+ steps back up but it’s absolutely worth it!
The entrance fee is $15 and it is only a few kilometers from La Fortuna town. You can take a taxi which will cost about $20 one way or go with a tour company.
White Water Rafting
There are a couple of rivers for white water rafting in Arenal but our favorite is the Rio Pacuare. Raft your way through one of the best rivers in the world for white water rafting one Class 3 and 4 rapids. Paddle under waterfalls, swim in the calm pools and see toucans on this exciting rafting adventure.
If that sounds a bit too exciting for you, there are other rivers with Class 1-3 rapids such as Rio Balsa. It’s still a fun day trip from Arenal and La Fortuna that is fun for the whole family.
One of the awesome things about the Rio Pacuare rafting is that you can make the rafting trip your transportation method to and from San Jose or Puerto Viejo. Many companies, like Rios Tropicales pick up at La Fortuna and can drop you off in San Jose or Puerto Viejo (2 passengers minimum) so instead of sitting in a bus or shuttle, you get to river raft your way over!
Want to book the Rio Pacuare white water rafting? We have an exclusive discount for you!
Venture into the country side of Arenal by way of horseback, one of the best to discover the intricate corners of the land. You’ll ride through rivers, under trees and up to stunning viewpoints of the valley and surrounding hills, places you can’t reach by car and foot.
On a clear day, you can horseback ride with Arenal Volcano as your backdrop. Not a bad view while sauntering though the open country! This is a half day activity but you can also combine it with something else like ziplining or ATV.
The biggest lake in Costa Rica is actually man made and initially created to produce hydro electric power but now, it’s is also a place for recreation. Take a sunset boat ride, go fishing, jet ski, water ski, stand up paddle board, sail, windsurf or boat across to get to Monteverde.
If you don’t have time to do activities on the lake, you can drive around it for some beautiful views. There are also several hotels around Lake Arenal for those who want a nature experience.
Arenal Volcano Hike
Go on your own or take a guided hike to see Arenal Volcano. You can hike in the national park where there are several trails such as Los Tucanes or Colada 1968 to see the original lava rocks and lava trails from the big eruption. The trails aren’t too long, but it gives you a nice opportunity to see the wildlife and the lasting effects of the volcano eruption.
Plus you get a nice view of the volcano and lake on a clear day! There are a couple of trails and neither of them are very long or difficult so it’s a great hike for the family. The national park is $15 for adults and you can hike it on your own or go with a guide.
You can also hike in the private reserves near the national park such as Arenal 1968 for equally as impressive views.
There are a ton more things to do in La Fortuna, Arenal and the surrounding area but these are our top picks. No wonder it’s one of the most visited destinations in Costa Rica!
If you’re looking for a day trip and don’t mind to splurge a little bit, Rio Celeste is an incredible tour. Visit the magical blue river in Costa Rica! It costs around $100-140 from La Fortuna.
Map of Things to Do in La Fortuna and Arenal
Where to Stay in La Fortuna and Arenal
- Hotel Las Colinas – Cute hotel in the middle of town across from the park. They have a terrace where you get a great view of Arenal volcano and it’s a nice place to relax. Rooms are basic but comfortable. They have a garden with blue jean frogs too! If you are the type of traveler who likes to be close to all the services and town, this is one of the best. Rooms start at $60
- Arenal Backpackers Resort – This is truly a hostel resort. They have a large outdoor pool, hammocks and a garden. The fun thing about this hostel is the tents which is a fun alternative to the standard hostel room. Very close to La Fortuna and the best hostel in our opinion for the area. Tents start at $40, a bed starts at $30
- Arenal Observatory Lodge – The only hotel actually in the national park, this lodge has a huge property with tons of trails, rivers and waterfalls to explore. You get a close view of the volcano from everywhere you go! The rustic rooms are comfortable and quiet and you can center your whole time in Arenal at this lodge since they have horseback riding on the property, their own private Cerro Chato trail and hanging bridges. Our favorite place to take friends so they can get a pure Costa Rica nature experience. Rooms start at $120
- Arenal Kioro: Looking for luxury and to be pampered? The Arenal Kioro is one of the best luxury hotels with a spa, their own private hot springs, a Jacuzzi in every room and a stunning view of the volcano with floor to ceiling windows. They also have an awesome breakfast buffet and every room gets a free mini facial! Rooms start at $250
- Airbnb: We’ve stayed at an Airbnb in Arenal before. It’s a huge house perfect for families, only 5 minutes from Fortuna town. Read our review here.
Arenal Tour Discount
We have a parternship with Jacamar Naturalist Tours to give 10% off most of the tours in Arenal.
Want to read about more things to do in Costa Rica? Check these out!
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