La Fortuna: the capital of adventure and outdoor activities in Costa Rica!
Many people come to Costa Rica (and La Fortuna specifically) for all of the fun activities to do! These range from white water rafting, to waterfall chasing, to even ziplining through the rainforest canopy. I was expecting to have a good time, but MAN I really loved it.
In addition to adventure activities, La Fortuna has friendly people, a lively town center, delicious food, the best smoothies, and gorgeous tropical flowers everywhere. It’s definitely on the tourist path, and I think it lives up the hype.
We did a ton of fun activities and had some really awesome, unique experiences in La Fortuna. Here are 16 epic things to do in La Fortuna, Costa Rica:
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1. Rio Celeste Waterfall
If I had to choose just one thing, this was probably my top favorite activity in La Fortuna (but please don’t make me choose!)
The Rio Celeste National Park trail brings you to several points of interest: Catarata (the gorgeous blue waterfall), Mirador viewpoint, Laguna Azul, Borbollones, and Tenideros. It’s about a 1.5 hour drive from La Fortuna and absolutely worth the trip out.
This is the main attraction! It takes about 30 minutes to hike through the rainforest to the waterfall. The hike has some incline areas and some flat spots. We didn’t find it too challenging. To reach the waterfall, you leave the trail and head down a staircase hundreds of stairs long to reach the base of the falls.
It looks like a staircase leading to a fantasy world, honestly.
There are lots of great views from the stairs, and at the base, there is a viewpoint for pictures and admiring the waterfall and the gorgeous color of the pool and river.
Mirador + Laguna Azul (Blue Lagoon)
After you climb back up the staircase, the trail continues for another 15 minutes to the Laguna Azul (Blue Lagoon). Along this hike you will get a view of the Mirador volcano in the distance. As you approach the Laguna Azul, the trail gets very steep, with tall stone stairs cut into the hillside.
The Laguna Azul is a pretty spot where you can admire the calm, blue water. Beyond that, there’s not much here – on to the next spot!
Borbollones (Bubbling hot pot)
You’ll be able to smell borbollones before you see it — that sulfur smell is intense! This water here is hot and bubbling.
Five minutes farther down is a really cute bridge that cuts over gorgeous, deep blue water. There’s some good spots to take pictures, and then just another minute farther is Tenideros.
At this spot you can actually see the chemical reaction occurs in the water to create the bright blue color. You can see “regular” white/gray river water and a small line of bluer water meet and mix, and then the deep rich blue water created from this reaction fans out and continues downstream.
It’s honestly not that much farther to go all the way to Tenideros and I thought it was really cool to see that reaction! Plus, I loved all the adorable little spots!
We spent a total of 3 hours in the Rio Fortuna National Park.
On the way out, we stopped at some of the fruit and food vendor stands outside the park for a snack – we got fresh mangoes, elote (grilled corn on the cob), and some kebabs. The food was fantastic and between 1000-2000 colones (~$1.50-3) per item.
The entrance cost was $13.50 per person. I would try to get there as soon as possible in the morning because they only let in 1200 people per day and only 400 people at a time. The park closes at 4pm and you have to be inside by 2pm.
You can’t take any plastic, single use water bottles in the park (and they check and make you take them out) so be sure to bring a reusable water bottle.
It costs 2000 colones (about $3) to park, and another 2000 if you want to rent rubber boots (don’t forget to bring socks!). When we went, some of us rented the rubber boots – but they really weren’t necessary for the trail conditions we found at the end of June. As you get deeper into the rainy season and it gets muddier and sloshier, the rubber boots will be more helpful. I would bring good hiking shoes/sandals with you, and ask at the front gate what trail conditions are like (not the guys renting the boots), and then decide on the galoshes from there.
I will note that there is not arch support in the boots and so if you have any foot problems or need good supportive shoes, I would not wear the rubber boots.
You can’t swim in the national park section of the Rio Celeste, but just outside of the park is a little pulloff spot where you can walk down and swim in the water. It’s not warm, but it’s still a pretty blue color. You’ll see this spot on the way to the park entrance. We spent about 20 minutes wading and swimming here after the official hike – it was nice!
2. Mistico Hanging Bridges Park
I adored this park! Like the Rio Celeste, this involved a walk on a rainforest trail, but that’s all they have in common. The feel of this hike is so different because of the bridges!
While the overall bridge count is inflated with 12 small, “fixed” bridges, they are mostly for traversing small streams or ditches, and aren’t really part of the main attraction – the hanging bridges are where it’s at!
The Hanging Bridges
The real attraction are the hanging bridges! There are 6 of these suspension bridges that offer some fantastic views and a super fun experience.
The hanging bridges were split up throughout the walk and keeps you excited waiting for the next one. But don’t sleep on the rest of the – more traditional – hike through the rainforest. Most of the trail hugged the side of a ravine, with one side of the trail dropping out and looking over the side of the ravine. The setting is definitely a step up from just a rainforest hike. It’s still very cool, and we saw lots of interesting plants and some fun animals.
The hanging bridges themselves are SO FUN. They are all at different heights, and they go through the tops of the canopy and give gorgeous views out. If it’s a clear day, the very first hanging bridge gives a perfect view of the Arenal volcano.
We saw monkeys several times, and also saw a family of coati once (a coati looks like a cross between a raccoon and an anteater and very common in Costa Rica). We also saw a sloth sleeping up in a tree, and several lines of leaf-cutter ants!
My favorite experience on the hike was when a monkey came right up to us. We were on the very last suspension bridges and watching all the monkeys climbing and playing in the trees. When it seemed like the monkeys had all left, we got ready to leave, too, but decided to keep watching for another minute or two – and boy were we rewarded. One monkey came back and perched riiiiight next to the bridge on a tree.
He climbed up that tree, and then up and onto the cables of the bridge. Then, he walked down the cables right by us, like literally he was right above me at one point, and stopped right by my dad, where he just sat, watched him, hung by his tail, stretched out, and in general just showed off and put on a little show for us.
It was a crazy wild animal encounter and both us and the other group on the bridge could hardly believe what was happening (the guide with that other group said a monkey encounter like that was extremely rare).
Arenal Volcano Views
There are two spots to see the Arenal Volcano: from the entrance area, and on the first hanging bridge (aptly named Arenal Viewpoint Bridge).
From the entrance area, there is a clear view of the volcano and they’ve set up an “official” viewpoint next to the parking lot.
There is, however, an even better spot right behind the building with the ticket booth and restrooms. If you continue past the bathrooms, there are some picnic tables, with a fence right along a ridge.
This is a pretty good spot, but if you head to the left side of the fence, there are a few stairs that lead down to a grassy spot with no fence and the most gorgeous, uninhibited view of the volcano. This spot is right at the exit from the trail and you will come out here right after the final hanging bridge.
There are two other hanging bridge parks in the La Fortuna area, and their bridges are longer than the ones at Mistico. However, only Mistico has the view of the volcano, which I personally loved.
The pathway is paved and isn’t rocky or gravelly. I went in a dress and sandals and didn’t have a problem. However, at the entrance gate I actually had to sign a waiver to wear my sandals on the trail – so funny!
The hike takes about 2-3 hours. We spent almost 3 hours here because we stopped and watched animals a lot!
You can choose to do a self-guided tour or do a guided tour. If you want a guided tour, this top-rated, personal guided tour will point out lots of plants, birds, and animals in the rainforest as you walk through.
Mistico Hanging Bridges is 10 minutes from La Fortuna.
3-6: Arenal Canopy Tour Aventuring
Some of the most popular activities in La Fortuna are the ziplining and white water rafting packages. While you can book tours for these and other activities separately, we found a tour that offered three activities together in one day, and we really liked that option!
We booked the canyoning, rafting, and ziplining tour through Arenal Canopy Tours. It was really convenient because we had a driver pick us up from our hotel first thing in the morning and drive us to the spot. We had considered just driving ourselves because we hate being in big tour groups, but I’m SO GLAD we didn’t try to do this. It was a long drive up to the outfitter lodge and there were a lot of turns and narrow roads.
Our first activity was canyoning/rappelling. They took us out to a hanging bridge to start and we rappelled from the middle of the bridge. It was definitely not as “scary” as normal rappelling because you didn’t have to back yourself over a cliff’s edge, you just had to sit down in the middle of the bridge. You land in a pool of water at the bottom of a little waterfall. Definitely wear clothes and shoes that can get completely soaked!
We did four different rappels in total, though none were as big as the first one. It was fun, but fairly tame rappelling. No experience is needed, and you can go as fast or as slow as you want – the guides were really accommodating.
In fact, the guides were a high point of the entire day. They were really friendly and very playful. They went the extra mile to make you feel secure. When one of the women felt nervous, they were very reassuring that they would brake for her and she would be safe. On the other hand, they let the boys do the cool tricks and be adrenaline junkies. It was a really pleasant time.
We decided to pay the extra for a photographer to come with and take pictures of us going down. We take a lot of pictures ourselves and still did, but were very glad we got the picture package. It was $85 for the canyoning and ziplining photos(the rafting is operated by a different company so those pictures weren’t included in this price).
4. White Water Rafting
We rafted down the Balsa River (which means the “Raft River”). The route included class 2 and class 3 rapids and lasted two hours. The rapids were really fun and very bouncy, but never got super scary, which I appreciated.
If you haven’t been white water rafting before, there is a guide in the back of your raft that steers the boat and tells you when to paddle. They help keep everyone safe and make sure you’re just having a good time! He also pointed out a few sloths, a big iguana, and some interesting plants on the riverbanks.
One really nice thing about this rafting company was there were footholds at the bottom of the raft for our feet to slide in – almost like stirrups. They helped us brace and not fall in the river as we got bounced around! I kind of wish every white water raft had those!
We got to go in the river and swim a couple times. About 2/3 of the way through, we stopped with the rest of the rafts in the company at a little island for some freshly cut fruit. We had wedges of watermelon and some of the most delicious pineapple I’ve ever had. It was very refreshing! This was just such a great experience and for many people in our group, one of the top activities we did in La Fortuna.
The ziplining portion of the day took us through the tops of the rainforest canopy. The platforms where we launched and landed were in the trees, but in the middle of the line you were zipping high above the canopy, and the views were incredible. The lines ranged from 100 to 400 meters. Again, the guides were all really professional, friendly, and playful (we just loved the guides all day long!)
Depending on the type of adventure tour you book, it may cost extra to do a Superman zip and/or a tarzan swing, or it may be included in the regular price (for us, it was included in the price). Even if you have to pay extra, YOU HAVE TO DO BOTH!
You put on a different harness entirely for the Superman zip so that you are laying flat and face down as you launch – it TOTALLY feels like you are flying and was absolutely exhilarating. It was probably my favorite part of the entire day. The only downside was that only one zip was Superman style – I wanted moooooore!
6. Tarzan Swing
At first glance, the Tarzan swing looked really scary – like I honestly was pretty nervous at first, but it ended up being so fun, I did it twice. The guides took us up to a really high platform in a clearing in the forest and hooked us up to this giant rope tied up to a super high tree. You jump off the platform and then swing far out.
My very adventurous brother, Jonathan, went first – and it was a good thing because the guide said “okay in three you’re going to jump. One -” and then he pulled a cord that released a hidden trap door that fell out from under where Jonathan was standing, and he dropped and swung out. We were 100% NOT expecting that at all, and were just so shocked. Like, jaw literally dropped, didn’t stop screaming for a good 30 seconds shocked, ha!
I wouldn’t mention this and would save it as a surprise for if you booked the same tour, but I’m telling you about it now because the way this company did the Tarzan swing drop was actually waaaaay better than some other companies.
Jonathan and his wife, Ariel, were in Costa Rica for a few days before the rest of us got there and they did a zipline tour in Monteverde, a city about 2 hours from La Fortuna. There was a Tarzan swing there as well, but for that one, there was no trap door and they really did make you jump out.
As scary as a trap door falling out from under you may seem, I personally think that not having to actually jump is much better (and the guides said that’s why they do the trap door – people have a hard time actually jumping and it takes forever!)
Plus, Ariel said that there was a bit of a jolt when the slack goes out of the line after you jump and it made her neck sore. The trap door actually eliminates that jolt and makes for a smoother ride. She said this was a MUCH better experience. For that reason alone I would recommend the Arenal Canopy Tour in La Fortuna!
As freaky as it looked at the beginning, we all had the best time swinging the Tarzan swing (and the guides were nice enough to let us go again!)
Other things to note:
The tour provided a dedicated driver that took us around to the different activities all day long. He was really nice and it kept things moving along well.
We tipped all of our guides and drivers during the day between $5-10.
The tour was run out of a resort up in the mountains (Lands In Love was the resort name). Lunch at the resort was included in the price of the tour. It was a casado – a plate with rice, beans, meat, salad, plantains, and potato hash – and was hot and delicious.
We had considered booking some of these activities separately and splitting them up between a few days. However, because the drive to get up here took so long, I am really glad we did them all together in one day.
Jonathan and Ariel did this tour while the rest of us (my parents and another brother) went to the hanging bridges, and they loved it. It’s so much more than just some basic tour!
This tour is marketed as a chocolate tour, but you get to try all sorts of interesting tropical fruits as well. Come hungry because you will get stuffed! This is a family run farm grown just for tours and teaching tourists, but you get a really intimate, authentic-feeling experience. The son gave the whole tour while the dad cut the fruit and passed it out during the tour. Other family members were there to sell handmade goods and freshly made cocoa powder from their farm.
The most fresh, delicious fruits are presented for you to try. The selection includes a huge variety, including mango, guanabana, pineapple, apple bananas, starfruit, papayas, and fresh squeezed oranges. You also get to try cocoa beans in all stages of their preparation from raw bean to chocolate. Plus, you get to make your own chocolate from the cocoa beans that you press!
At another point, you use a press to extract sugar cane juice. The sugar cane went in a press and you crank the hand crank to crush the stalk and extract the juice, which you then get to drink.
The family also grows, picks, and offers you their fresh coffee, vanilla, and cinnamon.
In addition, the guides will point out any cool plants and animals that are around: Jonathan and Ariel got to see a really weird caterpillar/slug, hummingbird babies, a large iguana, a tattoo plant, and pink (non-edible) bananas.
Tour times are listed online, but reservations are totally unnecessary. They don’t really keep track of reservations and just check to see if anyone has shown up at the start times.
Speaking of showing up, note that the last 50-100 meters of the drive up is unpaved and looks like a random residential road. You’re on the right track! Just follow Google maps and you’ll end up in the right spot.
8. El Salto Costa Rica Rope Swing
The El Salto Costa Rica rope swing is a fun, low-key thing to do in La Fortuna along the Fortuna River. There’s a pool-like area in the river with a rope swing from a cliff’s edge. We spent an hour or two here and it was really chill and relaxing!
There’s a small pullout area on the side of the road where you can park – there’s room for maybe 6-7 cars. There was a parking attendant there watching the cars. We had heard about these self-appointed parking attendants before we came to Costa Rica and were definitely giving the whole situation a bit of side eye, but it was actually really nice and helpful.
The parking area is right after a curve so there are some blind spots. The attendant watched and signaled when you were safe to pull out and in. He also made sure no one broke into your car AND he pointed out a sloth moving up in the trees above to Jonathan, who had gone back to the car for something.
Jonathan came back to the rope swing where we were all at and said, “Hey there’s a sloth by the car, come look!” This was our first real sloth encounter in Costa Rica and we were obviously very excited (although to be fair, I was just as excited about the last sloth we saw as the first. They’re just so cute!). We all started running to see the sloth and Jonathan was like “Guys, you don’t need to run – it’s a SLOTH. You have plenty of time.” Ha!
We tipped the parking attendant 2000 colones ($3) per car.
9. Tabacon Public Hot Spring
This free hot spring in a public river is a favorite with locals. When we went, there were a lot of people there hanging out and enjoying the warm water, which I would estimate was about 95-100 degrees F. The water was the Goldilocks temperature for relaxing on a hot day (not too hot, not too cold).
Our group was divided in our feelings on this spot. Some of us loved it! Some of us (me) were a little more un-impressed. There were a lot of people, including a lot of people drinking beer and smoking. There was also trash along the entrance and banks and graffiti under the bridge. The riverbanks and river itself were pretty rocky so for sure wear good water footwear, even in the river.
There was street parking here but it was a little tricky to get in and out. There were parking attendants as well, so plan to tip a little when you leave.
It wasn’t one of my favorite things to do in La Fortuna, it was free, was clearly a very popular local activity, and maybe you’ll disagree with me and love it!
Note that there is a resort called the Tabacon as well, and if you google Tabacon you will see some incredible, cascading hot springs. The public river is not that spot! The public, free Tabacon is different than the resort.
10. Resort Hot Springs
Honestly, I can’t believe that I’m not recommending the local spot and instead recommending the fancy resort location, but here we are.
While the Tabacon public springs weren’t my favorite, you can’t not hit up some of the hot springs in La Fortuna. (While “touristy” spots can get a bad rap, sometimes it really does make a difference having someone who cares about keeping an area nice).
There are a lot of hot spring resorts in La Fortuna that range from nice to absolutely luxurious. Most of the resorts offer both accommodations and hot spring day passes. You should for sure plan to visit at least one resort hot spring! Some options are Los Lagos, Baldi Hot Springs Resort (which we almost stayed at and heard great things about), and the Tabacon Hot Springs Resort (there’s both a resort only and public access option at the Tabacon, as I mentioned above).
Day passes to these spots are great options – especially if you want to hop around hot springs.
However, we loved staying at one of the resorts because we spent each and every evening soaking in all the springs after our day’s activities. It had over ten pools and springs surrounded by lush, tropical foliage and flowers, plus waterslides, a wet bar, trails and paths on the grounds to explore, and an amazing view of the volcano. We were 10000% satisfied with our stay, the cost was very reasonable, and I would stay here again in a heartbeat.
11. ATV Tour
ATV tours are so fun! On this top-rated ATV tour, you get to ATV through the rainforest, traverse streams, and cruise under the shadow of the volcano.
12. La Fortuna Waterfall
Like the Rio Celeste, the La Fortuna waterfall requires a long walk down 500 stairs to see the waterfall. It’s a short walk from the parking lot to the top of the stairs, and everything is paved – I actually did the hike in flip flops. At the top of the stairs, there is a viewpoint above the trees and includes the top of the waterfall.
When you get to the bottom, there are several angles and spots to relax and enjoy the falls. You can even walk on the boulders to get closer to the falls, but you are not allowed to go in the water (and there is a lifeguard to call you back if you go too far out). We were told we could swim in the river just to the side of the waterfall, but it was unfortunately closed the day we were there.
This is a beautiful and easy waterfall to visit, costs $18, and is within 10 minutes of downtown La Fortuna. There is a restaurant on-site and a butterfly garden and orchid garden to walk through. The orchids weren’t in bloom, but we did see monkeys!
13. Arenal Volcano viewpoint
I really wanted to find a great viewpoint of the Arenal volcano – like what you see online if you google “arenal volcano.” Mistico Hanging Bridges was the best I found (as I discussed at length in the Mistico section above!)
Even if you don’t go to Misitico, there are a lot of locations that give you a good volcano view. We often got a beautiful view of the volcano early in the morning at Los Lagos resort, and anywhere between Los Lagos and downtown La Fortuna will also give you a beautiful view.
Tip: No matter how good your location is, if it is a cloudy, overcast, or rainy day, the volcano will be almost completely obscured. During the rainy season, the first hour after sunrise is almost always clear. Otherwise, pray for a clear day and take advantage of any clear skies you get!
14. Drink Smoothies
We basically went crazy over the smoothies (batidos) in Costa Rica! They were all so smooth and creamy and bursting with fresh flavor. I drank 1-2 smoothies every day!
My top favorite spot for smoothies in La Fortuna was at Frutas Y Verduras Hnos Lazo, a little fruit and vegetable stand in the downtown area of La Fortuna right by Soda La Hormiga. I loved the mango pineapple smoothie – get it with milk! – and that it was only 1000 colones ($1.67) for a pretty large smoothie. This was a crazy cheap price for smoothies! They use frozen fruit, but it’s fruit that they purchase fresh from the market, and then cut and freeze it themselves a couple days ahead of time.
Every restaurant serves smoothies and I ordered another one every night.
Click here to read all of my recommendations for where to eat in La Fortuna!
15. Horseback Riding
We regularly saw horseback riding tours as we were going through La Fortuna. I love this horseback riding tour at Mistico Park – you ride through the private nature reserve overlooking the volcano!
16. Arenal Volcano Hike
This hike goes around the base of the volcano (you aren’t allowed to actually climb up to the top). We talked to a few people in Costa Rica about this hike and everyone said it’s worth doing on a clear day when you can actually see the volcano. If it’s overcast – skip it.
Practical Information for Visiting La Fortuna
Where to Stay
As I mentioned above, we adored our stay at this gorgeous hot springs resort. It was an incredible value for the high quality stay we got! There are extensive, gorgeously landscaped grounds, a large, hot breakfast buffet (put the salsa Lizano on your eggs – trust me!), a couple of regular pools with seriously fast waterslides, 8+ hot springs, a wet bar, a perfect view of the volcano, and really nice rooms.
We loved starting off our day with a hearty breakfast and ending it hopping between the all the hot springs on the resort.
Note: In any hotel in Costa Rica it’s important to always lock your valuables in the hotel room safe. House cleaning staff are known to steal valuables, particularly phones or electronics. In general, don’t ever leave your personal items unattended in public.
Car Rental and Driving Tips
Renting a car is far and away the best way to get around Costa Rica. We leveled up and rented a 4-wheel drive vehicle from Avis, which was absolutely the right choice. For sure head over and read my Driving in Costa Rica post – it has all the info you need to know about driving, navigating, rental car insurance, and parking in Costa Rica, plus a huge tip for bringing the rental cost down.
What to Eat in La Fortuna
Besides drinking smoothies non-stop (see #13), we ate incredibly delicious food in La Fortuna! For sure get yourself a casado, picadillo de papas, and patacones. Read all of my food and restaurants recommendations (with pictures) here.
Costa Rica Budget
If you’re trying to figure out how much to budget for your Costa Rica trip, I break down exactly how much I spent in Costa here in my How Much To Budget for Costa Rica post.
No matter where your interests lie, there is something for you in La Fortuna! And don’t forget – eat lots of delicious food, notice the beautiful vegetation, chat with the locals, and keep your eyes peeled for sloths!