We had heard good things about La Fortuna and it was recommended as a ‘must see’ on every site we looked at. The volcano itself is called Arenal and the town La Fortuna; however we noticed that both terms were used interchangeably meaning the same area. The town in which Arenal Volcano overlooks is called La Fortuna. Whilst the volcano is currently dormant it’s last big eruption was in 1968 but lava trails were still seen at night coming from the peak up until around 2010.
Travelling to La Fortuna was a bit of an adventure; we came from Tortuguero and got the shorter boat this time to La Pavona; this took an hour compared to the 4 hour trip it took to get there. We reached the dock and met our transfer driver. Calling it a dock would be a little bit of an exaggeration as we landed on the bank without a jetty and had to climb off avoiding getting wet; it was also a bit rainy so walking up a muddy hill was a bit of an adventure! We took our transfer bus to La Fortuna (which cost $55 dollars each) and got stuck in some heavy traffic on the way; the whole journey from Tortuguero to La Fortuna took about 5 hours all together and we were glad to arrive.
Where we stayed
A bit of research on Booking.com found the highly rated and very reasonably priced Hotel Xilopalo. We decided to stay a week here and for $172.49 for the week this was an absolute bargain. We had a double room with a coffee maker, fridge and a private bathroom. Perhaps what was even better was that we had room 35; the only room in the property which had an uninterrupted view of Arenal Volcano! we would open the curtains and look at it every morning; always in the hope we would see the whole thing without any cloud cover but it was an amazing sight none the less!
Another great thing about the property is that everyday a guy called we think Eduardo, would place fruit on feeders for the birds and other animals. One of these feeders was right outside of our room and this stay turned us into twitchers; we spent hours just looking at the birds and squirrels; at night even raccoons scaled the posts to help themselves.
We were also privvy to impromptu night tours; Eduardo would knock on our door and call us out at night if he saw anything of interest. We saw a red eyed tree frog, 2-3 red poison dart frogs and a green iguana.
Around the Town
We were quite surprised how big La Fortuna was; whilst being classed as a small town it covers 225sq.km. There are several blocks with various bars and restaurants and souvenier shops. You won’t find any problems with finding somewhere to eat, although it is clearly very touristy and the prices are somewhat inflated. Like most places in Costa Rica however there are local Sodas where you can eat for a lot less. There are ATMs and a megashopper supermarket here so you won’t struggle to buy anything you need.
I could see a car would be handy here especially given the long distances to some of the attractions; however Uber worked well for us and if you arrange any tours most of these include transport to and from your accommodation. We only had one issue with Uber and that was when we were at the 1968 trails. Uber isn’t strictly legal in Costa Rica the Police set up a checkpoint looking for Uber drivers breaking the law. Our booked driver kindly drove several miles to tell us he couldn’t pick us up because of this. The Police abandoned their checkpoint at 5pm so we just had to wait and hour and a half for someone else to agree to bring us back. Other than that though we had no issues with using it and it was a safe and cheaper option.
Where we visited
Arenal 1968 Trails
After reading reviews about different places to visit we decided to try the 1968 trails; mainly because it could be self guided and we could walk at our own pace. The entrance fee was $15 however when we got there the staff were honest and said we wouldn’t see much due to the inclement weather, so we could come back again in the next few days for free! The trails are found a few kilometres outside of La Fortuna past all the hot springs. We got an Uber which cost around $7.
Alas the staff were right; it was a very wet day and we followed what they said was the short trail; leading up through lava fields to a viewpoint of the volcano. It was quite a hard walk as it was so uneven and a little wet but we reached the viewpoint a little soggy before heading back down. The trail was supposed to take an hour but given the uneven surfaces and my knee struggles it took nearer 3-4 hours. Again we really must learn when people say trails are short and easy it’s really not the case. Nigel was horrified to learn that as our lava rock pathway had been created by the eruption in 1968, the rocks we were walking on were younger than him!
A few days later the weather was considerably better and we thought that maybe, just maybe for the first time we may be able to see the whole volcano! given we had a free return ticket we decided to come back again but this time try the pond walk rather than the lava field. We had a lot more success; we saw howler monkeys and frogs as well as various other wildlife. Not only that however we actually saw the whole volcano! it was only for about an hour before it clouded over again but there it was in all its glory yay!!! We finished our trip with a drink at the very nice cafe which has a spectacular volcano and lake view (and the cakes aren’t too bad either!).
Bogarin Sloth Trail
We decided to visit this trail because it was walking distance from the town. The entrance fee was $10 for self guided tours or an extra $30-35 per person for a guide. We opted to go on our own as we just couldn’t justify the expense. The trails were easy to navigate and pretty flat; we were given a map at the start which certainly helped; although some of the trail markers had blown away so we took a couple of wrong turns.
We were quite proud of ourselves that we did manage to spot quite a lot on our own but also we came across some guides and groups who were happy to share what they had found with us. Some people do think this is rude; however we just happened to look at what they were looking at and the guides were more than happy for us to look through their telescopes if the hiring group agreed. We were respectful and were happy to be shown their findings when they offered, we didn’t approach them (couldn’t help but think it saved us a few bucks though! lol). We had been haunted in both the 1968 trails and here by a bird which made the most almighty clacking sound – we were very surprised to actually capture the culpruit on camera and realise that it was so small, resembling a Cadbury’s creme egg! Nigel’s merlin app has since informed us the creme egg was actually called a white collared manakin. It was a nice walk and we did enjoy it although only saw one sloth quite high up in the trees. Give yourself a couple of hours here if you really want to enjoy the trails.
Mistico Hanging Bridges
We decided to have a guided nature tour at Mistico for $40 per person in the hope that we would see some of the nature we had missed so far such as snakes. We did an afternoon tour and whilst the guide was very knowledgable we didn’t see as much nature as we liked; after the tour had finished the guide suggested that his morning tours have more success because the animals tend to sleep in the afternoon. It was a pleasant trek but I did struggle to keep up; although they were quite solid paths it was more up and down than I was expecting.
The rope bridges were not for the faint hearted either; one lady in our tour group had a panic attack at the first bridge and had to retire from the rest of the trail . If heights are not your thing then this probably isn’t the place for you! The trail itself is 2 miles long and there are 6 hanging bridges the highest of which is 148ft. We were both fine with the bridges and followed the guide’s advice that you should walk like a catwalk model to get across; quite amusingly it worked! Although we were disappointed with the lack of nature we are realistic enough to know this cannot be predicted; however if you do visit then a morning visit may be better.
La Fortuna was a lovely place and we enjoyed our week there greatly; however this was helped a lot by having such great accommodation. We had some down time which involved staying in the property and watching the wildlife from the terrace. There were several activities we didn’t take part in here including hot springs; most people recommended the free ones however we have also read tales of robberies here and to be very careful. We also didn’t take part in any ziplining or Tarzan swings not only because we didn’t fancy it but also because of how much all the activies cost. You cannot help but be enchanted by the huge volcano everywhere you go and I would definitely agree with the ‘must see’ opinions shared by others but be warned the costs really do mount up!