Arriving in La Fortuna, Costa Rica, we immediately found ourselves overwhelmed.
This was our first stop after housesitting, where we had admittedly spent about 95% of our time indoors, glued to our computers.
We were excited for a change of pace, and to get our adrenaline pumping via the outdoor adventures Costa Rica is so famous for. But our sluggish bodies were quite rudely awakened when we were met with seemingly a hundred different activities—and only four days to complete them. Where does a couple even start? Well, we headed to twitter and facebook, where we were thankfully given many suggestions to help us on our way.
What follows are the activities we chose. We’ve rated them on a scale of 1 sloth to 5 sloths (5 being the best), depending on excitement, uniqueness, and price.
We decided to hike Cerro Chato on a whim. Little did we know, this ‘hill’ would take nearly 7 hours to hike, beginning and ending in the center of La Fortuna. The hike is easier if you start at the trailhead, the GreenLagoon Falls Park and Lodge. At $8 a person to enter the trail (without a guide), this is a very economical choice for the La Fortuna area. The hiking is intense—our legs were shaky and sore the following day—but the scenery makes it worthwhile. After passing through dense, primary forest, you’ll be rewarded with beautiful views and a turquoise lagoon to cool off in.
We give Cerro Chato 4 sloths. It is a rewarding and challenging hike, but the path wasn’t very well maintained around the top of the hill, and the views are of course dependent upon clear weather.
White Water Rafting
This was my first time white water rafting, and let’s just say my expectations are now set quite high. We chose Jacamar Naturalist Tours to lead us on our expedition down the Bolsa River. The first half of the rafting consisted of raging rapids—just enough to have our adrenaline steadily spiked without ever actually fearing for our lives. At one point our small group flipped our raft, but the Jacamar Naturalist guides handled the situation with quick finesse. In no time at all, we were back in the raft, laughing off our unfortunate spill while preparing for the next approaching rapid. After a quick break for fruit, the rapids slowed and we were able to enjoy the jungle scenery that surrounded us. Sunbathing iguanas, white and black cormorants, and sleeping sloths were just a few of the memorable creatures spotted.
We give white water rafting 5 sloths. We couldn’t think of a more beautiful place to experience the rapids—the adrenaline coupled with the wildlife provided an ideal afternoon. What’s more, we were extremely grateful that our group with Jacamar Naturalist Tours only consisted of four people (including Dan and myself). We passed other tour groups navigating five rafts down the river at a time, which did not look nearly as enjoyable.
We already provided a detailed narrative of our lovely morning spent horseback riding with Alberto’s Horses here.
We easily give this adventure 5 sloths. The family-run company, the horses, and the journey all went above and beyond our expectations. Horseback riding also ended up being a bit more adventuresome than we had first anticipated! This is a great deal in the La Fortuna area.
La Fortuna Waterfall
What made the waterfall worth it for us was that we ventured there via horseback. The waterfall is certainly striking, and the ability to swim in the small pool at the bottom quite unique. However, there are lots of waterfalls in Costa Rica, so if you’re pressed for time you might find a similar opportunity elsewhere. Additionally, the waterfall is a popular tourist destination, which means you pay $10 to enter, walk down nearly 500 stairs, and then share the view with many other travelers.
Overall, we give the waterfall itself 3 sloths. If you haven’t seen many waterfalls, or you are particularly interested in them, than this is probably a must-see attraction. But for us, it just didn’t compare to the other activities we participated in.
Arenal Hanging Bridges
The Arenal Hanging Bridges are a 2-mile complex of 16 hanging bridges—including 6 suspension bridges. It’s an easy walk through the rainforest, and there are some impressive views and occasional wildlife. After our successful experience with Jacamar Naturalist Tours white water rafting, we chose them again to lead us on a nature walk through the Hanging Bridges. Our guide quickly demonstrated his expertise; he had a seemingly uncanny ability to spot wildlife far off in the trees without the aid of binoulars. Many of the animals we included in Part 1 of our wildlife roundup were taken from the bridges.
We give the Arenal Hanging Bridges 3 and a ½ sloths. The tour was definitely informative, and the bird’s eye view from the suspension bridges was irreplaceable. However, because the Arenal Hanging Bridges are such a tourist attraction, it seems a lot of the wildlife has chosen to move away from the trail (and I certainly don’t blame them—we passed a lot of obnoxious travelers). If you want to see any wildlife at all, we definitely recommend coming early with a guide.
La Fortuna boasts quite a few different hot spring options. However, most of them are private, with very hefty fees to enjoy the luxurious settings. After spending so much time in Taiwan (and frequenting hot springs at a fraction of the price), we just couldn’t justify spending $80, no matter how fancy the resort. Luckily, there is another option. Located just under a bridge is a free, public hot spring. It’s the same water as the private hot spring resorts, but without all the fuss and in the form of a gentle flowing river. Go at night, bring a few beers, watch the fireflies and let all the tension from the adventures dissolve.
We give the free hot spring 4 sloths. Few attractions in La Fortuna are free, making this a great find. Ask any local or taxi driver and they will know where to direct you. Keep in mind that the hot springs are about 20 minutes outside of town.
Rainforest Chocolate Tour
We also already reviewed the chocolate tour, so we won’t go into great detail. For more information, read the full review here.
We give the chocolate tour 4 and ½ sloths. You get to eat as much chocolate as your heart desires, so there’s that. It’s also a superb value and very intimate. Our only hesitation to give it that extra half a sloth is that there are also some coffee/chocolate tours in Monteverde that combine both the chocolate and coffee making process. If you are really pressed for time, this could be a better option. However, we were thrilled we made room in our schedule for the Rainforest Chocolate Tour.
It seems like we packed quite a lot into our four days in La Fortuna, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s also canyoning, Arenal Volcano hiking, kayaking, ziplining… like I said, we were quickly overwhelmed when we first arrived. This aggravation was only exacerbated from walking downtown and being nagged by the hundred of tour operators trying to convince us that they had the best deal in town. If you want to participate in a variety of activities, we recommend choosing one tour operator and sticking with them. We can recommend Jacamar Naturalist Tours from our personal experience with them. They offer virtually any activity you could want, but they keep their groups small and personal. They also aim to cause the least impact to wildlife and the environment, they hire and promote local services, and they have signed The Code, taking their stance again child exploitation in the travel industry. We typically don’t choose large travel companies, but this is one big business that is making a positive impact in and around La Fortuna, Costa Rica.
La Fortuna certainly went above and beyond our travel expectations. While there is little to do in the city center itself, the area around the Arenal Volcano offers almost too many activities for any type of adventurous soul; it’s difficult not to find yourself extending your stay here.
Which of the above activities sounds like the most fun to you? What’s your favorite adventure activity? Have you been to La Fortuna, Costa Rica?
We were guests of Jacamar Naturalist Tours for some of these activities. All thoughts and opinions remain our own.