The La Fortuna – Arenal Volcano area in San Carlos canton is one of the most popular vacation destinations in Costa Rica. There’s so much to see and experience here that – no matter how long you stay – you won’t run out of ideas of fun things to do in Arenal!
But what are the VERY BEST things to do in La Fortuna? In this article, we cover all the top places to see, the most popular sightseeing- and wildlife tours, adventurous activities, and the best things to do in La Fortuna.
La Fortuna is best known as home to the famous Arenal Volcano, one of the must-sees in Costa Rica. But this picture-perfect volcano isn’t really a destination in itself. Instead, it’s usually just a backdrop for all the other amazing activities in La Fortuna.
Lush rainforests with a big variety of wildlife, waterfalls, coffee- and cacao plantations, and – of course – all the fun outdoor adventures such as wild water rafting, horseback riding, ziplining, canyoneering, etc… And – not to forget – Arenal area is famous for its hot springs where you can relax after all the action-filled days.
It’s not for nothing that La Fortuna is known as the adventure capital of Costa Rica! And a nice thing is that most activities are suitable for the whole family.
With so much to see and do in Arenal – La Fortuna, it will come as no surprise that this area is included in pretty much any Costa Rica itinerary. And even if you are only visiting here for a day from San José, it’s well worth it (in that case, you may want to take a look at this popular day tour – it includes some of the most popular Arenal activities).
Good to know: Many of the best activities in the La Fortuna area will require a guided tour. Even if you have a car, you’ll need tickets/ guided tours for pretty much every place you visit in Arenal.
So to help you plan your holiday, we include the best La Fortuna tour suggestions for each activity mentioned in our guide.
These are the best places to see and things to do in La Fortuna:
1. Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park
The Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park is one of the best places to visit in La Fortuna. Here, you can explore a tropical rainforest, walk over hanging bridges, and see a big variety of wildlife.
You can opt for a self-guided tour or a guided tour. If you want to be sure to spot wildlife, go with a guide. You’ll never be able to see even half as many animals if you just walk around on your own.
There are also organized tours that can bring you here if you prefer to be picked up from your hotel. Most of these tours include a visit to Mistico Park, plus a few other of the top sights in La Fortuna/ Arenal. You can see more ticket- and tour options here.
TIP: If you are short on time and want to see the best of the La Fortuna area in just a few days, then consider this popular day tour. It allows you to visit three of the most popular La Fortuna attractions – La Fortuna Waterfall, Arenal Volcano, and Hanging Bridges – in a day, leaving some more free time for many other things you may want to do in La Fortuna.
2. Hiking at Arenal Volcano
Arenal Volcano is a must-see in La Fortuna. With a bit of luck, the peak will be visible between the clouds when you visit, and you’ll be able to admire this picture-perfect volcano in all its glory.
However, there is no one ‘best’ way to experience Arenal Volcano. As already mentioned, it’s more of a backdrop to everything else you’ll see and do in La Fortuna. But – if you want to get somewhat closer to the volcano – you can also go hiking in the area.
You can head to Arenal Volcano National Park and do some hiking there (fees apply). There are several nice trails to keep you busy for a few hours, but the views aren’t always that spectacular, and most of the time you’re just walking between the trees.
Probably one of the nicest areas for a hike is the private area called Arenal 1968 Volcano View and Lava Trails. Also here, you’ll have to get a ticket to enter, but they have several well-maintained trails, and the scenery is pretty much as good as it gets in this area. There are also guided tours that come hiking here, some in combination with a few other sights or activities.
TIP: If you are not sure where exactly to go hiking, but want to experience the best scenery, take a look at this highly-rated hiking tour. In addition to a guided hike, it also includes a soak in a hot spring in one of La Fortuna’s resorts (Baldi hot springs).
3. La Fortuna Waterfall
La Fortuna Waterfall (Catarata Río Fortuna) is often mentioned as one of the ‘musts’ in La Fortuna. The waterfall is definitely nice, but – as our kids often say – after a while, all the waterfalls start to look the same. And – in all honesty – this one isn’t that special.
You can see the waterfall from the top, but if you want to get to the base, prepare for a steep walk down (and back uphill, of course). You can also swim at this waterfall, but it can get very busy here during the day. There’s a fee to visit and you have to reserve in advance.
Alternatively, you can also visit here with one of the many tours. This popular day tour includes a visit here and a few other must-see places in the Arenal – La Fortuna area, and they offer a pick-up from your hotel.
Is it worth it? If you haven’t seen many waterfalls in the tropical rainforest, then absolutely check it out. Otherwise – also because it’s not free and requires a reservation – I’d say don’t feel too bad if you decide to skip it.
You can see way more impressive waterfalls in so many places in the US, or Iceland, or Norway,… without having to pay anything at all. And also in Costa Rica, there are many other waterfalls that are much more impressive. One of them is actually located not too far from La Fortuna and you can read about it at the bottom of this list.
In the end, it all comes down to the time that you have and your interests. There’s so much to see and do in La Fortuna, that – with just a few days in the area – you’ll inevitably have to skip some of the ‘must see’ places.
4. Sloth Tours
Seeing sloths has to be one of the bucket-list experiences in Costa Rica! And the Arenal – La Fortuna area is one of the best places to see sloths. So don’t miss your chance!
There are several places that organize sloth-watching tours in La Fortuna, and I don’t think you really can go wrong with any of them. As long as you go with a local experienced guide, your chances of seeing sloths are really good.
This is one of the best sloth tours in La Fortuna. You can see sloths in the wild, the tour doesn’t require much hiking and is suitable for the whole family. It also includes a transfer from your hotel and some snacks during the tour.
If you have a car, you can also opt for this excellent sloth tour at Sloth’s Territory. When we were doing our research for our 2-week Costa Rica trip, we chose this tour because of the great price/quality and excellent reviews.
5. Coffee & Chocolate Tours
If you are looking for more fun things to do in La Fortuna that are suitable for the whole family, then definitely check out coffee and chocolate tours. It’s a great way to learn more about these products, see the production process, and meet some locals who are passionate about their craft and will gladly share their knowledge with you.
These tours usually take just 1.5-2.5 hours, include tastings (yum!), and are very family-friendly.
If you are looking for something nice to do in La Fortuna with kids, then you really can’t go wrong with a chocolate tour. Whereas adults will also appreciate learning more about how coffee is made (and taste it, of course). In that case, you may want to opt for a coffee & chocolate tour.
Here you can find a bigger selection of chocolate- and coffee tours in the La Fortuna – Arenal area.
6. Hot Springs
The La Fortuna – Arenal area is famous for its natural hot springs. So one of the most popular things to do in the area is simply bathing and relaxing.
There are lots of hotels and resorts in La Fortuna that have their own pools and hot springs. So the best way to enjoy them every day of your vacation is by staying at one of these. In addition, many resorts allow day visitors, so you can easily visit one or several hot springs in the Arenal area during your trip no matter where you are staying.
And finally, you can also join the locals at one of the most popular and FREE hot springs in La Fortuna near Tabacon resort (see map).
Good to know: One of the best hotels with the best hot springs in La Fortuna is Tabacon Thermal Resort & Spa. If you are not a guest, you can visit with a day ticket. Another amazing place to stay is The Springs Resort & Spa at Arenal, a short drive outside of town.
TIP: Baldi Hot Springs Hotel & Spa is also very popular and allows day visitors too. A day pass here is quite a lot cheaper than at Tabacon (both include hot springs and lunch or dinner).
Some day tours in the area include a visit to some of the popular hot springs with their hiking or sightseeing tours as well (see some tours that include Baldi Hot Springs here).
In addition, there are many other more affordable hotels in La Fortuna that have hot springs/ pools as well. We booked the Los Lagos Spa & Resort.
7. Whitewater Rafting & Safari Floats
Known as the adventure capital of Costa Rica, La Fortuna also offers a big variety of adrenaline-rushing activities. One of the most popular things to do in La Fortuna is white water rafting.
There are lots of rafting tours available for all levels. So you’ll easily find a fun tour that will suit your interests.
You can opt for family-friendly floating or tubing tours or rather calm class 2-3 whitewater rafting experiences. Some floating tours even focus on wildlife viewing (it’s like jungle safari and river floating in one). Those looking for even more adventure and thrills will enjoy the class 3-4 whitewater rafting tours.
PRO TIP: Pack water shoes if planning to go whitewater rafting or visit natural hot springs. In fact, water shoes will come in handy on various occasions during your trip in Costa Rica.
8. Zipline Canopy Tours
Zipline canopy tours are also very popular in Costa Rica and the La Fortuna-Arenal area is one of the best places to give ziplining a try! If your trip brings you to Monteverde as well, then you may want to know that the scenery of some of the canopy tours there is even more impressive.
Anyway, back to La Fortuna. There are quite a few places where you can go ziplining in this area. Here are two of the best options:
- Sky Tram & Sky Trek offers a very popular ziplining experience in La Fortuna, together with several other activities, depending on the tour you choose. Ziplining here is possible from the age of 8.
- Arenal Canopy Adventure is a more budget-friendly option that just focuses on zip-lining itself. It’s also great for families and is possible from the age of 5-6. TIP: Here, you can also choose to combine zip-lining with horseback riding.
9. Horseback Riding
Horseback riding is another popular thing to do in Arenal. It’s also one of the nicest ways to enjoy the beautiful scenery and the views of the volcano.
Just as with most activities in La Fortuna, there is a big variety of horseback riding tours to choose from. The majority of tours don’t require any previous experience and take 2-3 hours, but there are also longer tours available.
Here are some of the most popular options suitable for almost all ages:
- Arenal Volcano Horseback Riding. This 2-hour tour takes you through some really nice scenery with – weather permitting – volcano views.
- La Fortuna Waterfall Horseback Tour. This 4-hour tour takes you to the tropical rainforest and down to La Fortuna Waterfall.
10. Lake Arenal: Kayaking, SUP & Boat Tours
In addition to hiking or horseback riding with the views of Arenal Volcano and the lake, you can also actually get on Lake Arenal and see some nice scenery from the water.
The most popular activities here are kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding, but there are some boat tours as well. You can find a selection of some of the best options here.
11. Rainforest Night Tours
If you want to see wildlife in Costa Rica, you should know that quite some species are more active in the dark. Therefore wildlife watching tours in the dark are really popular. It’s a really fun and family-friendly experience.
And don’t worry – you won’t have to stay up late. It gets dark quite early in Costa Rica and most of these tours run at around 6-8 PM.
There are some nocturnal tours to choose from. One of the best options for a night tour in La Fortuna is this highly-rated frog safari.
12. Canyoning & Waterfall Rappelling
In addition to rafting and ziplining, you’ll find some other fun adventurous outdoor activities in La Fortuna. A popular thing to do in Arenal is to go canyoning and waterfall rappelling in the rainforest!
Not only it’s a really fun and thrilling experience in itself, but here in Costa Rica, you also have a chance to see wildlife! So keep your eyes open and maybe you’ll see some monkeys, sloths, or colorful birds in addition to the beautiful jungle scenery around you!
- This is the most popular canyoning and waterfall rappelling tour in La Fortuna (from the age of 5-6).
- The Lost Canyon rappelling tour is the best option for those looking for an even more thrilling experience (from the age of 12).
- For extreme canyoning and waterfall jumping, take a look at this highly-rated tour (from the age of 16).
13. ATV & Biking Tours
If you want to explore the scenery of Arenal without having to hike, you can consider some of the ATV- or biking tours.
Promoted as #1 Arenal Volcano experience, this ATV tour is another popular activity in Arenal – La Fortuna. It’s an exhilarating experience and a nice way to get close to the volcano.
14. Cooking Classes & Cultural Tours
If you are looking for more culture-oriented experiences and things to do in La Fortuna, you may want to check out some local cooking classes. Some of them also offer a salsa dance lesson… But the most popular food tours are the earlier-mentioned chocolate and/or coffee tours in La Fortuna (see #5 above).
And if you want to meet indigenous Maleku people, there are several possibilities too.
15. Venado Caves
Cavernas de Venado Caves are underground caves located a bit less than 1-hour drive from La Fortuna. Here, you can visit the caverns formed about 6 million years ago.
In addition to impressive stalactites and stalagmites, you can also see underground waterfalls as well as some spiders, bats, etc.
Good to know: This is a fun experience for the whole family, but is not suitable if you are claustrophobic. They provide boots and a flashlight but be sure to bring socks for the boots and a change of clean clothes. You’ll get muddy and wet. They have showers and changing rooms and there’s a pool and a restaurant as well.
If you have a car, you can visit here on your own (see the official website of the caves for more info). Alternatively, you can take a tour from La Fortuna.
16. Rio Celeste Waterfall
Rio Celeste is a beautiful waterfall in Tenorio National Park, about 1.5 hrs drive from La Fortuna. While not exactly next door, it’s a very popular place to visit near Arenal, and we felt that this list of La Fortuna attractions wouldn’t be complete without mentioning it.
Rio Celeste is much more impressive than La Fortuna Waterfall, but it’s also quite a trip to get there. If you decide to go, be sure to plan an entire day for it.
If you have a car, you can visit on your own. And otherwise, there are also day tours that can bring you to Rio Celeste from the La Fortuna area. This 8-hour tour is one of the best-rated options.
So, this is our list of the best things to do in La Fortuna – Arenal. As you can see, there is something for everyone. The main challenge will be which activities to choose with the time that you have…
TIP: If you are running out of time when planning your time in La Fortuna and have more activities on your list than the time to do them all, consider some combination tours that include several places/ activities in one. That way you can see the best of the area even if you only have a few days.
Here are some of the best 2-in-1 tours in La Fortuna that allow you to make the most of your visit:
- La Fortuna Waterfall, Volcano and Hot Springs – the most popular day trip in the area.
- La Fortuna Waterfall, Volcano and Hanging Bridges – the best all-in-one sightseeing option.
- 2-in-1 River safari float + La Fortuna Waterfall.
- 3-in-1 River Safari Float with La Fortuna Waterfall and Volcano Hike.
- And here are the more adventurous 2-in-1 tours:
READ ALSO: 2 Weeks Costa Rica Itinerary
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Some family travel inspiration & practical tips:
Thursday 23rd of March 2023
Hi Jurga. I just wanted to say thanks for sharing all these very nice thoughts about Costa Rica. I have spent around six months of my life working in the country and i have fallen in love with it! Reading all the above brought back sweet memories of my time there. Thanks and please keep up doing what you do because even if not everyone using your site gets in touch or says thanks, believe me it has helped and will keep helping a lot of people looking for advice visiting new places! It is a treasure of knowledge and i'm so grateful you're sharing it with the world. Thank you very much!
Friday 24th of March 2023
Hi Lampros, thank you so much for your kind words. I really appreciate it! Happy travels!
Thursday 10th of March 2022
We are a family of 5 (3 teenagers). We have been to Costa Rica and want to take kids. Thinking about doing la fortuna/arenal and a white sandy beach (not the dark beaches near jaco). The problem I am having is finding a nice place that fits our family. We like the resort type but need a villa or something silimar. What places do you recommend that accommodate larger families? Thanks.
Saturday 9th of April 2022
@Jurga, Thanks for the recommendations. Where would you go for white sandy beaches…with a large family. Something that has larger rooms? Thanks for your input
Saturday 12th of March 2022
Hi Heather, we also have three kids so I know what you mean. That being said, there are quite some resorts in La Fortuna area that can accommodate big families. Here are some options: The Springs Resort & Spa at Arenal (this one is on the expensive side and has huge family rooms) Mountain Paradise Wellness & Spa or Arenal Volcano Inn or Arenal Paraiso Resort & Spa (these are all mid-budget and have 2-bedroom villas) Hope this helps a bit.