La Fortuna is a popular tourist area, and therefore not particularly cheap. However, there are still a few free and cheap activities. The difference between Monteverde and La Fortuna is transportation. La Fortuna/Arenal is spread further apart, so getting from location to location can be expensive. This is important! Sure, there are free hot springs, but getting yourself there and back drives up the cost!
Heading to Monteverde? Check out my cheap Monteverde guide.
All locations will be provided in Google Maps!
Some transportation options…
Shuttle pass rumors: Some hostels or hotels have shuttle passes, but getting information on them from TripAdvisor forums can be difficult. I stayed at Hostel La Choza Inn and used their shuttle pass, which was great, but unfortunately it’s been discontinued. I’d check back to see if they offer it again in the future, but don’t hold your breath.
Renting bikes: Check out this post by Costa Rica Travel blog for information about riding bikes. I really doubt you could bike to the free hot springs (plus where would you park the bikes) but you could bike the waterfall, El Salto, and roam around freely. Just be careful.
What about walking? Some locations we were able to walk to. Other locations were too far and/or there was no sidewalk or shoulder on the road. Again, for locations like the free hot springs, the national park, the Arenal lake, etc, you’ll need a shuttle/taxi/private driver.
“I took a public bus from [area here] to La Fortuna, where do I buy bus tickets to my next location?” Red Lava Tours (located right next to the bus terminal), or at least that’s where we purchased bus tickets to get back to San Jose. Public bus info.
Arenal national park
Mirador El Silencio
I wanted to try something different so we went to Mirador El Silencio. There’s a lake view (which we missed) and a fantastic volcano view, which I’ll get to in a minute. The trail is lots of walking up and down “steps” through a forested area. There is potential to spot wildlife here, but we only saw some pretty butterflies and many lizards. The real treat is the volcano view, which can accessed directly by following the road.
Cost: 8 USD per person.
Bug spray? Yes, for your own sanity!
Accessibility: This is *semi* accessible. By that, I mean you can drive to the parking lot (if you’re renting a car) of the volcano viewpoint and still get a decent view. However, the top of the viewpoint involves climbing up steep steps. I don’t know if that’d be worth the entry cost. Below is an idea of what you’d be able to see:
Free hot springs
One of the most well-known and popular free activities in La Fortuna/Arenal. This is more hot-tubing than it is swimming. I highly recommend the springs! Water is shallow and the current isn’t very strong. Bring a natural mud mask and relax.
Cost: Free! (or the cost of transportation).
Best for: Everyone!* I saw couples, groups (both young and old), and families with children here.
Will my stuff be safe? There are plenty of places to set your items within sight – usually on the ground next to the river. I never felt worried about my items either.
Water shoes? Highly recommended! The bottom can be quite rocky.
*Accessibility: Those with walking disabilities may struggle. It’s down a hill, and there are some rougher steps before you can get to the river.
My recommendation? Go for a day pass at a hot spring resort, which will unfortunately be more expensive. Baldi Hot Springs has accessible pools (according to reviews) and is cheaper than Tabacon.
You cannot pass this up! Go for the rope swing, the beautiful river, or simply to socialize. I met a cool friend here (Hello Josh!). It was one of the best experiences of the trip. This is located next to a small bridge, and its walkable from downtown La Fortuna.
Cost: Free! + transportation – again, this is WALKABLE from downtown La Fortuna.
Best for: Families with older children, couples, small groups, travelers looking to socialize.
Will my stuff be safe? There’s plenty of dry space to put your items. Use good judgement and glance at your items now and then.
Water shoes? Not required.
Accessibility: Requires walking down “stairs” to get to the area. You can sunbathe in the main area/sit in small pools of water, so it’s up to you how enjoyable that will be. I saw people sitting in the river past where you rope swing into the water. Getting into the river may be difficult. Definitely not wheelchair accessible.
La Fortuna Waterfall
To waterfall or not to waterfall, that is the question. It’s super touristy and filled with people, but the waterfall is definitely incredible. Want to go swimming and see a waterfall? Go for it. Don’t want to trek up and down a shit-ton of stairs, with tons of other tourists, and swim in a freezing river? Skip it. Click here to read why I have no photos of my visit to the waterfall.
Cost: 15 USD/person + transportation.
Best for: Mostly everyone. Tons of families
Will my stuff be safe? There is a small area next to the river with hooks where you can place your items. Use good judgement, but people generally aren’t bag-grabbing, because that’s extra weight climbing all those stairs! Use good judgment.
Water shoes? Highly recommended! The bottom can be quite rocky.
Accessibility: The top area may be wheelchair accessible, and there is a small viewing platform there where you might be able to see the waterfall (if you are sitting in a wheelchair, I’m not sure). There is no way to get to the lower platforms – it is a TON of stairs. If you have trouble with stairs the lower platform is not accessible.
How about ANY place you can see the volcano in the background. Oh wait, that’s everywhere!
I wish I could tell you more about the history of this structure. Disturbingly, it’s next to a graveyard. Either way, it’s covered with street art, and makes a fantastic place for photos. Do me a favor and leave this place the way you found it! Location.
Graffiti at the free hot springs
Yet another grafitti’d location that makes for some nice pictures. Take some photos and then relax in the marvelous warm waters! Location (same as free hotsprings).
Church? Hall? I’m not sure. It seems to have fire damage. I will caution you not to trespass here! I believe people may be using this property. Anyway, it’s so intriguing! This structure makes for an amazing photo both on it’s on and as a backdrop. This is located on the road that takes you El Salto from downtown La Fortuna.
Geckos To the Waterfall (Restaurant with adorable rescue dogs, yes please!)
Ok, I know this is a weird suggestion, but hear me out! Geckos Waterfall Grill is a restaurant on the same road that takes you to the La Fortuna Waterfall. We stumbled upon it by accident. It is attached to the Costa Rica Dog Rescue. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. Location and Tripadvisor page.
Get a back massage
No, seriously. There are spas and smaller back massage places all around town. Some rates are better than others, so shop around and I’m sure you’ll find a good deal. We personally booked services with Arestetic Spa, and really enjoyed it. Location and Tripadvisor for Arestetic Spa. Again, shop around for prices.
Wood & Art Gallery
Listen, there are plenty of art galleries around for you to visit. However, this one stood out to me for its unique pieces. Check out their Tripadvisor reviews. Unfortunately, I do not have photos, but I guarantee it’s worth a look. Location.
Eat in the town square: Fortuna Park
How do you think the locals spend their time? Apparently in this park. When you get there, you’ll see what I mean. Grab some ice cream (or rambutan, yum!) and people-watch. Just don’t be creepy, thanks. Location.
Air BnB “Experiences” Picks
Less cheap, but worth noting. You can check out all experiences by searching “La Fortuna” in AirBnB and then clicking “experiences.” All links will be to AirBnB listings!
Yoga (13 USD)
I was going to do this, but never got around to it. I’m bummed about that! It has positive reviews. Click here!
Another experience I did not book myself, but seems to have positive reviews. If I were to go back, I’d probably book this! Click here!
Meet a Sloth! (26 USD)
To be fair, I think the price has gone up since I went. However, I can ensure this experience is worth it. You won’t see a sloth up close like this anywhere else. The family who owns the property is amazingly friendly. We were given a glass of sugarcane juice, and after the sloth we were able to see some amazing frogs. Click here!
I will end with one final note about sloth trails: Be WEARY of “sloth trails.” Those sloths may have been taken from the wild and placed on a property in order to profit off tourists. That is not the case with this AirBnB experience. It’s quite an incredible story, and I save the spoilers for those of you who want to attend this amazing experience.
That’s all for today, folks! And Happy New Year! May your 2019 travels be glorious and wholesome. I’m starting off the year by heading to California. See you soon!