Check out the top things to do in Arenal, Costa Rica.

Top 10 Things to do in Arenal, Costa Rica

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Looking for the best activities and attractions in La Fortuna, Costa Rica? Check out this list of our favorite things to do in Arenal, Costa Rica. From waterfall rappelling, chocolate tours and soaking in the hot springs, the Arenal area has something to offer for everyone. La Fortuna is one of the most popular spots for wildlife viewing and eco-tourism. Come see why you should visit the area!

Arenal Volcano in the distance with a beautiful blue sky and white clouds. Visitors have so many choices of things to do in arenal costa rica.

Arenal or La Fortuna?

The area has two names, which can be a little bit confusing. La Fortuna refers to the city whereas Arenal refers to the area and the Arenal Volcano that towers over the city and surrounding areas.

If you choose to stay in “Arenal”, you are staying further from town and closer to the lake and volcano. There are plenty of resorts such as Arenal Observatory Lodge & Spa or Lost Iguana Resort – Arenal Volcano Hotel. This is a nice area if you’d like to be a bit more remote, but that also means it will take longer to drive to the area attractions.

Individual lodgest at the top of a grassy hill with the Arenal Volcano in the distance.

If you are staying in La Fortuna, you’ll be close to all the major restaurants and tour operators. There are plenty of Airbnb, resorts and thermal attractions close to town. Popular options include The Springs Resort, Baldi Hot Springs and Nayara Gardens.

Whichever area you choose to stay, you’ll be close to plenty of things to do in La Fortuna, Costa Rica. I’ll share some of the best things to do in La Fortuna, Costa Rica during your stay.

Where is La Fortuna/Arenal, Costa Rica?

La Fortuna and the Arenal Volcano are located in the northern area of the country, about 2.5 hours from the Capital City of San Jose. Check out drive times from the major airports below:

Drive time from Juan Santamaría International Aiport (near San Jose) to La Fortuna: 2.5 hours

Drive time from Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport (near Liberia) to La Fortuna: 2.5 hours

Many visitors come to the Arenal area and thus the roads are in good condition and drivable without needing a 4 x 4 vehicle. It is always best to allow plenty of time to reach your destination, especially when driving in a foreign country for the first time. Check out the map of Costa Rica below.

Top 10 Things to do in La Fortuna, Costa Rica

Whether you are deciding to visit the area or you have already booked your accommodations, this list will give you an idea of the La Fortuna attractions and top things to do in Arenal, Costa Rica. At the end of this list, I’ll give you a suggestion of how to spend three days exploring the La Fortuna area and which attractions are “must see’s”.

Looking for free things to do in La Fortuna, Costa Rica? I’ll provide some free alternatives to the activities below, just look for the *. So without further ado, let’s check out the best La Fortuna, Costa Rica activities for guests of all ages.

1) Waterfall Rappelling (Canyoning)

Woman with a red shirt and blue helmet holding onto a rope before she rappels over the edge of a waterfall in Costa Rica.

Looking for some serious adventure? If you have a bit of a daredevil spirit and you are not afraid of heights, then sign up for a waterfall rappelling tour with Pure Trek Canyoning. They are one of the best tour operators in the La Fortuna area and have an adventure-packed half-day program for guests ages 5 and up!

Harness up in the “lost canyon” before leaning back over a 165-foot waterfall to test out your newly learned skills. There are three waterfalls, one rock wall, and one “monkey drop” to round out the four-hour adventure. Conclude your trip with a delicious lunch back at the base camp. This is a highly recommended activity if you are looking for things to do around Arenal, Costa Rica and you are not afraid of getting a little bit wet.

Little boy with a blue helmet and blue shirt rappelling over the side of a waterfall in Costa Rica.

Want to read more about our adventures with Pure Trek Canyoning? Check out our full review of our experience.

You’ll need clothing that is quick dry and water shoes with sturdy bottoms for this activity. Check out our recommendations for water shoes for a multitude of activities.

Pure Trek Canyoning offers two tour times, 7 AM and 12 PM, both options include lunch, safety gear, and transportation. Price: $105.00 per person

2) Rainforest Chocolate Tour

Freshly ground cocoa powder in a woman's hand.

If you have a sweet tooth and want to learn more about the history of cacao production in Costa Rica, then sign up for a tour with Rainforest Chocolate Tours near Arenal, Costa Rica. The tour will cover the history of the ancient Mayan “hot chocolate” drink, how cacao is produced and you’ll take part in their hands-on program to complete the process of harvest cacao and making the sweet cocoa powder.

Guide giving a little boy freshly ground cocoa.

The program is perfect for groups of all ages and the staff does a wonderful job of including everyone in the process. There are plenty of opportunities to taste the product along the way and a chocolate store to purchase some sweet treats to take home. It was one of our favorite things to do in Fortuna, Costa Rica!

Tours are offered at 8 AM, 10 AM, 1 PM, and 3 PM. Rates: Adults $26 / Students $21 / Children $18

Read more about the experience in our full review of the Rainforest Chocolate Tour in Costa Rica.

3) Mistico Hanging Bridges

View across a hanging bridge over the tree tops at the Mistico Hanging Bridges Park. It is a highlight and one of the recommended top things to do in la fortuna costa rica.

One of the top things to do near La Fortuna, Costa Rica is the hanging bridges at Mistico Hanging Bridges. It is also an excellent place to view the local fauna and wildlife in the area. You have two options for the park, you can either take a guided tour or visit the park at your leisure (using a timed entry ticket).

The trail is around 2 miles in length and well paved with handrails to assist visitors. The one-way path has a few short cuts with turn-offs to visit the waterfall located at the center of the park and crosses over 16 bridges of varying lengths (including 6 hanging bridges).

A visit to the hanging bridges is one of the most popular La Fortuna activities, although it has become quite a tourist hub. If you are looking for seclusion and being surrounded by nature, this won’t be a highlight. However, if you want to be able to see many of the animals that call Costa Rica it’s home, the paths are easy to meander to locate wildlife.

Ticket Prices: $26/ Adults, $16/Teens (11-18 years), $21/Seniors (65+), $0/Children (0-10 years). The park is open from 6 AM till 4:30 PM.

4) Rio Celeste

Rio Celeste waterfall with stunning blue water surrounded by the forest. It is one of the top rated places to visit near Arenal, Costa Rica.

If you are looking to venture a bit further from La Fortuna, Costa Rica, then head about an hour west to Tenorio Volcano National Park where you can discover a chemical phenomenon that turns the river from brown to a bright turquoise color before it spills over the 295-foot waterfall.

The trail is 3.7 miles and meaders through the forest. The trail starts out paved, but then quickly turns to dirt, gravel, and mud (in the rainy season). The first stop along the trail is the waterfall. You’ll descend down hundreds of stairs before reaching the bottom of the Rio Celeste Waterfall. It’s absolutely stunning with the vivid blue waters crashing into the pool below. No swimming is allowed, but there are benches to enjoy the view.

Steps looking down to the Rio Celeste Waterfall near arenal, costa rica.

Head back up the stairs and clamber over the steps to the top of the waterfall. You’ll follow the trail along the river with views along the way before crossing a series of one-person wooden hanging bridges. Don’t miss watching the boiling pots (no swimming allowed) before you reach the location where the chemical reaction occurs. Stand there in awe as you see the water change from brown to blue in a ribbon of color. This is also the location of the end of the trail.

A river of brown changing into turquoise blue due to a chemical reaction in the waters of Rio Celeste. It is one of the best things to do near arenal costa rica

Be sure to start early in the day and allow yourself 3-4 hours to enjoy the hike and have time to rest. Add extra time during the rainy season as the trail conditions can be hazardous. Be sure to bring shoes that can get wet/muddy. This is a favorite hike for our family and recommended as one of the best things to do in La Fortuna. It is doable for families as long as they have a way to carry little ones.

Read our detailed hiking guide to Rio Celeste here.

5) La Fortuna Waterfall

View of the La Fortuna Waterfall near la fortuna costa rica.

Who doesn’t love waterfalls, right? If you are looking for an easy activity and one of the top things to do in La Fortuna, Costa Rica, then this 15-minute hike to see a 229-foot waterfall should be on the list. La Fortuna Waterfall is also one of the few waterfalls where you can safely swim at its base.

There are 530 steps down to the base, but travelers with disabilities or those will small children can still enjoy the view from the first platform. Parking is free, but there is an $18 charge for tickets to view the waterfall. Children under the age of 8 are free.

In addition to the waterfall, the park offers an orchid garden and restaurant, so be sure to add it to your list of La Fortuna things to do in the area.

View of the La Fortuna waterfall with bathers below near the rocks of the pool.

*Looking for a free waterfall and swimming hole? Check out El Salto Waterfall located just off Road #702 and just passed the La Fortuna Waterfall entrance. You’ll see a small bridge over the Fortuna River. Park nearby and head down near the bridge to find a small swimming hole with swinging rope and waterfall.

6) Hot Springs

View of a waterfall at the hot springs in Costa Rica. It is one of the top recommendations for things to do in Arenal, Costa Rica.

Visitors are drawn to the area partly due to the hot springs that are created when the lava flows under the Arenal Volcano heating the nearby rivers and streams in the area. Resorts in the area have built themselves near the thermal rivers or have re-created the idea using heat pumps and re-circulating systems. Visiting the hot springs is one of the best things to do in Arenal, Costa Rica.

You can have a few options for enjoying the hot springs. You can choose to stay at one of the many local hotels that offer thermal pools or you can purchase a one day pass to enjoy a visit to one of the most popular resorts. I’ll list the resorts below that offer this option and a comparison between them.

Resorts with Day Passes for Hot Springs

Baldi Hot Springs Resort Hotel & Spa– Day Pass w/ one meal: $62,68/adults, $31,34/children. Enjoy 25 thermal pools, water slides, hot tubs, and hot springs meant for the whole family.

The Springs Resort & Spa at Arenal– Two Day Pass w/ one meal: $99 + tax. The Springs is one of the few resorts using natural thermal waters. They pump theirs from the river below the resort each day. The resort offers a range of thermal pools (various temperatures), chlorinated pools and a swim-up bar. Kids will enjoy the monkey slide.

Tabacon Thermal Resort & Spa Day Pass w/ one meal: $94/Adults, $42/Child. The only truly natural hot springs that run through the resort property. There is a multitude of thermal pools, rivers and waterfall areas to enjoy in the lush vegetation surrounding the property.

Paradise Hot Springs– Day Pass w/ one meal: Adults: $45,  Children (3-11): $26. Relax in eight different thermal pools and jacuzzis or grab a drink at the swim-up bar.

If you’d rather stay at a resort that offers thermal pools, you can choose from the four above or you elect to stay at an adults-only resort (Nayara Gardens) or our favorite family-friendly option, Hotel El Silencio del Campo.

Read more about our experience at Hotel El Silencio del Campo in our full review.

*Looking for free hot springs? Check out the river that flows through the Tabacon Resort. There is a small dirt parking area with a free thermal river below to enjoy. Keep an eye on your belongings and don’t leave anything in the car. Here is the address. It is one of the best free things to do near Arenal, Costa Rica.

7) Ziplining

Woman with a blue and white jacket and harness riding a zipline

Deciding what to do in La Fortuna, Costa Rica? A visit to Costa Rica can hardly be complete without a ziplining adventure. Companies all over Costa Rica offer the activity from the beaches of Manuel Antonio to the cloud forest of Monteverde. One of the best companies is Sky Adventures, with locations in Arenal as well as Monteverde.

You’ll harness up, grab some gloves and a helmet to glide over valleys jungles and between mountain ranges. It’s thrilling and a great way to see the jungle from above. Even less adventuresome family members can enjoy the hanging bridges, nature walks or sky trams. Don’t miss zip lining as one of the best things to do around La Fortuna, Costa Rica.

Check out our review of the Sky Adventures park in Monteverde with ziplining and tree climbing.

8) White Water Rafting

Rafting California with the rapids

It’s time to hit the rapids! Costa Rica has some amazing opportunities to try out white water rafting and the La Fortuna area is the perfect place to test the waters. Thrill-seekers can sign up for Class III/IV Rapids, while those not quite sure can stick with Class II/III or go river-tubing. Desafio Adventure Tours is one of the best operators in the area and they provide transportation, food, gear, and guides.

Most tours are a full day adventure, so make sure you leave enough time in your schedule to enjoy some white water rafting in La Fortuna, Costa Rica. Cost: $99 per person, making it one of the most affordable all-day adventures in the area.

9) Arenal Volcano

Hiking around the Arenal Volcano is one of the recommended things to do in la fortuna costa rica.

A visit to La Fortuna, Costa Rica isn’t complete without hiking some of the volcano trails from the eruption in 1968. The volcano is considered to be “resting” and there aren’t any active flows to observe. However, it is one of the unique La Fortuna, Costa Rica things to do with its rare lava flows and accessible hiking paths.

You can either choose to hike in the Arenal Volcano National Park or head out to the Lava Flow 1968 Trail, which covers 2.5 kilometers of the flow. This trail is also open from 8 AM – 6 PM.

10) Wildlife Viewing

Costa Rica is home to 4% of the world’s population of animal species. Visitors to the Arenal area have many wonderful places to enjoy viewing the local wildlife, including many of the options above. In addition, the following places provide unique opportunities to interact or view wildlife such as sloths, toucans, parrots, monkeys, and land animals.

The Bogarin Trail is one of the best trails to see sloths, about a mile long located close to town.

If you’d like to volunteer to help animals in need, sign up for a tour and volunteer opportunity with Proyecto Asis. Visitors will learn about the animals living within the sanctuary, help to cut up food for their meals and during certain days of the week, you can create puzzles and hide food to stimulate the animals.


Suggested Itinerary for 3 days in La Fortuna

Day One: In the morning, head over to the Mistico Hanging Bridges to hike the trails and cross the hanging bridges. Stop nearby for lunch at Rest. El Novillus Del Arenal. Then you can decide to hike the Arenal 1968 (Lava Flow Trail) or head to the thermal pools. Enjoy dinner at Restaurante Tierra Mía.

Day Two: Start the day off early with a 7 am Pure Trek Canyoning Tour. Rappel off a series of waterfalls before sitting down for a nice lunch at the base camp. Then sneak in a visit to the La Fortuna Waterfall before you learn about chocolate with the Rainforest Chocolate Tour. End the day with a delicious dinner at Restaurante Don Rufino.

Day Three: Volunteer to help support the local wildlife at Proyecto Asis. Feed the animals lunch before heading back into town to enjoy your own lunch at Kappa Sushi. Spend the afternoon soaking in the thermal pools at your hotel or using a day pass for one of the many resorts. Enjoy a final dinner at Organico Fortuna.

If you have more time, you can add white water rafting, ziplining or venture over to Rio Celeste to enjoy the waterfalls and turquoise waters.


Conclusion:

As you can see, La Fortuna/Arenal is full of fun and exciting activities that guests of all ages and abilities can enjoy. I hope this list of the best things to do in La Fortuna, Costa Rica has inspired you to enjoy some of the activities offered. Feel free to comment below or message me with any questions.

Toucan sitting in the trees near La Fortuna, Costa Rica

I created this travel blog to help other families to explore the world with their kids and I hope I’ve inspired you. Want to read more about Costa Rica? Check out my posts below on the various regions in Costa Rica. Is Manuel Antonio or Monteverde a part of your journey? Here is my post for our favorite activities in Manuel Antonio and here is one for how to spend three days in Monteverde.

Or head over to my destinations page and explore my interactive map, it’s pretty fun. Until next time!

Feel free to leave a comment or find me on Facebook or Instagram.

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Check out more great posts about Costa Rica!

The Best of Costa Rica Itinerary: 10 days | Costa Rica Trip Planner

Planning a trip to Costa Rica? This is our suggested Costa Rica itinerary: 10 days of beaches, waterfalls and rainforests. Covering the regions of Manuel Antonio, Monteverde, La Fortuna/Arenal and San Jose, you’ll get to see the wide variety of wildlife, regions and activities. Don’t miss the interactive map, accommodation recommendations and the best things to do in Costa Rica.

Continue Reading The Best of Costa Rica Itinerary: 10 days | Costa Rica Trip Planner

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