If I could write an ode to my favorite place on earth, it would be to the La Fortuna/Arenal area. First of all, the Arenal volcano is beyond majestic. It’s gorgeous and when it decides to show itself to you the feeling is just magic. (I mean, see the photo below).
The area is super family-friendly. I have not stayed in a single Arenal accommodation that wasn’t just lovely for families. There are tons of activities right in the area, and you never really need to travel more than 30 minutes to have some phenomenal experiences. Plus, the traditional Costa Rican food is some of the best in the world, so good in fact that I’ve written extensively about the best food in La Fortuna.
In this post, I’ll walk you through a myriad of activities you can do in the La Fortuna area, otherwise known as the Arenal area. (Note that La Fortuna is the town, Arenal is the volcano, surrounded by the Arenal Volcano National Park.) Some places will say this is a good day trip from San Jose, but do note that drive time is about 2.5 hours, making it a total of 5 hours of drive time in one day, plus activities. I think an actual trip to La Fortuna area, even if it’s just one night, is a better idea.
But if you are interested in exploring a day trip from La Fortuna, about an hour and a half away from Arenal is the Blue River waterfall and you can also see the largest tree in Costa Rica– a ceiba tree.
Top Activities in La Fortuna de Arenal Costa Rica
La Fortuna Waterfall
This popular tropical rainforest waterfall is a sight to behold. Long a hidden local secret, in the past years it has become a must-see for tour busses and backpackers alike. It’s a great way to see a volcano right in La Fortuna- but it’s busy.
Expect large crowds and steep entrance fees. However, this is a very short hike making it a great place for families to get in a quick hike right in the Arenal area.
If you time your journey right, at the end of the hike down you can even go for a swim — however, be noted that the area gets quite crowded during the day. So, pick a time when you don’t expect a heavy crowd to appear- like in the morning. Also, note that waters in the rainy season can be very heavy, so it’s best to ask a local guide if it’s safe when you go.
Some people confuse this waterfall with Rio Celeste- the falls look similar but you won’t see the rich blue water that is a result of the two volcanic ashes mixing like you do farther north.
After you’ve got yourself the views while hiking onto the Arenal Volcano, there comes the time to enjoy some scenery from the water. The best way to see the volcano from the back is from the water. The Arenal Lake is the largest lake in Costa Rica, and you can grab a boat right from the docks just off the main road between La Fortuna and Nuevo Arenal.
Make your way to Lake Arenal, and you’ll find yourself indulged in a slew of interesting activities.
Fans of kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding will find themselves involved in no time. If you want to sit back and enjoy the views with no work, you could pick a boat ride, too.
Related post: Costa Rica’s National Parks Guide
If you’re staying in the La Fortuna area, there’s a rather-unique spot to explore, just around an hour of drive away. If you have a car of your own, even better!
Now, what makes Venado Caves so unique? Well, this one is going to be a thrilling, and kind of a dark journey.
These caves came into existence more than 6 million years ago, so the structures are undoubtedly ancient. Plus, hold your breaths Batman fans, there are plenty of bats flying in the caves for you to see. A number of spider species are also found in abundance.
However, we don’t recommend heading into these caves if you’re claustrophobic or are afraid of rugged journeys. The inside could be muddy, dark, and filled with tiny creatures.
When you head for this venture, make sure to bring extra clothing. The clothes you wear during the walk are going to get dirty, so you’d need a change.
Plus, the management would offer you boots, but no socks — so make sure to bring those as well.
If you’re willing to go for an adrenaline rush, there are plenty of crazier rafting opportunities.
However — if you’re in for a calm and soothing safari through the wildlife, a float is the way to go- especially for families with young children.
During a safari float, you essentially ride down a calm river, which doesn’t even require a motorboat. As there’s no noisy engine, you’re much less likely to scare away wildlife. Expect to see howler monkeys, spider monkeys, and a ton of bird species on these floats.
It’s a perfect way to take a floating stroll through the jungle and observe the wildlife from within.
Ziplining is a thrill through the tops of the rainforest canopy, and is one of the most popular activities in the area for nature lovers who want a thrill. These are also called a canopy tour.
We recommend Eco Glide for families, but there are a ton of different companies to choose from. Arenal Volcano National Park is one of the sweetest spots to zip line in Costa Rica. If you want to consume everything Arenal has to offer in a period as short as possible, go zip lining!
With a single zip lining tour, you can take a glimpse at Forest Canopy, Arenal Volcano, Lake Arenal, and even the Talamanca Mountain Range. That’s a lot of value for something as time-efficient as a zip line is. Simply put, you don’t want to miss out on zip-lining in any circumstance.
If you want to explore the base of Arenal Volcano but aren’t ready for a hike, horseback riding is the way to go, and can be an excellent day trip that you top off with a soak in the hot springs such as Tabacon hot springs or Baldi hot springs hotel.
Rise up on a horseback and enjoy the journey through the dense forestation, all without having to break a sweat!
Other Activities to Do in Arenal National Park
Located in the dense forestation of La Fortuna, these hanging bridges take you on a stroll through the trees- you’ll get a similar view as you do on the zip line, but a much calmer experience. We love Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park.
If you prefer your experience to be raw and memorable, drop the horses and hike the volcano base on foot. It’s going to be a wild ride — but a fun one! I recommend a naturalist guide to help you through the national park and to increase the number of wildlife sightings you have.
White Water Rafting
A treat for thrill-seekers. Be very careful during the rainy season as water can be fast and boats can flip.
Another once-in-a-lifetime experience is to soak yourself in Arenal’s natural hot springs. These water bodies appear due to the volcanic activities in the area — and you don’t want to miss them! The perfect place to relax after a full day exploring the area. We love Baldi hot springs, Kalambu hot springs and Tabacon.
There are several sloth-watching tours in Arenal — and you don’t want to miss out on those, especially if you’re fond of capturing every kind of wildlife during your journey. Make sure the sloths are humanely treated- we like the Eco Centro Denaus for this reason.
If you’re in for a creepy stroll through the wildlife, a night tour is a way to go. Be noted that night is the time when most of the wildlife comes out, so that’s when you should go out, too. A guided tour through the forest reveals amazing insects, snakes and frogs you’d never know where there otherwise!
Seeking adventure? Take a canyoning tour — repel off of rocks and waterfalls in the rainforest. I highly recommend Maquique Adventures.
Not into hiking, but don’t want to ride horses either? Well, consider a bike tour, or even an ATV for that matter. It’s all available here.
Want custom Costa Rica travel advice from me? Jump on a 15-minute call– no sales- and I’ll give you recommendations tailored especially to you and your trip.