When I booked my flights to Costa Rica at an insane, limited-time offer, I didn’t know much about the country. I just bought the tickets and hoped for the best. But after only a few minutes of research, I already knew that La Fortuna would be my first destination.
La Fortuna is a small town surrounded by a lush rainforest. Its perfect location allows you to enjoy many sides of Costa Rica: the jungle feeling, the innocence of a village vs. the charm of young tourists, rivers, waterfalls, fauna, greenery, chocolate… I don’t want to tell a bunch of facts that you can easily google yourself; I just want to tell you about my experience.
For the solo traveller: Selina Hostel
If you’re going to La Fortuna between May and November (like me) keep in mind that it rains a lot. I mean A LOT. So staying at a place that offers on-site entertainment may be the key to enjoy your time in town.
Selina has so many options that you could even make a mini vacation out of your stay there (please don’t). A library, a movie room, a pool (which I got to use once on the only two hours of sunshine I got), a restaurant/bar/cafe with pool table and jenga (which is actually open to the public so you can invite people you meet from other hostels), a beautiful yoga deck facing the jungle (which you can use yourself or join one of the daily yoga classes) numerous sitting areas, hammocks and even a fire pit.
Their cafe-bar, next to the pool, has a few international, healthy options. In the back is my favorite area in the hostel, with open views to a green space and a small stream. I remember staying there for hours reading a book from their library.
They offer several accommodation options from shared dorms to more luxurious rooms. Also, Selina has a beautiful area of tents out in their yard. And of course I chose a tent! You won’t get a “nature experience for the millennial” like this anywhere else. It’s only semi-wild, I mean, you still have plugs, decorative rugs and a fan; but still! you will be woken up by the sound of three or four different birds in the morning. There is even a fire pit outside the tents.
I have written about Selina before, because I dig their whole digital-nomad approach. I feel like whoever came up with the idea of Selina was an actual freelancer who travelled a lot and faced all the usual trouble. In La Fortuna they offer a co-working space at an extra cost, full day or half day.
Note 1: I wouldn’t recommend this hostel for families. It kinda becomes a party hostel on weekends (but I DO have a tip for families in La Fortuna, keep reading)
Note 2: I arrived on a Sunday and some bathrooms were not very clean. But on Monday the situation went back to normal.
Half-day volcano hike
Tours around the Arenal Volcano National Park are expensive, but this is why you came here in the first place, is it not? Arenal Volcano is kind of unavoidable; everything else during your trip to La Fortuna is negotiable.
With no car and being unable to figure out public transportation to the park; I had to look for a tour. I found a half-day volcano tour at half the usual price, and it even included hot springs (I love hot springs!). You can either do it in the morning or in the afternoon. It was perfect for me because I could work a few hours in the morning and then go. This is the agency: jungletourscr.com
NOTE: After I left La Fortuna I heard there’s a way of getting to the park by public transportation. Apparently you take the public bus to Tilaran, you get off at some point of the road and walk the rest. This guy seems to know all about it!
Surprisingly, amid all the rain, on the day I decided to take the tour the volcano decided to show itself in all its splendor. You could even admire its grandeur from every single point in town (when it’s cloudy in La Fortuna you may not even realize that there’s a huge volcano right next to you). The guide kept repeating how rare that was and how lucky we were.
Our guide was probably not the top specialist nor the most charismatic, but he was 100% local and so nice to us. We got to see the Volcano from different points; and we also walked through the forest trails, passed two hanging bridges and a waterfall. It was a general overview of the Arenal ecosystem, including a sunset over lake Arenal.
NO: Half-day volcano hike **in the afternoon**
Now, this is important: BOOK THIS TOUR IN THE MORNING.
I booked it in the afternoon and by the time we finished the forest trails and headed to the hot springs, it was completely dark. I assumed there would be some sort of light system at the hot springs. But no – it’s a public space (this was to be expected, hence the price) that at this point was 100% dark and deserted. The guide only had a small flashlight and kept warning us to be wary of snakes. It was slippery. We had to leave our clothes hanging in some tree because there’s no place to put them. Then you get in the hot water seeing absolutely nothing for one hour.
It was awesome.
… but not for everyone. One lady in the tour said she wouldn’t do it, and she went back to the van. I can’t blame her. Also, doing the same tour in the morning would allow you to enjoy the hot spring with your guard down, maybe meet people from other tours, and take pictures until the very last minute of the tour.
For families: Arenal Xilópalo hotel
Arenal Xilopalo exceeded my expectations in every way! It was more comfortable that I expected! It was also a refreshing change after Selina’s party vibes. I had a room for myself with separate entrance, A/C, the biggest shower I’ve ever used, TV+cable, a mini fridge, a sink, coffee maker… there was no kitchen or restaurant on site, but the room equipment makes up for it.
In my opinion it’s perfect for families, couples or if you have a car. Not so ideal if you’re looking to meet new people (in that case, maybe Selina).
The staff was very very friendly and the attention was warm and respectful.
The backyard of the place is nature itself : wild vegetation, many birds and open views.
Damn good coffee!
Are you here for the coffee? You should know that even if Costa Rica has excellent coffee; specialty coffee is relatively new in the country. However I have two lovely recommendations in La Fortuna:
I loved Vaca Púrpura! it’s a hole in the wall with a tiny bar and three chairs. I was explained that they go to small, local farms and pick their own beans. They also like to experiment with different flavours and combinations (ask for hot chocolate with coconut milk and mint); something not usual for the country’s traditional coffee scene. Really good!
I swear I learned more about coffee in my short visit to Arábigos than my long story as ‘coffee connoisseur’ in Buenos Aires! My lovely barista explained everything about filter methods, he pulled out different samples for me to smell and compare, he told me a bit about the story of coffee in Costa Rica, he gave me advice on grinding my beans at home and he even gave me a small pack of coffee as a souvenir before my bus departure ❤
Arábigos is an elegant coffee shop near the bus station and they offer different filter methods like chemex, aeropress, etc. They also have more food options and a decent coffee repertoire including fancy names like ristretto or flat white.
But it’s the customer care what made the difference. These are the kind of places where you just want to stay longer and come back all the time. If not having a specialty coffee scene is the price to pay for having such wonderful, patient baristas, I’m down. Go Costa Rica!
What to do if it’s raining
Keep in mind that in Costa Rica, life goes on despite the rain. In La Fortuna, every tour and activity takes place regardless of the weather. Rain is absolutely normal and expected here, and drizzle is actually considered “liquid sunshine” on a wonderful day.
A relaxing massage
I got a 30-min massage at a small place called Arestetic near the parque central. This was my first massage, ever, so I’ve got nothing to compare, but boy did I enjoy it! I recommend it for a quick back fix-up – although you could get more luxurious spa experiences too. Getting a massage in Costa Rica is a wonderful indoor idea when it’s raining. An American friend also mentioned it’s way cheaper than the U.S.
BEWARE of massages with happy endings: prostitution is legal in Costa Rica. One of the 10 things I wasn’t expecting before travelling here.
It’s not exactly a museum, it’s more of a coffee shop with a lot of educational information about cocoa and chocolate. Free entrance and samples of chocolate and cacao. Another good idea for a rainy day in town: chocomuseo.com/costa-rica/la-fortuna/free-museum/
What I ate in La Fortuna
YES: Soda Víquez
I loved my first Costarrican casado at Soda Víquez.
A “casado” is the typical lunch formula in Costa Rica. You can get a fish, meat or chicken casado… but the term “casado” invariably means that it comes with rice, beans, salad, plantain, sometimes mashed potatos, picadillo de papa (a sort of vegetable stew) or tortillas.
At Soda Viquez, the casado comes with buttered bread and even a complimentary small dessert. Also one of the most affordable in town.
YES: Soda La Hormiga
Soda La Hormiga should also be on your list. Conveniently next to the bus station, affordable prices, candid service and delicious food.
I ordered a small serving of gallo pinto (typical breakfast formula in Costa Rica including rice and beans, eggs, sometimes bread, tortilla or fruit) but I would go for their casado if I could go back.
NO: Soda Melania
We went to Soda Melania because it was the only soda open after 10 pm, but I would not recommend it. The food was forgettable, and it took forever to arrive at the table. The service was weird and distant. The beer comes in plastic cups with ice. But – it’s definitely an option when you’re hungry after hours – it’s a small town and most of it is dead after a certain point at night.
MAYBE: Orgánico Fortuna
if you’re a vegan, a healthy food enthusiast or you just don’t trust hygiene standards of local restaurants (if you’re one of the latter this blog might not be for you at all), a good option is Orgánico coffee. The setup is quite nice, their options are healthy and colorful like you would find in trendy neighborhoods of big cities. Expensive too. I had the chia bowl with almond milk, coconut, mango, apple, peaches and strawberries.
Things I didn’t do, but you should:
- Try getting to Arenal Lodge by yourself and walk the forest trails for free
- Río Celeste hike
- Eat at Soda Mima
- Spend the day at a hot spring