Day One: Waterfalls & Wildlife
Day Two: Arenal Volcano National Park
Day One Itinerary
- La Fortuna Waterfall
- Lunch from Panaderia La Principal
- Bogarin Sloth Trail
- Dinner at Tiquicia
Day Two Itinerary
- Arenal Volcano National Park
- Drinks at Lava Lounge
- La Fortuna
- Comida Tipica at Red Frog Coffee Roaster
Most people are drawn to La Fortuna by Arenal Volcano, and rightly so. However, there are plenty of other things in and around La Fortuna, including a whole host of white knuckle activities. But if, like me, you like to keep your feet firmly on the ground, then there are waterfalls and wildlife to enjoy, in addition to the main attraction. Add in some great food and a spot of retail therapy and you have the perfect recipe for a two days in La Fortuna.
La Fortuna Waterfall
|Place||La Fortuna Waterfall|
|Price||$18 (card only)|
|Driving Schedule||La Fortuna to Waterfall|
|Driving Time||10 minutes|
First up, La Fortuna Waterfall. The short drive from the town of La Fortuna to the waterfall is all along paved roads. This brings you to a large, free car park. As the ticket desk, wristbands can be purchased which give access to the waterfall and other attractions.
It is a short walk to a viewpoint overlooking the waterfall. Once you’ve had the obligatory photo stop, it’s time to set off down the 530 steps to the waterfall. The path is well maintained and easy to negotiate with handrails all the way down.
At the bottom is another lookout, or you can go hard core and actually swim in the waterfall. It’s very rocky, so difficult to access, plus the rocks are wet, so slippery and the current is strong. In my opinion, it’s more of a spectator activity. Most people appeared to be pretending to get in, taking a photo, then not actually climbing over the boulders into the freezing water.
Much more inviting (and safer) is the pool next to the waterfall, which is lovely and refreshing. The force exerted by the waterfall makes it a bit like swimming in an infinity pool, and you can swim up to near the waterfall, then float back downstream again.
Once you have had our fill of waterfall and swimming, it’s time to climb the 530 steps back to the entrance. It took less time than I’d anticipated. The area is beautifully landscaped and there are inspirational quotes (and step counts) along the way to spur you on, plus seating areas in case you need a break mid climb.
At the top, included in the ticket price, are an orchid trail and butterfly trail. Although there weren’t any orchids when we visited in January (apparently they bloom in May), it was still a pleasant walk amidst the flowers and foliage of the rainforest. We didn’t spot any butterflies in the butterfly garden either, although we did see a very beautiful hummingbird. There are also toilets, changing rooms with showers, a cafe and a gift shop.
Lunch from Panaderia la Principal
Drive back into La Fortuna in time for lunch. We chose Panaderia la Principal, drawn in by the window displays bulging with a huge array of delicious breads and cakes. It is in the centre of town, opposite the church. And it’s close to the park, so the perfect place for a picnic. Especially good were the Trenzas; Spanish for plait, these braided breads come in both savoury varieties. We opted for bread stuffed with chicken, cheese and beans, which was so delicious we went back for another Trenza – this time stuffed with cream cheese and pineapple.
Bogarin Sloth Trail
|Place||Bogarin Sloth Trail|
|Opening Times||7-5 (guided tours at 7, 9, 11, 1, 3, night tour at 5)|
|Price||Self guided pass $15|
Guided tour $35 (cash only)
|Driving Schedule||La Fortuna to Sloth Trail|
|Driving Time||5 minutes|
After lunch, it’s time to go in search of sloths. There are several sloth trails around La Fortuna. We opted for Bogarin Sloth Trail because it had a self guided tour option. Guided tours are also available, but we found that wherever there was a sloth, there was a group of people gathered, so a guide wasn’t really necessary.
Bogarin Sloth Trail is just off the main road just outside La Fortuna on Route 142 (if you reach Maxi Pali, you’ve gone too far). The trail is around 2.5 kilometres long, and well signposted. It took a while to locate a sloth – we walked round the trail for some time, until our necks ached. Eventually we were rewarded by spotting two sloths – a mother and baby. To be more accurate, we found a group of people looking up a tree, rather than actually spotting the sloths.
It’s quite exciting, apart from the fact that they don’t really do anything except hang from a tree. But we did see plenty of other wildlife on the trail, including agouti, coati and toucans.
Dinner at Tiquicia
Today has involved quite a lot of walking. Refuel with some typical Costa Rican food. We opted for Tiquicia, a kilometre south of town on Route 702. This cosy little restaurant is further out of town than most, but is worth the trip. The food was amazing. I especially enjoyed the starter of patacones (plantain which is fried, mashed, formed into pancakes and fried again). I was too busy stuffing my face to take a photo, so here is one I borrowed from the restaurant’s website…
Arenal Volcano National Park
|Place||Arenal Volcano National Park|
|Price||$16.95 (card only)|
|Driving Schedule||La Fortuna to National Park Entrance|
|Driving Time||21 minutes|
Arenal Volcano, measuring 1600m in height, with its peak standing proud above the rain forest (often topped by cloud), makes for spectacular views for miles around. As it is technically an active volcano, climbing Arenal is not permitted, however you can visit the National Park at its base. Here, several trails will furnish you with even more spectacular views of the volcano and of Lake Arenal.
There are no food or drink outlets in the National Park, so ensure you take sufficient water and other supplies for your visit. There are plenty of options in town. Alternatively, as you exit La Fortuna on Route 142, there is a Maxi Palli supermarket on the right or Super Christian 4 on the left.
Arenal Volcano National Park is a 16 km drive from La Fortuna. The first 14 km is along the main road (Route 142), then take a left turn onto the Calle Real el Castillo. After 2 km, you will reach the main park entrance (Sector Volcán). It is an easy drive along paved roads.
The park is divided into two sectors; Sector Volcán and Sector Peninsula. Opening hours are from 8 am to 4 pm. As we arrived at 8 am and there was a queue of vehicles waiting to enter Sector Volcán, we opted to visit Sector Peninsula first – this requires driving off road.
To reach Sector Peninsula, turn right by the main park entrance to tackle the 2 km drive along a rather bumpy track. This brings you to the sector entrance with plenty of parking right outside.
The entrance fee for foreigners is $17 (payable by card only). The ticket is valid for both sectors, so keep it somewhere safe (mine went into my bumbag with other essential items; phone, face mask, emergency Oreos…)
Sendero los Miradores
The main trail is the Sendero los Miradores, which is surprisingly well paved, bearing in mind the road we had to drive down to reach it. The path is 1.2 km long and leads through the rainforest, past a couple of viewpoints to Lake Arenal.
Two thirds of the way along the trail is an observation tower which you can climb for views of the lake and the volcano (in theory, although when we visited, it was shrouded by cloud).
Just past the crocodile warning sign, is the final viewpoint; a platform over the lake which provides a view across the lake to the volcano.
To return, you can either retrace your steps, or half way up the trail, take a right turn onto the Sendero El Tororoi.
Sendero El Tororoi
This trail is a short (600m), but steep loop off the main trail, through the rain forest, via a lot of steps and a bridge.
After visiting the Sector Peninsula, we drove back along the track to the Sector Volcán. Once you have shown your ticket at the gate (restrooms are also located here), you can drive a few hundred metres further to the car park at the trail head for the two main hiking trails.
Sendero las Coladas
First, Sendero las Coladas; a 2 km path which takes you to a bridge, from where you can climb onto a lava flow created when the volcano erupted in 1992.
To return, you can either retrace your steps take a left turn to follow the Sendero el Ceibo, a 3 km loop off the main trail.
Sendero el Ceibo
This path takes you past an enormous ceiba tree, which is 400 years old and 30 metres tall. It’s so big you can climb in between its massive roots for the obligatory photo op.
Once back at the trail head, it is a 1.3 km walk/drive (it was raining when we visited, so we opted to drive) along the Camino Vehicular to the final lookout, the Mirador Principal.
This viewpoint is supposed to provide the best views of the volcano. Unfortunately, when we visited, it was so cloudy we could barely even work out where the volcano was. I don’t usually use other people’s photos, but I have on this occasion – here is a picture of what we saw and what it looks like on a clear day…
Return to La Fortuna and spend some time exploring the town. We started by cooling down/rehydrating from our exertions with a quick beer (or two…)
Drinks at Lava Lounge
La Fortuna has plenty of bars and cafes to choose from. We opted for Lava Lounge because its elevated location and partially open air lounge provides a great view of the volcano and the town. As well as the usual beers, they have a great selection of locally brewed craft beers.
Thirst suitably quenched, spend some time getting to know La Fortuna. The central point is a pretty little park.
Next to the park is the San Juan Bosco church, whose impressive steeple is dwarfed by the volcano in the background.
As a predominantly tourist town, La Fortuna has plenty of gift shops for those in search of souvenirs. I particularly loved the tyre toucans, but I’m not sure British Airways would see these as acceptable hand luggage!
Comida Tipica at Red Frog Coffee Roaster
Round the day off with some typical Costa Rican food (comida tipica). Comida tipica is usually meat served with rice, beans, fried plantain and salad. La Fortuna has a plethora of restaurants to choose from. We opted for Red Frog Coffee Roaster. (I chose the vegetarian option, so got vegetables instead of meat).
Where to Stay?
We stated at Hotel Arenal Xilopalo and we loved it. The rooms are clean and spacious and we had a balcony overlooking the volcano. The hotel is set in beautiful grounds; while we were checking in, an iguana and a hummingbird appeared at the tree next to reception.
The staff hoist bananas onto trees around the hotel each morning to attract birds, and you can just sit on your balcony with a cool drink (there’s a bar and a fridge in your room) watching the clouds scurry over the volcano or the birds fighting over bananas.