On first appearances, the small Costa Rican town of La Fortuna doesn’t look like much, but it certainly packs a punch in the outdoor adventure stakes.
Volcano hikes, swimming in a volcanic crater, canyoning, waterfall rappelling, mountain biking, stand up paddle boarding, kayaking and whitewater rafting are among the activities on offer from La Fortuna.
Located about a three hour drive from the Costa Rican capital of San Jose, La Fortuna is dominated by the dormant Arenal Volcano and is blessed with natural attractions due to the fertile geothermal land.
I visited La Fortuna on a tour and all activities were undertaken through the first rate Desafio Adventures.
The guides from Desafio Adventures were extremely friendly, professional, patient and knowledgeable and I highly recommend the company if you’re visiting La Fortuna.
My favourite activity in La Fortuna was waterfall jumping and rappelling at Gravity Falls.
Gravity Falls is located about a 40 minute drive from La Fortuna. First you head out for about 20 minutes before a stop to gear up – which includes a harness, lifejacket and helmet. Then it’s a bumpy but short 4WD drive ride out to Gravity Falls, followed by a 10 minute walk to tackle your first rappel and then make your way through the canyon. This was my first time doing rappelling and I loved it.
“The first rappel is challenging as you get used to the gear and controlling the rappel. But once you get the hang of it, it’s fun to slide down past a waterfall (but more physically demanding than I thought it would be). Then you’re released from the rope for a dip in the waterhole below before joining your rappelling mates for some cliff jumps.”
The Gravity Falls activity takes you through a series of cliff jumps – the first one from several feet up, but gradually the jumps get higher and more challenging. One jump is called the technical jump because you have to jump in the spot indicated by the guide due to rocks either side, but it was easy enough. Another jump puts you into a whirlpool where one of the guides pushes you under a waterfall and you pop out in front of it – it feels like you’re in a washing machine.
Then you climb up a rock face with a small waterfall, while attached to a rope. I found this quite hard, worried I would slip and fall, but we all made it. Then you rappel down the other side.
All up, you’re in the canyon for about two hours. By the end of it, you’re pretty tired and feel you got your money’s worth.
Then you head back to the base where you got your gear to shower, grab some refreshing pineapple or watermelon slices, and a beer.
The Gravity Falls Waterfall Jumping activity was fun, a little bit challenging and I would definitely recommend it. It’s a little on the expensive side though. The cost of the activity was about USD$129.
If you’re looking for a slightly cheaper option, Desafio Adventures also offers the Lost Canyon Adventures Canyoning Activity for USD$102. This activity is similar but with smaller rappels than Gravity Falls and is a good introduction to canyoning.
La Fortuna Waterfall
While on the topic of waterfalls, the 230-foot La Fortuna waterfall can be visited independently if you’re looking for a swim. It’s about 6km from the centre of La Fortuna near the Arenal Volcano, and is perfect for a dip on a hot day. Be warned there’s a few hundred steps down to the waterhole – and what goes down, must come up. Entry to the La Fortuna Waterfall is USD$12, which goes towards conservation efforts in the area. There are toilet facilities and a restaurant at the waterfall. You can take a taxi out there by yourself and expect to pay about USD$20 return or Desafio offers a package for USD$50 which includes entry and transport.
You can also visit the waterfall as part of the hike offered to Cerro Chato – the volcanic crater next to Arenal Volcano. Unfortunately, the Arenal Volcano is off limits to hikers as it’s considered too dangerous, but the next best thing is a volcanic crater you can swim in.
The hike up to the Cerro Chato crater is challenging and takes about four hours return. It’s a very steep uphill climb most of the way on a jungle trail.
The cost of the hike is USD$79 through Desafio Adventures and you have the option to visit the La Fortuna waterfall on the way back from Cerro Chato.
Owing to the volcanic activity in La Fortuna, there are hot springs everywhere. The hot springs in La Fortuna are housed within hotels and resorts – so there’s a fee for entry – expect to pay around about USD$29. One of the most popular spots are the Baldi Hot Springs and tourists can buy a day pass for about USD$35.
But luckily for my group, our tour guide knew where the locals go and there’s a hot river located near the Tabacon Hot Springs. It’s located about a 20 minute drive from the centre of La Fortuna, near Lake Arenal. It looks a bit rough, but it’s free and it’s relaxing.
My group went there at night – and it was very, very dark. Make sure you bring a torch and go with a group. Our group also brought candles to light up the area where we sat.
There’s natural rock pools throughout the hot river which you can sit in and relax – and it gets pretty hot. But be careful, the current is quite strong in some places.
It’s best to bring shoes you aren’t afraid to get wet to navigate through the rocky river – you may struggle in just thongs. There’s nowhere much to put anything so just bring a towel and leave everything else at your hotel.
Lake Arenal Activities
If you’re after another relaxing but fun activity, head out to Lake Arenal for a spot of stand up paddleboarding or kayaking. Lake Arenal has great views of the volcano and surrounding jungle. I did stand up paddleboarding for the first time while in La Fortuna and I really enjoyed it. It wasn’t as hard as I thought to stay up on the board as we cruised past the shores of the lake, hearing the sounds of birds in the jungle and enjoying great views all around us.
A group of seven of us paddleboarded for nearly two hours before heading onto a boat and enjoying some refreshing pineapple while being transported back to the car.
The paddleboarding costs USD$60 and is also offered by Desafio Adventures. The cost includes transport, a guide and snacks. Kayaking is also USD$60. You can also choose to do half stand up paddleboarding and half kayaking during the session if you want to give both a try.
Whitewater rafting is also offered from La Fortuna if you’re looking for an adrenaline rush. The location is about a two and a half hour drive from La Fortuna though, but it’s worth the drive. The whitewater rafting goes for about two hours over a series of rapids. A guide goes on the inflatable boat with you and tells you when to paddle and on what side so you can get the most out of your session.
Prices for whitewater rafting range between USD$71 and USD$90 depending on the level of difficulty.
Things you should know:
- Costa Rica is an expensive country compared to other Central American countries. But don’t let that deter you – the activities are well worth the experience and are lots of fun.
- There are a number of English speaking travellers in Costa Rica so you should get by fine with English but a little Spanish may be helpful in supermarkets and local restaurants.
- It’s not permitted to climb Arenal Volcano due to safety concerns, but the nearby Cerro Chato is a challenging hike up to a volcanic crater if you’re aiming to get near a volcano during your trip to Costa Rica.
- Pack enclosed shoes that you’re not afraid to get wet. You’ll need them for rappelling and canyoning and also the hot river.
- La Fortuna offers activities ranging from relaxing excursions to Lake Arenal to challenging adrenaline filled sessions for the adventurous so you should be able to find activities to suit your tastes and budget.
- US Dollars is mostly accepted across Costa Rica, but it’s handy to have some Costa Rican Cordobas on you.
- While you shouldn’t drink the water in other Central American countries, Costa Rica is more developed and it’s ok to drink the tap water.
Lisa Owen is a pint-sized Australian following her dreams to travel to as many places as she can, and loves to share her photography, travel hacks, hiking adventures, and food discoveries along the way. At last count, she has travelled to more than 40 countries in between working in public relations and discovering hidden gems in Australia's great outdoors.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and are meant as travel inspiration only. They do not reflect the opinions of Cover-More Insurance. You should always read the PDS available from your travel insurance provider to understand the limits, exclusions and conditions of your policy and to ensure any activities you undertake are covered by your policy.