Costa Rica is well known for its volcanoes and the most famous one is the most active one: Arenal Volcano.
Getting to La Fortuna
You can get to Arenal Volcano by bus they leave hourly from San Jose at the Atlantico Norte station on Calle 12 (12th Street). You want the bus headed to San Carlos. If you’ve rented a car it’s a beautiful drive from San José. And you will pass two excellent side hot spots: Zarcero and San Carlos.
If you’re driving, from San José take the Interamerican Highway towards Puntarenas. Take the Naranjo-Ciudad Quesada exit. Zarcero is about a 90 minute drive from San José. Zarcero is a quaint and beautiful little town nestled up in the mountains, 1,700 meters above sea level. You will find the best cheese in Zarcero so make sure to stop and pick up some queso blanco (white cheese) it’s my favorite cheese. Zarcero is very green with a lot vegetation and farms. A popular stop is a sculpted garden in town. This guy makes beautiful sculptures of gigantic bushes. So you’ll see rabbits, ox carts and more all sculpted from these huge bushes.
I recommend you eat at Doña Chila’s, they serve typical Costa Rican food and it delicious! It’s located right before you reach Zarcero. Here you will also see a lot of vendors selling fruits and cheeses from their little stands-don’t forget to buy some queso blanco.
Now head out of Zarcero towards San Carlos. Ciudiad Quesada is the commercial center in the San Carlos plain in the central Alajuela province. This is the hub of the Northern Zone. Depending on how much time you have they there is a nice Forrest reserve called Termales del Bosque. Admission is $8. Nice hiking and they have thermal pools which are fantastic hot spring pools. From Ciudiad Quesada you will see signs to La Fortuna and Volcano Aerenal. Just follow the signs. Total drive time from San Jose is about 3-1/2 hours.
Arenal Volvano, La Fortuna Travel Tips
Volcan Arenal has been active since 1968. It has a perfectly shaped cone that pops out of the hills of Alajuela. You can hear loud explosions and gray mushroom clouds billowing out of the volcano top. You can also see boulders being ejected by the volcano and being slammed down the slopes. At night you can see a good lava show. Now this doesn’t happened every time and a lot of times there is heavy fogs and clouds blocking your visibility. So, sometimes you can’t even see the volcano so I would call one of the hotels in the area and ask about the visibility.
Be aware there is a chance you won’t see anything because of the clouds. The chances are even worse during the rainy season. So even though even during the dry season the clouds can still block your view-it’s your best chance to see the lava flows and the red hot boulders being ejected. I’ve been there many times and only twice did I get the big show. But going to La Fortuna is still worth it even if your chances of seeing a lava show is 50/50.
In order to maximize your chances stay at one of the “observatory” lodges which were built to give you a the best views of the volcano. Late at night or in the early dawn hours is your best bet to catch a lava show.
By the observatory lodge there are many hiking trails in this area. From the ranger station at the park entrance you can choose two trails one leads to a You can hike the Chato volcano which is extinct. It has collapsed onto itself and now has a lake in the crater surrounded by a forrest. You can access it by a hiking trail near the Arenalmirador (obeservatory) where you can watch flowing lava. There is a beautiful waterfall where you can go swimming, called Catarata La Fortuna which is Spanish for La Fortuna Waterfall.
Other activities include horseback riding and canopy tours. The thermal pools are the best. These are hot springs. The Tabacon lodge is a great spot to go relax in the hot spring thermal waters. You can get a day pass to hit their pools which are built around the thermal waters. So you’re swimming in these naturally warm waters from the volcano. You can also get a view of the volcano cone from here. They have five natural mineral pools at different temperatures one with a swim up bar, a water slide, and a waterfall. They also have a Tico food restaurant and a couple bars. Cost is around $30 for a day pass.
The Cataratas Rio Fortuna are a must see. It’s a beautiful waterfall set in the rain-forest near the edge of the Arenal Volcano National Park. It’s $1.50 to enter. You have to hike down a canyon which can be challenging but the reward is views of the beautiful waterfall and taking a dip in the natural pool. Average temperature in this area is 75 degree Fahrenheit.
Another nice spot in this area is Lake Arenal which is a large reservoir man-made lake at the foot of the volcano along the hills of Guancaste. Many people enjoy boating and fishing on the lake. Windsurfing is very popular here-you can rent windsurfing equipment if you wish.
Underneath the lake is old Arenal a town that was submerged in the 1970’s after it was destroyed by a volcano eruption in the 1960’s. The worse recent eruption was in 1968. Two villages were destroyed and over 80 people died. There has been some recent activity the past few years but nothing like 1968. Prior to 1968 the volcano had been dormant for 400 years.
The area of La Fortuna is one of my favorite attractions in Costa Rica.