La Fortuna de San Carlos, Alajuela

What to Expect from Costa Rica’s Most Popular Vacation Destination

La Fortuna, officially known as La Fortuna de San Carlos, is a must-see attraction for anyone who wants to really experience Costa Rica!

The town’s notoriety comes from its close proximity to one of the most active volcanoes in all of Costa Rica, this being the unique landmark and natural wonder that is the Arenal Volcano.

Located in the Alajuela province, not far from the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve and the northern lowlands in the Santa Elena area, La Fortuna has attracted visitors from all around the world for decades to see its crown jewel. The Arenal Volcano is just 10 kilometers outside of town, so you can expect a breathtaking volcano view without wandering too far away from your hotel.

While the volcano is still considered active, you don’t have to worry about an eruption ruining your travel plans. There haven’t been any for over a decade, and the Arenal Volcano is closely monitored for signs of activity.

In addition to the volcano, get the most of your trip by exploring the town of La Fortuna. Make sure to pay a visit to the day spas, which are fed by the area’s natural hot springs, making them the perfect place to rest your muscles after hiking to the perfect photo op spot.

Due to the remote location of La Fortuna de San Carlos, Alajuela, the ride from the San Jose International Airport to La Fortuna is a not too long 114 km (71 mile) journey, typically lasting for about three hours. Make sure to come prepared with snacks and entertainment for the ride up, and consider using a shuttle service so you can spend your time looking out the window rather than focusing on the roads.

If you want to see the best of La Fortuna de San Carlos, you’ll want to wake up bright and early to maximize your time. To avoid a long, time-wasting drive, book your stay at a nearby hotel, such as the Volcano Lodge and Springs, which is a perfect spot for solo vacationers with its own outdoor pool.

Alternatively, stay at another of our favorites Arenal Volcano Inn. Most of the rooms have views of the volcano so be sure to bring your binoculars! The restaurant at Arenal Volcano Inn, called Que Rico also has amazing views of the volcano.

Amazing Things to Do in La Fortuna Costa Rica

When you visit this quaint paradise, you’ll definitely want to see the volcano, but don’t forget about the other attractions in La Fortuna Costa Rica which are sure to impress!

From day spas to hiking trails and everything in between, visitors of all kinds can plan a fun-filled vacation.

Eastern Side of Arenal Volcano
Eastern Side of Arenal Volcano

Arenal Volcano

The Arenal Volcano, often shortened to just Arenal, is truly a sight to behold. At over 1,600 meters high at the peak, it looms in the distance and can be seen from just about anywhere in La Fortuna with a clear view of the sky and the Arenal lake.

Though the volcano isn’t considered dangerous today, this wasn’t always the case. One eruption, which occurred in 1968, was especially explosive and deadly, but the most recent eruption in 2010 wasn’t nearly as alarming.

Its near-continuous activity has resulted in the formation of a lava dome around the top of the volcano. Over time, the chimney from which lava would normally escape has become plugged up by volcanic matter, reducing activity.

Arenal is now considered the fifth most active volcano in Costa Rica, behind Poás Volcano, Rincón de la Vieja Volcano, Turrialba Volcano and Irazú Volcano.

Best Spas in Costa Rica

Anyone looking for a luxurious retreat in a remote paradise will find plenty to love in La Fortuna, given its reputation for having some of the best spas in the country.

There are an abundance of natural hot springs in the area, which have inspired the creation of notable springs resort destinations, especially around the main plaza in downtown La Fortuna.

One spot you’ll absolutely want to check out is the Tabacón Resort and Spa.

This spa features its own hot spring nestled among beautiful natural views to provide the best possible atmosphere. Tabacón is set amidst stunning lush greenery, rare orchids and superb waterfalls. Listen to the rushing water as you’re pampered to your heart’s content, making for a truly relaxing experience.

Other spas in the area include the Baldi Hot Springs and The Springs Resort, which are just as incredible. No matter where you book your massage and hot springs treatment, you’re sure to enjoy a Costa Rican getaway unlike any other.

In the middle of class IV rapids on the Rio Toro
In the middle of class IV rapids on the Rio Toro

Get Active

While a little pampering is nice, some people may prefer a more active vacation with opportunities for play and exercise. Luckily, La Fortuna has this to offer travelers as well!

For more outdoorsy visitors, there are a number of hiking trails that allow you to fully immerse yourself in the unique flora and fauna of La Fortuna Costa Rica. Try a volcano hike through the national park, go horseback riding through the forest, or make your way to the beautiful La Fortuna Waterfall and take a dip in the river. You can even go canyoning, rappelling down the waterfall with a professional Pure Trek Canyoning guide.

If you wake up early and take a walk around town, you’re certain to spot a few toucans, which are commonly found all throughout La Fortuna. These gorgeous birds make for a striking site, so you’ll want to have your camera or binoculars at the ready.

Don’t forget to make the most of La Fortuna’s location to the Río Balsa, especially since the tropical waters are so warm. Popular activities at the nearby Balsa river include kayaking, whitewater rafting with Wave Expeditions, canoeing, and fishing.

You can also take a Caño Negro Boat Tour if you want to learn a little more about the area’s gorgeous natural features and its history, or make use of the swimming pool at your hotel.

Cacao grinding before sugar added
Cacao grinding before sugar added

Rainforest Chocolate Tour

Anyone with a sweet tooth will feel right at home on the Rainforest Chocolate Tour.

This guided tour will teach you all about the cacao tree which makes local chocolate production not only possible but also a booming Costa Rican industry.

On the tour, a guide will provide you with information about the history of the cacao tree’s usage in La Fortuna. You’ll get to tour a real chocolate factory and even help out with production in a hands-on demonstration.

There are opportunities for purchasing locally-made chocolate at the end of the tour as well, so you can bring a sweet souvenir back with you.

Doing the superman on a canopy tour / zip line near Arenal Volcano
Doing the superman on a canopy tour / zip line near Arenal Volcano

The Perfect Getaway for All Sorts of People

La Fortuna is an ideal vacation spot for various different travelers. In particular, it’s well suited to those looking to unwind and get in touch with nature, who will find plenty to do here to suit their tastes.

Spa Lovers

La Fortuna is nothing short of a spa lover’s paradise, and it’s not hard to see why!

The resorts and hot springs here are some of the best in all of Costa Rica, so if your main goal on vacation is to unwind and destress, this should be one of your top vacation destinations.

Many spas offer treatments specially catered toward couples, which makes La Fortuna a popular spot with newlyweds and honeymooners. Combine the romantic atmosphere of the area’s natural beauty with an incredible spa day for the perfect recipe for joint relaxation.

Checking out Arenal Volcano from a hanging bridge
Checking out Arenal Volcano from a hanging bridge

Nature Enthusiasts

If you’ve ever found yourself thinking you’d like to get back to nature, now is your chance.

La Fortuna offers a breathtaking selection of Costa Rica’s finest flora and fauna, especially for those willing to seek it out on national park hikes and kayaking trips.

From the beautiful natural landscape to the majestic Arenal Volcano to the abundance of wildlife, it’s easy to immerse yourself in nature and take a breather from the daily grind of more urban areas.

In the middle of class IV rapids on the Rio Toro
In the middle of class IV rapids on the Rio Toro

Adventure Seekers

La Fortuna de San Carlos is a great destination for those that like to be active while on vacation.

Hiking up the Arenal Volcano, horseback riding, swimming, canyoning, whitewater rafting and rappelling are all possibilities in the area.

A day trip to La Fortuna Waterfall is another great idea we highly recommend! If you have 2 or 3 hours, take a taxi to the waterfall. There is a look out at the top where you can get great pictures and then a steep trail to the waterfall itself.

Swimming in the river next to the beautiful waterfall is permitted but don't get too close swimming to the waterfall for your safety. Also, be especially careful when swimming with kids so everyone has a great time and stays safe.

La Fortuna Church & Arenal Volcano
La Fortuna Church & Arenal Volcano

La Fortuna’s History

La Fortuna has a storied history that dates back to some of the earliest settler colonies in Costa Rica, and in many ways, this history is still echoed in the town today.

The Founding of La Fortuna

La Fortuna was largely an undeveloped stretch of land for many centuries.

It wasn’t settled until the 1930s, and at the time the La Fortuna area was known as El Burío. It quickly attracted additional settlers thanks to the fertile lands fed by volcanic soil, which later inspired the name La Fortuna, which means “the fortune.”

In the early days, most of the town’s development came from agriculture. Settlers kept their farms and utilized natural resources, like cacao trees, to sustain the local economy. The community was fairly small and insular, but this would later change following a significant eruption that shaped not only the land but the future of La Fortuna.

Time Delay photo of Arenal Volcano Erupting
Time Delay photo of Arenal Volcano Erupting

Eruption and Shift Into Tourism

The most significant eruption of the Arenal Volcano occurred in 1968.

This eruption was so severe that damage from the lava spread many miles to the west. However, even in the resulting chaos, La Fortuna’s early settlements were spared, meaning the town was one of the few in the area that had not suffered significant destruction or casualties.

With the eruption of Arenal came a similar eruption of activity and a rapidly developing tourism scene. Visitors would travel from many miles away to see the volcano and its national park, and to enjoy the hot springs, much like they still do today.

La Fortuna continued to develop thanks to its now-bustling tourism industry, which remains the focal point of the local economy to this day.

Enjoy Your Vacation With These Tips

To ensure your vacation is as perfect as it can possibly be, check out these useful tips and tricks for navigating the area and your vacation to La Fortuna de San Carlos.

Delicious Pomodoro pasta at Que Rico Restaurant
Delicious Pomodoro pasta at Que Rico Restaurant

Try Local Cuisine

La Fortuna has plenty of unique restaurants where you can enjoy a delicious meal.

The Que Rico Restaurant at Arenal Volcano Inn is well-known for its wood fired pizza, but be sure to try a variety of local spots so you can get a full taste of authentic Costa Rican food.

Explore the Surrounding Area

If you’re planning a longer vacation, make La Fortuna just one stop on your tour of Costa Rica. Head to the cloud forests in Monteverde, and spend a few afternoons soaking up the sun on the shores of Manuel Antonio.

Costa Rica Cloud Forest & Arenal Volcano Tour
6 Days / 5 Nights
Starting at $778 per person
Costa Rica Eco-Adventure Tour
12 Days / 11 Nights or 10 Days / 9 Nights
Starting at $2,352 per person
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Distance: 109 miles / 175 km
Drive Time: 2 hr 18 min
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