Arenal Travel Guide

Arenal and rainforests in Costa Rica
One of Costa Rica’s most popular tourist attractions is Arenal, one of the ten most active volcanoes in the world. There’s beautiful hiking in the area, geothermal springs, a gorgeous lake, and the popular La Fortuna waterfall. Most of the activities in this region center around the national park with bird watching tours and trekking. Most visitors to the Arenal Volcano National Park stay in nearby La Fortuna as accommodation is cheaper than the hotels at the foot of the volcano. Since this area is so popular, prices tend to be higher here than elsewhere in the country but you can still find good deals around.

Typical Costs

  • Hostel prices – Accommodation is expensive here because of all the tourists. Expect to pay around $10 USD for a dorm room and $30-40 USD for a private room.
  • Budget hotel prices – Rooms at budget hotels begin around $30 USD for a private room with a bathroom in the town of La Fortuna, and start around $40 USD near the park.
  • Average cost of food – Main courses in budget restaurants will cost $6 USD on average, while soda restaurants (cheap local food) starts around $3 USD. The cheapest food is in the main town of La Fortuna.
  • Transportation costs – The public bus from San José takes 3.5 hours and costs $3.75 USD. The bus from La Fortuna costs around $1.50 USD with a taxi coming in at $4 USD.

Money Saving Tips

  • Travel off-season – Late April-November is considered the rainy season, and as a result, prices tend to be less expensive and the region less crowded.
  • Eat at the sodas - These are small, family-run restaurants that specialize in inexpensive meals, usually costing around $2 USD, and that includes a drink. They offer the best value in the area.
  • Avoid tour activities – There are a lot of great but expensive group activities and tours in the area. Skip them, and do the free activities such as hiking the park, La Fortuna waterfall, and a few of the hot springs.

Top Things to See and Do in Arenal

  • Arenal National Park – Chances are if you’re thinking of heading to Arenal, it’s because of the volcano. This is a great national park with amazing trails, lots of wildlife to see, and a great view of the sunset from the rocks overlooking the lake. At night, if the weather was good, you used to be able to see lava drip down the sides, but that stopped in 2010. Now you can sometimes see smoke, but that’s about it. Just don’t be like me and get lost in the jungle around the volcano!
  • Hot springs – Spend an evening lounging in one of the hot springs at the base of the volcano for some amazing relaxation after a long day of hiking. There are a lot of hot springs in the area ranging in price and quality from cheap to luxurious.
  • Bungee jumping – Not for the fainthearted, bungee jumping is sure to set your pulse racing. Aside from the usual crazy jumping, you can do water touchdowns, catapulting and harness swinging, all with terrific views of Arenal in the distance.
  • ATV Riding – Explore the beauty through the back roads and hidden trails that are only accessible via an ATV. These trips usually last about three hours and allow you to take in a few waterfalls too.
  • Fiestas del la Fortuna – This festival takes place in nearby La Fortuna every February and includes bullfights (Costa Ricans don’t harm the bulls after a bull fight, so don’t feel bad about going), craft fairs, horse shows, live music, discos and lots of local food.
  • Hanging bridges – Get incredibly close to the crater of the volcano by taking a tour via the hanging bridges. You can see what life is like up in the canopy by taking in the sights and sounds of the rainforest.
  • Bird watching – The early morning bird watching tour will have you up at 5 am, ready to catch site of the rainforest’s winged inhabitants before the crowds descend in the national park. Chances are you’ll see toucans, parrots, woodpeckers, and parakeets.
  • Safari float trip – You can travel down the Penas Blancas River where you’ll have the opportunity to observe various species of bird, crocodiles, sloths, iguanas, and tortoises. The trip is fairly leisurely and takes half a day.
  • Caving – There are very good cave systems near by the area that provide excellent opportunities to get underground. One of my favorite activities here is putting on a headlamp and heading below ground to explore caves and underground rivers. The spaces are small, so if you’re claustrophobic, this isn’t for you.
  • Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge – Consider taking a boat tour to the Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge. Day tours here take people wildlife watching, swimming, and rafting. You’ll get up early in the morning, and come back late at night so you get good value for your money.
  • Ride a horse – Half day horseback rides cost around $65 USD. The routes may differ depending on which ranch you book with, but it’s typical to ride through a river and toward La Fortuna waterfall. Bring or wear a bathing suit as you may get wet!
  • Admire La Fortuna Waterfall – What better way to end a hike than with a visit (and maybe a dip) to a waterfall? Make sure you have sturdy footwear as the descent to the fall requires a walk down a steep, long staircase, but the reward is a gorgeous sight, and the opportunity to refresh yourself in the cold water.