One of Costa Rica’s most popular tourist destinations is the area of Arenal. There’s good reason so many people visit here. There’s beautiful hiking here, geothermal springs, a gorgeous lake to view sunset from, caves to explore, and the popular La Fortuna waterfall.
Since this area of Costa Rica is so popular, prices tend to be higher here than elsewhere in the country but you can still find good deals around. Most visitors stay in nearby La Fortuna as accommodation is cheaper than at the foot of the volcano.
Despite all the crowds, I still am a big fan of the region. Some of the best hiking in the country is here and I could spend hours at the waterfall.
This travel guide to Arenal will give you the low down on everything you need to know to plan your visit!
Table of Contents
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Arenal
1. Visit Arenal National Park
2. Enjoy the hot springs
3. Visit Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge
4. Go bird watching
5. Admire La Fortuna Waterfall
Other Things to See and Do in Arenal
1. See the hanging bridges
You can get an incredible bird’s eye view of the jungle via the hanging bridges. While you’re up there in the canopy, you can really get a sense of all the biodiversity in the area! Prices begin around 15,217 CRC ($26 USD) for entry, but guided tours (with the entry fee included) start from 23,400 CRC ($40 USD).
2. Go ATV riding
Explore Arenal through the back roads and hidden trails around the volcano that are only accessible via an ATV. Trips usually last about three hours and allow you see a few waterfalls along the way. Prices start around 98,327 CRC ($168 USD) for a four-hour tour from a company like Original Arenal ATV or Power-Wheels Adventures.
3. Float down the Peñas Blancas River
You can take a leisurely rafting trip down the Peñas Blancas River and deep into the jungle, where you’ll have the opportunity to observe monkeys, caimans, crocodiles, sloths, iguanas, and tortoises. The trip is fairly leisurely and takes half a day, with prices starting from about 35,117 CRC ($60 USD).
4. Go caving
The Venado Cave is one of the most extensive cave systems in the country, stretching for nearly 2,000 meters. You’ll crawl through tight spaces and shimmy through narrow rooms showcasing interesting rock formations and even fossils. Tours start from 50,919 CAD ($87 USD).
5. Attend Fiestas del la Fortuna
This festival takes place in the town of La Fortuna every February and includes two full weeks of craft fairs, horse shows, live music, discos, carnival rides, and lots of greasy local carnival food.
Arenal Travel Costs
Hostel prices – During peak season, a dorm bed will cost about 11,705 CRC ($20 USD) per night. Off-season, prices tend to be between 5,852-8,780 CRC ($10-15 USD) per night.
A basic twin private room costs about 26,337 CRC ($45 USD) per night in peak season. In the off-season, prices are closer 21,070 CRC ($36 USD).
If you’re camping, a tent site starts from 3,510 CRC ($6 USD) per person at Essence Arenal.
Budget hotel prices – Nightly rates for a budget two or three-star hotel room with a private ensuite bathroom start at about 46,826 CRC ($80 USD) in peak season. In the off-season, budget rooms start from 35,117 CRC ($60 USD).
There are lots of Airbnb options around Arenal. A shared room (like a bed in a dorm) averages about 9,365 CRC ($16 USD) per night, while a private room is about 36,873 CRC ($63 USD) per night. A full apartment averages about 52,090 CRC ($89 USD) per night.
Average cost of food – You can eat cheaply here if you stick to street stalls selling foods like pupusas, corn on the cob, and pinchos (meat on a stick). These things are like 1,755 CRC ($3 USD). Tacos are about 1,170 CRC ($2 USD) apiece. Other traditional meals like casado (rice, beans, veggies, and meat) cost about 3,000 CRC ($5.15 USD). You can get burgers for less than 4,250 CRC ($7.25 USD). Beer will be about 2,000 CRC ($3.40 USD).
Higher-end restaurants will have entrees like a fish filet starting from 12,100 CRC ($21 USD), while a Costa Rican seafood stew is from 10,900 CRC ($19 USD). There’s a lot of restaurants that cater to foreign tourists and you’ll them about double the price of smaller “local” restaurants.
If you cook for yourself, you can spend as little as 15,000-20,000 CRC ($25-35 USD) on groceries per week, which would include some meat, bread, eggs, cheese, some veggies, and fruit.
Backpacking Arenal Suggested Budgets
If you’re backpacking Costa Rica, expect to spend about 38,043 CRC ($65 USD) per day when you’re in the area. This budget will cover a hostel dorm, public buses, street food and cheap local eats, and free activities (like the free hot springs). If you’re traveling during the shoulder season, you can reduce this budget by about 5,852 CRC ($10 USD) per day.
A mid-range budget of about 84,866 CRC ($145 USD) will cover staying in a private room, eating out for all of your meals, some tours, a bike or car rental, and some drinks. During the shoulder season, you can budget for about 67,276 CRC ($115 USD) each day.
On a luxury budget of about 231,186 CRC ($395 USD) or more per day, you can get a nice four-star hotel and anything else you want here. The sky is the limit. If you come in the low season, you’ll pay about 50% less for accommodations.
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages – some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less (you might spend less every day). We just want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in USD.
Arenal Travel Guide: Money Saving Tips
It’s easy to spend a lot of money here. As one of the most visited areas, prices tend to be higher than in most areas. And tours and hot springs can really add up if you’re not careful. Here are some suggested ways to save money in Arenal:
- Travel off-season – Late April-November is considered the rainy season, and as a result, prices are a lot cheaper (and a lot less crowded).
- 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, the La Fortuna waterfall, and a few of the hot springs.
- Eat at the sodas – “Sodas” are small family run restaurants which specialize in inexpensive local meals, usually costing around 2,926 CRC ($5 USD) including a drink. These hole-in-the-wall restaurants offer the best value in the country.
- Go camping – Most of the resorts and hostels in many places will let you camp. If you don’t have your own tent, you can rent them too. This is the best way to keep your accommodation costs down.
- Pack a water bottle – A water bottle with a purifier will help you save money and thousands of plastic bottles by purifying the tap water for you. My preferred bottle is LifeStraw ($49.99).
Where To Stay in Arenal
Arenal has no shortage of hostels and budget accommodations. Here are some of my suggested places to stay in the area:
How to Get Around Arenal
Bus – There is a bus that travels daily between La Fortuna and the national park, although it’s rarely on time and it’s pretty inconvenient for sightseeing. Buses leave twice daily from La Fortuna bus station at 8AM and 2PM. Tickets are about 2,926 CRC ($5 USD).
There’s also a more reliable Arenal Shuttle Pass (lachozainnhostel.com/arenal-shuttle-pass) that will take you to many of Arenal’s key attractions. It costs 8,775 CRC ($15 USD) for unlimited travel throughout your entire stay. Whether you’re staying for one day or five, the price remains the same.
Car Rental – You can get a rental for as low as 11,705 CRC ($20 USD) per day. The roads aren’t that great though but they are driveable. Just lots of potholes.
Bicycle – Many of the hotels and hostels around Arenal have bicycle rentals. You can often find a rental for about 11,705 CRC ($20 USD) per day.
Taxi – There’s a lot of taxis here and they are one of the best ways to get around but they aren’t cheap. A taxi from La Fortuna to Arenal Volcano National Park is about 14,632 CRC ($25 USD), while it’s 9,364 CRC ($16 USD) for the hot springs. You can arrange a pick up time to take you back to town too.
When to Go to Arenal
The dry season takes place from mid-December to April. Although it’s peak season and tourism is at its highest, there’s almost non-stop sunshine and temperatures are always pleasant. If you want real hot weather, come between February and April for average highs being around 97°F (36°C)
The rainy season is from May to November, and this is when it’s cheapest to visit the area. It doesn’t rain all the time, and the days are still usually pretty sunny. However, if you plan to do a lot of hiking and outdoor adventuring around Arenal, the rainfall may prevent you from doing it all. The rain tends to lighten during June and July, bringing new life to the rainforests.
The shoulder season around from September to the end of October is an excellent time to come for cooler temperatures and consistently nice weather. Plus you’ll avoid the crowds of travelers.
How to Stay Safe in Arenal
While Costa Rica is one of the safest countries for traveling and backpacking in Central America, you’ll still need to exercise some level of caution.
Petty theft (including bag snatching) is one of the most common types of crime here. There are some common scams around, especially the taxi cab scam where a driver tells you the meter is broken once the drive has already begun.
Worried about travel scams? Read about these 14 major travel scams to avoid.
For more in-depth coverage of how to stay safe in Costa Rica, check out this post we wrote that answers some frequently asked questions and concerns.
Remember: always trust your gut instinct. Avoid isolated areas at night, and be aware of your surroundings at all times. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID.
As for the volcano, you don’t have to worry too much about it erupting and ruining your trip. Although it’s active, scientists have no current warnings issued about any dangers.
And be sure to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past.
Arenal Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel to Costa Rica. They are included here because they consistently find deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the ones I use the most and are always the starting points in my search for travel deals.
- Momondo – This is my favorite booking site. I never book a flight without checking here first.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is another great flight search engline which searches a lot of different airlines, including many of the budget carriers that larger sites miss. While I always start with Momondo, I use this site too as a way to compare prices.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments. (If you’re new to Airbnb, get $35 off your first stay!)
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Couchsurfing – This website allows you to stay on people’s couches or spare rooms for free. It’s a great way to save money while meeting locals who can tell you the ins and outs of their city. The site also lists events you can attend to meet people (even if you’re not staying with someone).
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have a no money down policy, great interface, and the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all bookers.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around Costa Rica, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get exclusive discounts when you click the link!
- STA Travel – A good company for those under 30 or for students, STA Travel offers discounted airfare as well as travel passes that help you save on attractions.
- Rome 2 Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B the best and cheapest way possible. It will give you all the bus, train, plane, or boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost.
Arenal Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading to Arenal, here are my suggestions for the best travel backpack and tips on what to pack for your trip.
The Best Backpack for Arenal
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Arenal
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Arenal Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
Monkeys Are Made of Chocolate: Exotic and Unseen Costa Rica, by Jack Ewing
This book gives a fascinating overview of how animals, plants, and people interact with one another in Costa Rica’s rainforests. It’s written by Jack Ewing, a naturalist and natural born storyteller. Here, he shares a treasure trove of observations and stories gathered for more than 30 years of living in the country. Chances are, you’re coming to Costa Rica to discover some of the country’s amazing ecosystems. This book will get you excited about it.
In Search of Captain Zero: A Surfer’s Road Trip Beyond the End of the Road, by Allan Weisbecker
In 1996, Allan Weisbecker sold all his worldly possessions and set out in search of his long-time surfing friend, Patrick, who had went missing somewhere in Central America. Traveling with only his dog, his surfboards, and his truck, Allan’s journey from Mexico to Costa Rica is a memorable one, filled with scarier moments (like evading bandits) and warmer ones (like befriending the locals). It’s really the tale of ultimate friendship.
Happier Than a Billionaire: Quitting My Job, Moving to Costa Rica, and Living the Zero Hour Work Week, by Nadine Hays Pisani
It’s the classic travel tale – overworked professional realizes that the 9-5 to grind isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and sets out to seek greener pastures. This witty tale comes from Nadine Pisani, who shares her story of quitting her job to forge a new life in sunny Costa Rica. This is a nice, light read for when you’re just flaking out on the beach or by the pool. But along the way you’ll learn why Costa Rica is one of the happiest places on earth.
My Must Have Guides for Traveling to Arenal
This book shows you how to easily collect and redeem travel points so you can get free airfare and accommodation.
Kristin Addis writes our solo female travel column and her detailed guide gives specific advice and tips for women travelers.
This book features interviews with dozens of teachers and detailed information on how to land your dream job and make money overseas.
My best-selling book will teach how to master the art of travel so that you’ll save money and have a more local, richer travel experience.
Arenal Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on Costa Rica travel and continue planning your trip: