This post was first published in 2016 but has been updated in 2019 with the most recent information Arenal, Costa Rica.
The region of Arenal Costa Rica is one of the top destinations in the country. From 1968 until 1998 Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica, was one of the most active volcanoes in the country. Erupting daily and offering an incredible view of the red lava pouring over the sides of its crater. The red lava days are now gone, and the volcano was officially declared dormant in December 2010.
Despite the lack of volcanic activities, tourists are still keen to visit Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica. The sleepy town of La Fortuna, Costa Rica serves as the gateway to Arenal and plays host to numerous accommodation options, restaurants, and activities in the area.
Check out our Vlog on Exploring Arenal Costa Rica:
How to Get to Arenal Volcano Costa Rica
Rent a Car
Arenal Volcano is located about 80 km Northwest of San Jose in the province of Alajuela. The easiest way to get to Arenal is by driving. If you are coming from San Jose, it should take you no more than 3-4 hours to get to La Fortuna.
Use Local Transport
We would recommend the greener alternative of taking local buses. They are hassle-free, comfortable, and well-connected. Without the trouble that driving yourself can present, we think this is the best way to see Arenal Volcano.
If you are taking the bus, there are a number of direct buses from San Jose leaving at 6:15a.m, 8:40 a.m and 11:30 a.m most days. As well as a number of later busses connecting through Ciudad Quesada.
The Bus Schedule is a great resource for checking up to date bus schedules for destinations nationwide. However, tickets cannot be bought online and should be bought in person upon boarding the bus.
Jump on a Shuttle Bus
A number of shuttle buses also operate along the San Jose-Arenal route, Liberia – Arenal route, and Tamarindo -Arenal route with one-way ticket costs starting at $54/person.
Arrive by Air
If you want to save time on transportation, consider flying. If booked ahead of time, a one-way domestic flight with local airlines Sansa can be as cheap at $50-60 USD/person.
Sansa airlines have direct flights to La Fortuna most Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. The flight is a short 30 minutes.
Best Time to Visit Arenal Volcano
Arenal, Costa Rica is a great destination to visit any time of the year. Dry season (Dec-Mar) is generally the best time to visit Costa Rica, if you want to avoid the rain, however, that’s also the busiest time of the year, so expect higher prices and lots of other tourists.
Afternoon rain showers rolling in at Arenal Volcano
Rainy Season Isn’t So Bad
Don’t be afraid to plan a trip to Arenal, Costa Rica during the rainy season. We visited in later October and loved our stay. It almost always rained in the afternoon, leaving mornings sunny and clear, perfect for a swim in the pool, or a hike in the national park. The clouds parted more than once a day, giving us a chance to admire the cone-shaped volcano in all of its beauty.
Things to do in Arenal and La Fortuna, Costa Rica
While the volcano itself is definitely the main attraction in town, there are lots of other things to occupy yourself with while in the region.
Arenal Volcano National Park, Costa Rica
The national park offers anyone visiting Arenal Volcano a chance to admire the volcano from up close. Even though it’s not possible to hike to the top of the volcano, you can walk along one of the paths and over the lava rocks to a mirador (viewpoint) that, on a clear day, offers a great view of the Arenal region, Costa Rica.
The loop trail is a pleasant 3-4 (1.8-2.4 miles) km walk winding through primary rainforest with plenty of chances to spot wildlife along the way. One of the highlights of the trail is a 200-year old Ceibo tree that greets visitors about halfway along the trail.
Park entry is $15 USD and is open from 8 a.m to 4 p.m daily. Budget 2-3 hours to complete the walk. Or, if you have time for a longer day and want to see a bit more, you can take this tour of Arenal Volcano, La Fortuna Waterfall, and the hot springs.
Rafting on Rio Balsa
Arenal Volcano is conveniently located in close proximity to a couple of Grade 3-4 rivers in Costa Rica, including Rio Balsa and Rio Sarapiqui.
Rafting on Rio Balsa with the crew from Desafio Adventures was one of the highlights of our time in Arenal. It was an exhilarating 2-3 hours ride that offered just enough fun and adrenaline without the accompanying fears.
Desafio Adventures office in La Fortuna
Half-Day Rafting Tour
Desafio’s half-day rafting adventure tour includes all the rafting gear, 2-3 hours of rafting along the Grade 2-3 rapids, and a delicious lunch served at a local finca (farm) following the ride. Or, if you’re up for a bit more excitement, Desafio offers a full-day rafting tour along with grade 3-4 rapids.
The first part of the river adventure was rather full-on, while the second half was more laid back offering a chance to sit back and admire the beautiful natural setting around us.
Rafting packages with Desafio Adventure Company start at $75 USD /person.
Arenal Hot Springs, Costa Rica
Thanks to geothermal activity beneath Arenal, there are 3 large hot springs resorts in La Fortuna, Costa Rica, with admission prices ranging from $34 USD to $105 USD/per day.
Tabacon Resort & Spa is the first and most upscale hot spring resort in La Fortuna. Tabacon offers visitors access to dozens of hot spring pools in a lush Garden of Eden type of setting. Half day passes (entrance and lunch or dinner) start at $70 USD, full day passes with one meal are $85 USD and full day passes with two meals are $105 USD.
If you can afford to splurge, we highly recommend dedicating a whole day to soaking in Tabacon hot springs. It’s a beautiful place that takes time to explore and enjoy thoroughly.
Baldi Springs is the second most popular choice for hot springs in town. The Baldi hot springs are known to attract a younger (more budget-conscious) crowd and offer a more upbeat setting. A daily pass costs only $34 or $57 with lunch or dinner, or $79 with both lunch and dinner.
Eco-Thermales is the third hot springs option available in town. This resort is much smaller in size than Tabacon and Baldi and offers another alternative for a budget-conscious traveler. A day pass costs $40 or $62 with lunch or dinner.
Arenal Lake, Costa Rica
Arenal Lake Costa Rica sits at the base of the Arenal Volcano and offers a number of activities to the curious visitor. Here are a few of our favourites:
- Stand up paddleboarding – You’ll be standing on a broad, sturdy surfboard, using a long paddle to move around surprisingly easily! You’ll start the day at the base of the volcano, and you’ll learn all the basics of paddling and get in a great workout for your core, too.
- Kayaking – For two hours, you’ll kayak all around Lake Arenal, led by a professional guide. You’ll have the best view of the volcano you can get, and you’ll have a unique point of view to appreciate the local wildlife from, especially if you’re a bird-watcher.
- In the windy season (Jan-Mar), windsurfing and kitesurfing – Of the two of them, kitesurfing is probably the better option if you’re a beginner since it tends to be cheaper and a bit more convenient, and the wind is stronger since the kite catches it from higher up. But whether you choose to man your own sailboard or hitch yourself to a kite, you’re in for an exciting day and quite the workout.
But even if you are not interested in taking part in any of the above activities, a drive down to Arenal Lake is still worth making. As the lake offers a unique perspective on the area surrounding Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica and the volcano itself.
La Fortuna Waterfall
Located just 6 km (3.7 miles) outside of La Fortuna town, La Fortuna waterfall offers an easy hike to a great swimming hole at the base of the fall. The trail to the waterfalls runs through a lush tropical forest.
Then emerges some 20 min later at a set of 400 steps leading to the base of the waterfall. Bring a bathing suit and enjoy a refreshing dip in the base of the falls or join others for a picnic on the rocks.
The entrance fee is $15 USD, all proceeds are reinvested into local conservation efforts. Hours are from 8:00 a.m to 5:00 p.m daily.
Cerro Chato Volcano
Cerro Chato volcano is not as well known as its famous brother, Arenal, but it does offer a unique opportunity to hike up to and inside the crater. We didn’t end up doing it ourselves, but the hike is said to steep and sometimes muddy and is thus only recommended to those in good physical condition.
The entrance fee is $15 USD per person.
Tenorio Volcano National Park
A visit to Tenorio Volcano National Park should be reserved for those with a lot of time to spare in the region as getting to Tenorio from Arenal takes 2 hours. Tenorio is a true Costa Rican rainforest renowned for the beautiful aqua coloured Rio Celeste Waterfall.
The entrance fee to the park is $12 USD per person.
Where to Stay in La Fortuna, Costa Rica
Our biggest advice to those visiting Arenal Volcano is to stay outside of La Fortuna town. Yes, it seems counter-intuitive to stay outside of the town that serves as a hub of activities in the region, but having visited the area ourselves we can tell you one big difference between the hotels in town and those outside. THE VIEW!
Many of the hotels just outside the town offer unobstructed views of the volcano. And while you can still luck out with a nice volcano view room in town, they are much rarer.
Arenal Hotels in Costa Rica
We stayed at Arenal Hotel Resort & Spa, a beautiful resort with great views of the volcano, on-site hot springs, 3 restaurants, and a fitness center with rates starting at $150/night.
However, if they are sold out we recommend one of the following Arenal hotels in Costa Rica.
As we mentioned earlier The Tabacon Grand Spa Resort is an excellent place to spend the day at the hot springs but it also a great place to lay your head for the night. They have a wide range of rooms and suites to choose from which start at $310/night as well as some great sustainability practices in place.
Arenal Oasis Eco Lodge & Wildlife Refuge is committed to natural resource conservation and sustainable operating practices. They are situated at the base of the Arenal Volcano. A bungalow nestled in the jungle will set you back $88 USD /night.
Tio Felix Eco Lodge has incredible views of Arenal Volcano and is a short walk to La Fortuna Waterfall. A basic room is $50 USD /night and includes breakfast.
Hotel Las Flores Fortuna offers colourful accommodation with great views of Arenal Volcano just outside of Fortuna. There is an on-site restaurant and rates start at $53 USD/night.
Hotel Rancho Cerro Azul this highly-rated hotel has a beautiful property, and stunning vistas. A double cabin starts at $89 USD/night.
READ NEXT: Best Places To Stay In Costa Rica
Where to Eat in La Fortuna/ Arenal Costa Rica
Most restaurants in the area are located in the town of La Fortuna, so unless you are eating at your hotel be prepared to venture into town. We didn’t try every single restaurant in town during our visit, but below is a list of the restaurants we tried, enjoyed and are happy to recommend to others.
Lava Lounge Bar & Grill – great atmosphere, good drinks, delicious local and international food. Try their ceviche and mango cheesecake.
Life House Organic Restaurant – Plant base farm to fork dishes that cater to those looking for a healthier lunch/dinner option. Try their cucumber juice and mango pico de gallo.
Pollo Fortuneno – budget-friendly grill with the best-grilled chicken and rib dishes.
Kappa Sushi Fortuna – if you are tired of rice and beans, this is a great alternative. Delicious sushi at a very affordable price.
How Much Time do You Need in the Arenal Area, Costa Rica
If you want to get the most of your visit to the Arenal area, Costa Rica, plan to spend at least 5 days in the area. There is no shortage of activities and plenty of ways to relax and enjoy the beautiful natural setting of the Arenal Volcano area.
BEFORE YOU GO: DON’T FORGET TRAVEL INSURANCE
We can’t stress enough the importance of travel insurance, especially in a country like Costa Rica. Whether you just plan to explore the cities, do a little bit of hiking, or go extreme (think surfing, scuba diving, or ever skydiving), being protected on your travels is an irreplaceable peace of mind. We learned about the importance of travel insurance the hard way and now we never travel without coverage.