La Fortuna is a backpackers haven in Costa Rica. It’s central location with access to waterfalls, natural hot springs, trekking, volcán Arenal and lake Arenal makes it a classic stop on every backpackers Costa Rica itinerary. Northwest of the capital San Jose, La Fortuna is a hub for artists and musicians and one of the cheaper towns in Costa Rica to stock up on groceries. What this means for you is that La Fortuna is a great place to meet other travelers and enjoy the other things Costa Rica has to offer besides beaches.
La Fortuna is a cool, mountainous break from the extremely hot beaches of Costa Rica. The weather in La Fortuna stays moderately temperant all year round, ranging from an average of 74-78°F (24-26°C). The hottest month in La Fortuna de San Carlos is April where temperatures can reach 30°C (88°F) and rarely fall below 18°C (65°F) in the evenings. March and February are the next warmest months in La Fortuna.
The coldest months in La Fortuna is from December through to February, but the weather is still beautiful with average temperatures of 28°C (82°F). During the months of September to December there is lots of rain ~ although it’s important to note that La Fortuna has a tropical climate zone with rain all year round. Even during Costa Rica’s dry season, you should plan for rain in La Fortuna. The driest month is March with an average of 84mm of rainfall and La Fortuna's rainiest month is July.
The busiest month in terms of tourism for La Fortuna is January, and then February. During these months prices for accommodation in La Fortuna are at their highest. The least expensive month is September with minimal tourists visiting due to the snow and rain.
The best time to visit La Fortuna is between March and June
La Fortuna is based in the Northern highlands of Costa Rica, around 2.5 hours from Liberia's international airport and 3 hours from San Jose's international airport.
From San José:
You will need to go to 7-10 bus station in San José. The bus company you will use is Venicia de San Carlos. The bus goes directly to La Fortuna and takes about 4 hours. Once at the La Fortuna station, everywhere is walkable.
- Schedule: 5am, 6.15am, 8.40am, 11.50am.
Ok, this is going to sound like quite the difficult trek, but I promise it’s super easy. Yes, you’ll have to take three busses, but the busses all line up, so you just ride one until the end and then get on the next one.
- First you will need to get to Liberia Bus Station in time to take the 8 am bus to Cañas. This is the only bus you can take because all of the other busses line up with the arrival time of this specific bus. Ride this bus until the end.
- When you arrive in Cañas, take the 10.40 am bus to Tilarán. Ride this bus to the end.
- When you arrive in Tilarán, take the 12.15 pm bus to La Fortuna. You will arrive around 2.30pm.
There are multiple busses from Cañas to Tilarán and from Tilarán to La Fortuna but this is the best itinerary coming from Liberia.
- Itinerary: 8 am: Liberia -> Cañas ; 10.40am: Cañas -> Tilarán ; 12.15pm: Tilarán -> La Fortuna
Once in La Fortuna almost everything is walkable, however there are also taxis around for your needs. I would say the most frequent taxi ride is to the free hot springs by Volcan Arenal for those who don’t want to walk the 45 minute uphill walk.
La Fortuna waterfall:
Head to this beautiful waterfall in La Fortuna de San Carlos and have one of those ‘is this real?’ moments. It’s a really spectacular waterfall and you can swim in it. Bring a picnic and make a day of it!
- Cost: 8000₡ (€12.25 / $15 USD) for the entrance fee, but it is totally worth it.
Free hot springs:
Take a taxi from town up to the foothills of Volcan Arenal and enjoy the free hot springs with temperatures between 28-40°C (83-104°F). Or for bonus points, rent a bike and bike all along the volcano to get to the hot springs then relax after all your hard work! Naturally heated by the volcano’s thermal energy, this is an experience like no other.
- Cost: FREE!
Spend the day drinking beers by down stream from the La Fortuna waterfall, at the popular watering hole of El Salto Costa Rica, a popular hangout with the locals. Spend the day jumping off rocks and getting some rope swinging in ~ known locally as the Tarzan swing! This is one of La Fortuna's most loved spots by backpackers.
You can reach the El Salto Costa Rica by taxi (3 minutes from outside of downtown La Fortuna), walking or biking ~ although please note there is no sidewalk on the road, so please be extra careful if you choose to walk/bike there. The taxi will drop you off on the side of the road by a bridge. You will then you will need to climb down on the left side of the bridge towards the water (this takes 30 seconds!) Once at the base of El Salto Costa Rica, you will see the beautiful swimming hole. The location is hard to explain without a map, so please click here to be taken to Google Maps. but it’s a popular spot with backpackers and locals ~ every hostel will be able to tell you where it is.
Volcan Arenal is one of Costa Ricas most mesmerising volcanos reaching the heady heights of over 1600m (5,300ft). If you are there on a clear day, the sight of this impressive volcano is mindblowing! The Volcan Arenal National Park is huge (29,600 acres) with great hiking trails, and whilst you cannot climb the Volcan Arenal, you can hike an extinct volcano next to it, Cerro Chato which you can do in half a day, walking 6km round trip (3,742ft / 1141m). Don't forget to check out the Arenal Observatory which offers incredible views over the park and Arenal volcano.
- Getting to the Volcan Arenal National Park: Unfortunately there is no bus that takes you directly to the park entrance. A taxi from La Fortuna de San Carlos costs around $20 (€18) one way, or book with a tour where transportation will be included.
- Cost: $15 (€13) for an adult ticket (foreigners)
- Opening times: The park is open from 8am-4pm every day.
Check out the fantastic blog post by mytanfeet for more information on the different trails.
Hostel Backpackers La Fortuna is great option in the center of town close to bus station, restaurants, and activities.
Hostel Backpackers La Fortuna has a mix of private rooms and dormitories, with female only dorm options available. Located 200 yards from a bus stop and close to La Fortuna park, it is perfectly positioned for exploring La Fortuna de San Carlos. All of Hostel Backpackers La Fortuna rooms have air conditioning and really good bathroom facilities. There is a fully equipped kitchen for guests to use, a nice swimming pool, a bar and a lounge area with a beautiful garden and lots of hammocks.
La Fortuna backpackers hostel also offer activities like cycling, hiking, fishing and windsurfing ~ the staff are friendly and helpful, so feel free to ask them any questions you have.
The Backpackers La Fortuna hostel is 1.2 miles from Baldi Hot Springs and only 3 miles from La Fortuna Waterfall. The Arenal Volcano Park is a short 30 minute drive away and Juan Santamaria International Airport is 1 hour and 30 minutes' away by car.
Cost: Expect to pay around $22 (€19) for a night in a dormitory if booked through hostelworld.
Arenal backpackers resort is a beautiful hostel / resort with incredible views of Arenal Volcano, and it is just a few minutes walk from the town centre and a bus stop, and within close proximity to Arenal Volcano.
Arenal backpackers resort is super sociable with relaxed vibes and great facilities, including a swimming pool with a bar, a huge garden with hammocks, lots of games on offer, internet in all of the rooms and Air Conditioning. They also have an Information and Tour Desk, a beautiful restaurant, lovely bilingual staff and 24 hour security
Arenal backpackers resort has stunning glamping tents, private rooms and dorms on offer (female only options available)
La Fortuna de San Carlos has over 100 restaurants, so there is plenty to choose from. You will find the high end restaurants within the resorts and hotels and the more budget friendly options, squared around the town and main square of La Fortuna. Traditional eateries are called Sodas and there are lots to choose from. Go Travel and Talk recommend the following restaurants and Sodas in La Fortuna de San Carlos:
- Soda Mima ~ Located behind the Arenal Container Hostel, serving traditional Central American and Costa Rican "casados" ~ a plate with your choice of meat or fish with rice, beans and salad, all for around $5 (€4)! Check them out on Facebook and take a look at them on Tripadvisor.
Vegan / Vegetarian Food:
- Check out Organico Fortuna, next to Banco San Jose, for delicious, healthy and vegan friendly delights. They get rave reviews on Tripadvisor!
- Head to the Lava Lounge Bar & Grill. A classic chill spot in La Fortuna de San Carlos with great bar food (Mexican / Costa Rican), live music, and an eclectic client-base. On the weekends they also have local artisans selling really well made hand crafted jewelry. Check out a local favorite and amazing musician, Bryan Sanchez, every Saturday at 7! Share the love and LIKE them on Facebook.
- Or go to La Terraza ~ a great place to go after starting the night at the Lava Lounge Bar & Grill, La Terraza plays a nice blend of classic Latin songs, raggaeton, and US top 40 club hits.
Proyecto Asis is a wildlife rescue center and environmental impact project that seeks to better the community in La Fortuna de San Carlos, by both helping wild, endangered, or abused animals, and by educating people about the environment, conservation, and wildlife preservation. They say their ultimate goal is to “restore the balance between nature and humans.”
Proyecto Asis offers a number of ways to get involved to help make a positive impact in La Fortuna de San Carlos. They accept volunteers for various amounts of time, ranging from a couple hours to a couple months! They have a number of volunteer programs and are flexible with customizing your volunteering experience to fit your needs and goals. They also offer the option to enroll in a Spanish immersion program in conjunction with volunteering and will set you up with a host family! For more information, on Proyecto Asis volunteer programs, CLICK HERE, and to set up your volunteering venture with Proyecto Asis just email Adriana, the volunteer program coordinator at: email@example.com
Go Travel and Talk notes that this is not a fee-free volunteer option. One full day of volunteering does cost $88 and one week of volunteering plus a homestay costs $595, however, this money goes directly back into the non-profit organization. They do not receive government aid, and these fees are their primary source of funding.