Guide: Arenal volcano and hot springs at La Fortuna

Costa Rica is enriched with hundreds of volcanoes and volcano formations that rise majestic towards the sky. Bring hiking shoes and bikini and go on a nature adventure at La Fortuna.

Written by Mette / Photo by Martin
The Travel Guide has been published in IN Magazine, 2016
Translated from Danish

The most famous volcano of Costa Rica is the cone-shaped and 1633-meter-high Arenal, which until 2010 was one of the ten most active volcanoes in the world. It is no longer spraying red-hot lava, but the landscape is still captivating with its raw nature, waterfalls and hot springs. 

It is also here that you will find some of Costa Rica’s most luxurious spa hotels and adrenaline pumping activities. Everything is centered around the small touristy town of La Fortuna, which is the commercial center of the area.


Here we have gathered our best tips for where to stay, eat and experience nature, featuring some wild adventures, volcanoes and hot springs.

PR photo @ Hotel Nayara


Along the main road – running from the city of La Fortuna and around the Arenal National Park – some of Costa Rica’s most exclusive hotels resides. All with their own postcard-panoramic views of the sleeping giant. On the throne is the five-star Hotel Nayara Spa & Gardens, which has been voted among the world’s best and most romantic hotels by the influential travel magazines Condé Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure.

If your priority is more focused on the natural experience Arenal Observatory Lodge is the only hotel that is located in the national park and is the closest one to the volcano. The lodge reminds of an upgraded youth hostel and was originally built in 1987 for researchers who studied the outstanding seismic activity. At the Tabacón Grand Spa Thermal Resort you get the unique combination of five-star service and natural hot springs, as the hotel was built exactly where a volcanic eruption sliced a hole in the ground 40 years ago.


Despite the fact that scientists have declared the Arenal volcano dead – or more accurately ‘fallen into a deep sleep’ – the hot underground springs still flow. Several of the area’s exclusive hotels have channeled the water and created a luxurious spa with artificial waterfalls and swimming pools. Even if you are not a guest at Tabacón, Baldi or The Springs Resort you can easily buy admission tickets to their spa (including a lunch or evening buffet).

If you prefer to experience the real thing, there are several places where the hot springs flow freely. On the opposite side of Tabacón you will find a small jungle path that leads down to a waterfall. The granite gray stones are sharp and the current is strong. But try to fight your way to the small pool on the left. Nothing compares to the exotic experience of sitting in the middle of the rainforest in one of Arenal’s hot springs.


Most restaurants are located in the city of La Fortuna where you will also find souvenir shops, tour operators, banks and cheap hotels. Although the city is far from a culinary star it has a large selection of tourist-friendly eateries. Ranging from American fast food chains and Italian pizzerias to fish restaurants and traditional Costa Rican dinners, so-called ‘sodas’.

One restaurant, however, is several gastronomic light years ahead compared to the others. The family-run Don Rufino is a modern bar and grill with a classic rustic menu and creative dishes. The starter with a trilogy of tuna tatar served in small crisp waffles is both delicate for eye and mouth. And as a delicious alternative to the perfectly grilled steak you will find ‘grandmother’s chicken’ spiced with chocolate, coffee and estragon, wrapped in banana leaves and accompanied by a barbecue and honey mustard sauce.


The volcanic landscape is an Eldorado of outdoor activities: mountain biking, rappelling, cable cars, bungee jump, trekking, horse riding and safari on ATV vehicles. But it is not without reason that Costa Rica with its many roaring mountain streams has hosted several world championships in white water rafting. With Rio Balsa only half an hour drive from La Fortuna this is where you should try a heartbreaking and entertaining water adventure. The local rafting organizer Costa Rica Descents has professional guides with over 15 years of experience and offers tours for both daredevils and beginners.

Costa Rica Descents @ Photo: PR


Although the Arenal volcano no longer lights up like a red-hot lighthouse, the cone-shaped giant is still a drastic sight. And the best way to experience the volcanic landscape is by means of hiking boots. There are many trekking paths, but especially one really gives you the true feel of Arenal’s violent forces. The trail is called 1968. Named after the year when a powerful explosion destroyed three cities, killed more than 80 people and 45,000 cattle. The trail runs at the lower part of the once destructive flow of lava.

If you are looking for a hike providing a higher pulse rate, there is Cerro Chato – a six-hour trek up the forest-covered sister volcano of Arenal. The trip through the dense jungle is tough, but it will certainly be the view that leaves you most breathless when you finally stand on the edge of the crater. The volcano eroded 3500 years ago and today the hole into the interior of earth has been transformed into a fascinating lagoon. 


West of Arenal you will find Costa Rica’s largest lake, Laguna de Arenal. In addition to being one of the world’s leading windsurfing destinations, the road that runs along the northern seaboard is one of the country’s most expensive addresses and most popular road trip routes. The drive connects the cloud forest of Monteverde with the Arenal volcano, but at the same time it is an astonishing scenario in itself.

The idyllic stretch runs along the lake and through green landscapes, where the volcano appears like a dramatic sky-high background. Along the road are small charming towns, local galleries and nice cafes, including Café y Macadamia, a 15-minute drive from the city of Nuevo Arenal. The aroma of the cafe’s freshly baked goodies enchants your nose while your eyes will be spellbound by the view of the lake. Both can be enjoyed from the outdoor terrace constructed with a floor of macadamia nuts.


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