I spent 3 weeks in Costa Rica volunteering at a yoga retreat center by Lake Arenal, in Guanacaste/ Alajuela region. I love this area of the country so much. From the vibrant jungle brimming with wildlife to the perfectly coned shaped volcano exuding a powerful presence, it is a place that will make you fall in love with nature. While most people stick to the La Fortuna side of the water, there is also so much more beauty and adventures to be discovered around the lake. Here are some of the best things to do in Arenal Costa Rica. (I saved my favorite for last so make sure to read until the end!)
*This list of things to do in Arenal Costa Rica may contain affiliate links, which means, at no extra cost to you, I may earn a commission if you make a purchase. Thanks for supporting!
The iconic Arenal Volcano towers over La Fortuna and can be seen from pretty much everywhere in the area on a clear day. Although it is not legal nor safe to climb the volcano, admiring it from afar is enough to feel its energy. It took me a week to finally see this volcano as the weather was quite cloudy when I was visiting in February. So it depends on your luck a little bit. For photographers, here are some nice spots to get good shots of the volcano:
Arenal Volcano National Park: Inside the park, you can photograph the volcano standing tall amidst the surrounding lush jungle.
Arenal Observatory Lodge: This eco-lodge is directly in front of the volcano and offers a prime view from its restaurant and most guest rooms. It is also a beautiful place to watch the sunset over Lake Arenal. This is the only hotel in the area that is actually located inside the national park. If exploring the park is your main interest, staying here is a good option to consider.
View this post on Instagram
👩👧💪🏻This mother and daughter team nailed our first rappel after not having any rappelling experience! ✨Canyoning is a great way for families to share an adventure together and do something that they normally wouldn't do on a daily basis!✨ . . . . #family #motherdaughter #canyoning #waterfallrappelling #lafortuna #costarica #puravida #ouretrekcanyoning #puretrek #puretrekcostarica #onceinalifetime #rappelling #familyadventure #familytravelcostarica
Adrenaline junkies definitely cannot miss canyon jumping in Arenal. It is so much fun. Me and my friends went with Pure Trek, a company that we would highly recommend. Our experience included 4 rappels down waterfalls and one monkey drop where you drop with a harness straight down a cliff into the water below. If you have a fear of heights, this can be terrifying. I screamed my lungs out like an animal but I can’t deny that I had a blast. The guides at Pure Trek are very safety oriented and they are experts at using humor to make you forget about your fears. The experience is about 4 hours and ends with a nice Costa Rican lunch that is included in the price. Make sure to bring some dry clothes for the day because you will get soaked!
“Hey Siri, play ‘I’m like a bird’ by Nelly Furtado” is what you’ll want to say when you go flying over the canopy of the lush Costa Rican jungle. There are many zip lining companies around Arenal. It is a super popular activity. A reliable company to go with from La Fortuna is Sky Adventures. Their zip line experience is called Sky Trek. It includes 7 cables that go up to 200m in height and 750m in length, going as fast as 70km/h. Make sure to open your eyes wide and take in all the views while you are on this heart-racing ride.
The rapids around La Fortuna area are perfect for whitewater rafting. They come in different level of intensity so it’s great for people of all levels. There are many tours that combine white water rafting with another activity so you can have an action packed day. Get Your Guide has several combo deals such as Zip Line + Rafting or Rappel + Rafting. Take a look below.
If all the adrenaline-pumping activities mentioned above sound like too much, you can always take it easy and go on a good old fashion hike in Arenal Volcano National Park. The trails are well maintained and suitable for all fitness levels. You can see many rocks formed by lava from the big volcano eruption in 1968. They have hardened over time, but you can imagine them shooting out of the volcano at speeds of up to 2,000km per hour once upon a time. It’s pretty incredible. The trails all converge at the Lava Flow Summit, where you can get a great view of the volcano on a clear sky day. If you want to hear more story and history of the volcano, there are guided tours you can take. The entrance fee to the park is $15 per person.
Mistico Hanging Bridges Park
Mistico is an area in La Fortuna that is rich with flora and fauna. Although there are many activities to do in this park, the hanging bridges are the main highlights. There are 16 bridges in the park in total, 10 are regular and 6 are hanging. They offer a unique way to see the rainforest without harming the biodiversity. You can take a guided tour if you are interested in learning more about the rainforest. From my experience, you really need the sharp eyes of the guides to help spot wildlife in the dense vegetation as they are camouflaged really well. Some creatures you can expect to see in Mistico include sloths, monkeys, and many species of tropical birds. The entrance fee to the park is $26 USD, which is quite expensive. But if you are keen to see wildlife in the area, the Arenal hanging bridges is a sure-fire spot.
La Fortuna has several hot springs that are perfect for unwinding after a day of sightseeing. Tabacon is arguably the most famous one. Set in a private rainforest reserve, Tabacon features five thermal pools with mineralized water heated underground by Arenal Volcano’s magma. Sit under the cascading thermal waterfalls for the ultimate relaxation. The downside is that the experience comes with a steep price tag. A day pass with one meal is a whopping $70. If you are on a budget, the good news is that there is a free natural hot spring literally next to Tabacon. It is called El Chollin or Rio Chollin. This rushing hot river is where the locals go. Just like Tabacon, the water is heated by the magma underneath the earth. Although not as fancy as the hotel, it is completely natural and best of all, it will cost you nada to enter.
The Arenal Oasis is the best place to see Costa Rica’s colorful tree frogs. There are over 28 frog species that live in this rainforest refuge. Go on a night tour to find them all as well as other nocturnal wildlife. The jungle is a different world in the dark. Having a guide is a must. The Arenal Oasis guided tours are highly rated on Tripadvisor. Trained naturalists guide the guests through the rainforest trails and help uncover animals that are only active at night time. The night tour cost $25 USD and part of the fee goes towards conservation efforts including wildlife protection, garbage treatments, recycling programs, environmental education for the local community, Energy Saving, use of biodegradable products, and organic foods support.
La Fortuna town
Pretty much every tourist that comes to Costa Rica will visit La Fortuna at some point. This little town is the gateway to Arenal Volcano and the rainforest. What many don’t know is La Fortuna’s special history. It originally used to be called El Burio. However, after miraculously surviving the Arenal volcano eruption in 1968 and coming out unscathed, the town changed its name to La Fortuna, “the fortunate”. Blessed with fertile soil and booming tourism, La Fortuna is indeed very lucky. The town is a fun place to wander around. There are many restaurants and shops. If you need to get souvenirs, this would be the best place to find them. On a sunny day, grab a gelato, sit in the central park square, and enjoy people watching.
La Fortuna waterfall
View this post on Instagram
Ikke helt lei Corona-saker enda? 🙈 . ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Jeg har nå skrevet et innlegg om hva som skjer med den store reisen jeg og en venninne hadde planlagt til USA, Costa Rica, og Panama. Link til innlegget ligger i profilen, ellers finner du det på fremsiden av tinareiser.no 😄 . ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ [Photo from Unsplash] . ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ #LaFortuna #CostaRica #LaFortunaWaterfall #waterfallsoftheworld #tinareiser #blogupdate #reise #reiser #reiselyst #reiselust #wanderlust #coronavirus #coronaupdate #travel #travelers #reiseblog #reiseblogg #reiseblogger #travelblog #travelblogger #travelblogs #travelbloggers #tblog #tblogger #blogg #newblogpost #unsplash #waterfalls #fossefall
You’d want to see this majestic waterfall just outside of La Fortuna town. A spectacle at 200 feet, the water pours down to a emerald green pool below that you can swim in. Even if you are not in the mood to get wet, this is a great spot to have a picnic and take photos. The trail leading up to the falls is also a wonderful walk. One thing to keep in mind is that it can get a bit crowded as this is a popular attraction. Aim to arrive earlier in the day. From La Fortuna, this would be a half-day trip. There is an entrance fee of $18 that goes towards local conservation efforts.
Chocolate & Coffee Tours
Get to know Costa Rica’s famous exports, coffee and chocolate, by taking a tour on a local farm. You get to see how these produce are grown and processed, and perhaps even get your hands dirty in helping with the picking. I love farm tours like this because it opens my eyes to where the products in our lives actually come from. For coffee addicts, you really come to appreciate the beans to cup journey. There is so much hard work that goes on behind the scenes. Check out the well-reputed Don Juan Coffee & Chocolate tour or North Fields Coffee Tours.
Boat Cruise on Lake Arenal
If you are traveling as a couple, one of the most romantic things to do in Arenal Costa Rica is to take a sunset cruise on a catamaran. Of course, solo travelers, families, and friend groups would enjoy this also. Admire the Arenal Volcano from a new perspective while taking in the serenity of Lake Arenal as the sun descends. Many tour operators include refreshments in their package. Check out this moonshine cruise that takes tourists on a wildlife spotting journey with Costa Rican moonshine and local snacks provided. Can you imagine the games you can play? Ever time you see a toucan, take a drink.
There are also more sporty options for getting on the lake. Consider kayaking, stand up paddleboarding, or windsurfing (Ordered on an intensity spectrum going from low to high). You can see all the stunning bays while getting a nice workout in. A word of warning though, the lake is not always calm. On windy days, the waves can get quite big. For kayaking and SUP-ing, it might be too rocky. For windsurfers, however, it is godsend.
Whatever you decide to try, I encourage you to get out on the water at least once! In the iconic words of a funny American retiree I met during my time in Arenal “You can’t just watch the lake. That’s boring. You need to FEEL the lake.”
One of the most unique ways of experiencing Arenal is on the back of a horse. Actually, horseback riding used to be the main way of transportation in Costa Rica. To this day, it’s the preferred method of travel by some Ticos. I remember sitting in a bar in a small town along Lake Arenal on a Friday night. I was chatting with my friend when a man zipped by on a horse on the street outside. I turned to my friend with a surprised expression and she just laughed, “Probably just going home after work”. Learn why Ticos love their horses by taking a horse riding tour. It just hits different. If you are a beginner with horses however, my suggestion is to ride for no more than 2 hours. Even though I thoroughly enjoy my horse ride tour around the lake, during which we saw some insanely beautiful vistas, I definitely had sore butts after.
Costa Rica has oodles of rainforests, but it’s not every day that you get to see the earth underneath. Go discover the Venado Caves, a limestone cavern 8,850 feet into the earth that tourists can actually go spelunking in. The caves are nearly 20 million years old. It’s a fascinating world made up of underground trails, rivers, sea beds, fossils, and subterranean animals. You don’t have to be a geology nerd to appreciate the interesting rock formations and unique ecosystem here. A little scared of the dark? Don’t worry, there will be professional guides to help you navigate through this adventure.
Cano Negro is considered by many to be one of the top 3 most important wetlands in the world. This 800-hectare refuge is home to many rare plants and animal species. Take a boat tour on the freshwater lagoon, and explore the diverse flora and fauna safari style. Keep your eyes peeled for the Emerald Basilisk, Giant Bear Ant, jaguars, ocelots, iguanas, river turtles, monkeys, pumas, and caimans.
This is also argued to be one of the best sites for bird watching on the continent. In fact, more than 200 species of birds have been documented in Caño Negro.
Rio Celeste Tenorio
View this post on Instagram
One cannot visit Costa Rica without hiking to the enchanting Rio Celeste in Tenorio Volcano National Park. There is a soul healing feeling when you gaze into the aqua blue river and listen to the spectacular waterfall. 🇨🇷 Legend has it that Rio Celeste got its magical color after God finished painting the sky and dipped his paint brush in the river. How pretty is this story? 🇨🇷 Feel so blessed we got to witness this stunning work of art by nature. We even saw some blue mopho butterflies and monkeys nearby. 🦋 🐒 Costa Rica, you continue to make me fall in love (pun intended) • • • • #puravida #costaricatraveler #costaricaphoto #costaricatrip #costaricalife #costaricapuravida #tenorio #costaricagram #costaricanature #rioceleste #femaletravelbloggers #journeyofgirls #backpackersintheworld #travelinladies #damestravel #traveldreamseekers #thewanderingtourist #iamatraveller #explorerbabes #thetravellingnomads #traveltagged #shetravels #speechlessplaces #sidewalkerdaily #thevisualscollective #allaboutadventures #theculturetrip #globetrotter#prettylittleiiinspo #womenwhotravel
Legend has it that Rio Celeste got its magical blue color after God finished painting the sky and dipped his paint brush in the river. How beautiful is this story? This waterfall in Tenorio is the definition of postcard perfect. From La Fortuna, it’s about one and a half hour travel time. You can either come here yourself by rental car or get on a tour. I went with my friends on our own and it was in all honestly quite obvious to find. The hike trail to the waterfall is an easy walk. The staircase at the end leading down to the waterfall is the only thing that will make you breathless. Those steps are deep! Anyhow, it would be a crime to pass up this stunning work of art by nature on your Costa Rica itinerary. My friends and I stood by the waterfall enthralled for a long time. We also saw some blue mop butterflies and howler monkeys when we were there. It was an awesome day.
Go on a Yoga retreat
I saved my favorite suggestion for last. Costa Rica is one of the best wellness destinations in the world. I mean, powered by nature’s healing energy, it totally makes sense. It was my wish to experience the Yoga scene in this magical country and it was even better than how I imagined it. I spent 3 weeks at the Living Forest Yoga Retreat Center on the west side of the lake, and by the end, I did not want to leave. It was pure love. Every morning, I would do Yoga on a deck that opened right to the forest and a river. Sometimes, toucans and hummingbirds came to join. When I was free, I hung out with my animal sidekicks, Nela and Tigre, the sweetest dog and a little cat with a tiger’s attitude. The kind of things Disney Princess life is made of. The days were slow, simple and peaceful.
I encourage everyone to peek at the wellness offerings in Arenal. In fact, I am planning to lead a retreat to Costa Rica next year myself! It is currently in the works to be a half beach, half jungle 6 days rejuvenating experience. Not only will we explore Costa Rica together, we will learn Yoga, meditation, journaling, and other healing practices that you can take home.
Want to come to Costa Rica with me? Check my retreat highlights on Instagram and stay updated on future retreat announcements!
How to get to Arenal
The gateway to Arenal area is La Fortuna town and that’s where you will most likely stay. From San Jose, you have several options.
By car: From San Jose, take the Inter-Americana highway and Route 702. You will pass through San Ramon and La Tigra, and arrive in La Fortuna. The whole journey takes a little over three hours. We recommend Alamo Car Rental. This was the one we went with and we were very happy with their service.
By Bus: As a popular tourist route, getting to Arenal from San Jose by public transportation is quite reliable as well as budget efficient. The journey takes about five hours and cost only 5 USD. You don’t have to prebook the tickets. Just show up at the terminal and get the tickets on the day. For more info on public transportation in Costa Rica, check this article here.
By Private Transfer: If you just want to sit back in an air conditioned vehicle and enjoy traveling in style, private transfers is an option. It’s a lot more expensive, but if you are on that type of vacation, go ahead and spoil yourself.
By tour: For an all-inclusive hassle-free experience that is 100% planned out for you, there are also many tours to Arenal volcano area from San Jose. They will pick you up from your hotel, take you to Arenal for some fun, feed you food, and take you back at the end of the day. Different companies offer different activities in their packages. Some examples here: Whitewater rafting, Zip lining +Hot Spring, Hanging Bridges + Hot Springs.
Where to stay in Arenal
From boutique hotels to Airbnbs, there are many beautiful options in and out of La Fortuna and around the lake. Check these out:
My girl friends and I stayed here and loved it! The location is fantastic as it is close to everything such as supermarkets, restaurants and bars, souvenir shops, and drugstores. The condo has 2 bedrooms and 2 baths that was very comfortable for four people. Everything was very clean and on a clear day, you can get a good view of the volcano.
This was the Yoga Retreat Center I stayed at for 3 weeks. You can just stay as a regular guest as well. There are several rooms suitable for groups of different sizes. I love that each room is themed after an animal, like the Butterfly room or the Macaw room. It’s a little secluded paradise if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of civilization. Situated right beside a jungle river, you can really disconnect and immerse yourself in nature here. Admittedly a bit out of the way from La Fortuna town (1.5 hour drive), but this off the beaten path gem is well worth it.
First time on Airbnb? Use my code to receive $45 off your first booking.
Find more awesome places to stay in Arenal for cheap
Enjoyed this list of things to do in Arenal Costa Rica? Pin it to save for later!