20 Best Things to Do in Arenal, Costa Rica
Welcome to the enchanting region of Arenal and La Fortuna, located in the heart of Costa Rica. A destination that perfectly encapsulates the magic and wonder of this beautiful country.
At the center of this region stands the majestic Arenal Volcano, a towering icon that dominates the landscape and provides a dramatic backdrop for all your adventures. With its misty forests, bubbling hot springs, and glistening waterfalls, Arenal and La Fortuna offer a true feast for the senses.
For the nature enthusiasts, this region is a haven for wildlife and biodiversity. You can hike through the lush rainforest, where you’ll encounter a dizzying array of flora and fauna, including monkeys, sloths, and exotic birds. Or you can take a guided tour to explore the hidden gems of the region, like the stunning Rio Celeste waterfall.
And for those seeking some relaxation, Arenal and La Fortuna offer an abundance of natural hot springs, where you can soak in the warm, mineral-rich waters and feel your cares melt away. There are also plenty of spas and wellness centers where you can indulge in a soothing massage or a rejuvenating yoga session.
But perhaps the most exciting aspect of this region is the adrenaline-fueled adventures that await you. You can go zip-lining through the canopy, rafting on the rapids of the Sarapiqui River, or even take a thrilling ATV ride through the rugged terrain.
So come and experience the wonder and adventure of Arenal and La Fortuna, where the natural beauty and thrilling activities will leave you breathless. This is a destination that promises to awaken your senses and inspire your spirit of adventure. Arenal and La Fortuna – a must-visit destination for any traveler to Costa Rica!
Table of Contents
- Hike the Volcano
- Hike or Horseback Ride to the La Fortuna Waterfall
- Zip Line or Aerial Tram to Explore the Canopy
- Arenal Hanging Bridges Hike
- Relax in the Hot Springs
- Tour a Coffee Farm
- SUP or Kayak on Lake Arenal
- Explore the Town of La Fortuna
- Go Spelunking at Venado Caves
- Go White Water Rafting
- Visit Cano Negro National Wildlife Refuge
- Tarzan Swing
- Rio Celeste Day Trip
- Take a Kitesurfing Lesson (January-March Tico Wind)
- Take a Cooking Class
- Sloth Tour
- Chocolate Tour
- Go on a Night Walk
- Tubing at Club Rio
- How many days do you need in Arenal?
- Where to Stay in Arenal and La Fortuna?
- How to Get to Arenal and La Fortuna from San Jose?
Hike the Volcano
The Arenal Volcano hike is a popular activity for those visiting Arenal, Costa Rica. The hike takes visitors to the base of the volcano, where they can see the remnants of past eruptions and the stunning views of the surrounding area. The Arenal Volcano is one of the most active volcanoes in the world, with its last major eruption in 1968, and visitors can see steam rising from its summit on clear days. The hike is typically about 3-4 hours round trip, and can be moderate to strenuous, depending on the trail chosen. Many tour companies offer guided hikes, and it’s recommended to wear sturdy shoes and bring plenty of water and sunscreen. Overall, the Arenal Volcano hike is a must-do activity for anyone visiting Arenal, offering stunning views and an up-close look at one of Costa Rica’s most iconic natural landmarks.
Hike or Horseback Ride to the La Fortuna Waterfall
Taking a horseback ride to La Fortuna waterfall is a popular activity for visitors to the area. The ride typically begins with a scenic trail through the lush rainforest, providing an opportunity to spot local wildlife and enjoy the beautiful surroundings. Once you arrive at the waterfall, you can take a refreshing dip in the natural pool at the base of the falls, or simply admire the stunning view and take photos. Horseback riding tours to La Fortuna waterfall are available through a variety of tour companies in the area, and typically last between 2-4 hours depending on the specific itinerary. It is a great way to experience the natural beauty of the region in a unique and exciting way.
Zip Line or Aerial Tram to Explore the Canopy
Zip lining near Arenal is an exhilarating adventure activity that offers breathtaking views of the lush rainforest and the Arenal Volcano. The area is home to several zip lining companies that offer tours ranging from a couple of hours to a full day.
Most zip line tours consist of several platforms, with cables spanning between them. Visitors are equipped with safety harnesses and helmets and slide along the cables, getting a bird’s eye view of the canopy below. Some tours also include other activities like rappelling, rope bridges, and Tarzan swings.
One popular zip lining tour near Arenal is the Sky Trek, which offers a thrilling experience with 10 zip line cables and a total distance of almost two miles. Another popular option is the Arenal Mundo Aventura, which offers a variety of tours ranging from a basic canopy tour to a full-day adventure package that includes zip lining, horseback riding, and hot springs.
Arenal Hanging Bridges Hike
The hanging bridges of Arenal are one of the most popular tourist attractions in the region, offering a unique perspective of the rainforest canopy. The hike takes visitors on a series of suspension bridges, ranging from 8 to 98 meters in length, and up to 60 meters in height. Along the way, you’ll cross through lush rainforest, over rivers, and past waterfalls, while encountering a variety of plant and animal life, including monkeys, sloths, and exotic birds.
There are several different companies that offer guided tours of the hanging bridges, with varying lengths and difficulty levels. Some tours include other activities such as ziplining, while others focus solely on the hanging bridges. It’s important to wear comfortable hiking shoes and bring plenty of water, sunscreen, and insect repellent, as well as a camera to capture the stunning views. Whether you’re an avid hiker or just looking for a unique way to experience the rainforest, the hanging bridges of Arenal are a must-see attraction in Costa Rica.
Relax in the Hot Springs
Arenal is famous for its natural hot springs, heated by the volcanic activity in the area. There are several hot springs options to choose from near Arenal, ranging from luxurious resorts to rustic and more affordable options.
One of the most popular hot springs in the area is the Tabacon Grand Spa Thermal Resort, which features multiple pools and cascading waterfalls in a lush rainforest setting. Other popular options include Baldi Hot Springs, The Springs Resort and Spa, and Eco Termales Hot Springs.
For those looking for a more secluded and natural experience, there are also many free hot springs in the area. These can be found by exploring the area around the Arenal Volcano and the Tabacon River.
No matter which hot springs you choose to visit, be sure to bring a bathing suit and towel, and plan on spending a relaxing afternoon soaking in the warm, healing waters.
Tour a Coffee Farm
Visiting coffee farms near Arenal, Costa Rica is a great way to learn about the country’s coffee culture and history. The Arenal region is home to several coffee plantations that offer tours where visitors can see how coffee is grown, harvested, and processed. Many of these tours include hands-on experiences, such as picking coffee beans and roasting them, as well as tastings of different coffee varieties. Visitors can also learn about the economic and cultural significance of coffee in Costa Rica and the importance of sustainable farming practices. A coffee farm tour is a great way to spend a day while staying in the Arenal area and is suitable for coffee lovers and those interested in agriculture and history.
SUP or Kayak on Lake Arenal
Stand up paddle boarding and kayaking on Lake Arenal are great ways to explore the natural beauty of Costa Rica and enjoy some outdoor adventure. Lake Arenal is a stunning lake located in the northern region of Costa Rica, near the town of La Fortuna and the Arenal Volcano.
There are several tour operators that offer stand up paddle boarding and kayaking tours on Lake Arenal. The calm waters of the lake make it an ideal spot for beginners and experienced paddlers alike. You can explore the lake on your own, or take a guided tour with an experienced guide who can show you the best spots and provide some insights into the local flora and fauna.
Paddle boarding and kayaking on Lake Arenal can offer amazing views of the surrounding forests, mountains, and volcanoes. You may even spot some wildlife like monkeys, sloths, and various bird species. It’s a great way to get some exercise, enjoy the fresh air, and immerse yourself in the beauty of Costa Rica’s natural landscapes.
Explore the Town of La Fortuna
The town itself is small, but it offers a variety of activities, restaurants, and shops to explore. Foodies will appreciate the many restaurants in La Fortuna, which offer both local and international cuisine. The town is known for its traditional Costa Rican dishes such as gallo pinto (rice and beans), casados (a dish with rice, beans, and meat), and ceviche (a dish made with raw fish marinated in lime juice). There are also several cafes and bakeries where visitors can enjoy coffee and pastries.
Go Spelunking at Venado Caves
Spelunking at Venado Caves in Costa Rica is a unique and thrilling experience for adventure seekers. Located near the Arenal Volcano, Venado Caves are a series of underground caverns and tunnels filled with stunning rock formations, rushing streams, and even waterfalls. Visitors can explore these dark and mysterious caves with the help of an experienced guide, who will provide helmets, lights, and other necessary equipment. Along the way, they will encounter fascinating creatures such as bats, spiders, and crickets, as well as subterranean pools and cascades. This activity is not recommended for those with claustrophobia or mobility issues, but for those who are up for the challenge, it is sure to be an unforgettable experience.
Go White Water Rafting
White water rafting near Arenal, Costa Rica is a popular activity for adventure seekers. The region offers a variety of rivers that range in difficulty level, making it accessible for both beginners and experienced rafters. The most popular river for rafting in the area is the Balsa River, which offers class II-III rapids and is suitable for beginners and families. The Sarapiqui River, located further north, offers more challenging class III-IV rapids for more experienced rafters. Other rivers in the area that are popular for rafting include the Toro River, Peñas Blancas River, and the Pacuare River (which is a bit further away, but considered one of the best rafting rivers in the world). During a rafting excursion, visitors can take in the stunning natural scenery of the area and get a unique perspective of Costa Rica’s lush rainforests and rivers.
Visit Cano Negro National Wildlife Refuge
Cano Negro National Wildlife Refuge is a protected area located in northern Costa Rica near the border with Nicaragua. The refuge covers an area of over 9,000 hectares and is home to a diverse range of wildlife species, including caimans, jaguars, monkeys, and many species of birds.
Visitors can take a boat tour through the wetlands of Cano Negro to observe the wildlife in their natural habitat. The wetlands are home to an incredible diversity of bird species, including the Nicaraguan grackle, northern jacana, and the elusive jabiru stork.
In addition to the wildlife, the refuge is also known for its beautiful scenery. The wetlands are surrounded by lush green forests and the river that runs through the refuge is lined with towering trees.
Canyoning, also known as canyoneering, is a popular adventure activity in Costa Rica, and there are several tour operators near Arenal that offer canyoning tours. Canyoning involves descending through steep canyons by rappelling down waterfalls, jumping into pools of water, and navigating through rocky terrain.
One of the most popular canyoning tours near Arenal is the Lost Canyon Adventure. This tour takes visitors to a remote location in the rainforest, where they will rappel down a series of waterfalls, including a 200-foot waterfall, and jump into natural pools of water.
Other popular canyoning tours in the area include the Gravity Falls Tour, which takes visitors to a hidden canyon with a series of waterfalls and natural pools, and the Pure Trek Canyoning Tour, which includes several rappels, a zip line, and a Tarzan swing.
Canyoning tours in Costa Rica are typically led by experienced guides who will provide all the necessary equipment and safety instructions. While canyoning can be challenging, it is a thrilling and memorable experience that is sure to be a highlight of any trip to Costa Rica.
Tarzan swings near Arenal that are popular among thrill-seekers and adventure enthusiasts. The Tarzan swing is an exciting activity that involves jumping off a high platform and swinging on a rope, similar to the famous jungle hero. The swing provides an adrenaline rush and stunning views of the Arenal area.
Several adventure parks in Arenal offer Tarzan swings as part of their packages, such as Sky Adventures, Arenal Mundo Aventura, and Ecoglide Arenal Park. Each park offers a unique Tarzan swing experience, ranging from heights of 30 to 150 feet and different types of swings, including individual and tandem swings.
Before participating in a Tarzan swing, participants are usually required to wear safety gear such as a harness, helmet, and gloves, and receive instructions and guidance from experienced guides. The activity is suitable for most people, but it’s important to check the weight and age restrictions of each park.
Rio Celeste Day Trip
A day trip from Arenal to Rio Celeste is an excellent way to explore one of Costa Rica’s most beautiful and unique natural wonders. The Rio Celeste, which translates to “Sky Blue River,” is located in the Tenorio Volcano National Park, about a two-hour drive from Arenal. The river gets its distinctive blue colour from the high concentration of minerals and sulphates in the water, and the park is known for its stunning waterfalls, hot springs, and rainforest hiking trails.
On a day trip to Rio Celeste from Arenal, you can expect to spend several hours exploring the park and the river. One of the most popular attractions is the Rio Celeste Waterfall, where the river cascades down a steep cliff and into a crystal-clear pool below. Visitors can swim in the pool and take in the stunning views of the surrounding rainforest.
Another popular activity is hiking along the trails that wind through the park, taking in the breathtaking scenery of the forest, the river, and the volcanic landscape. There are several hiking trails to choose from, ranging in difficulty from easy to challenging, and many of them offer the opportunity to see wildlife such as monkeys, sloths, and tropical birds.
Take a Kitesurfing Lesson (January-March Tico Wind)
Taking kitesurfing lessons on Lake Arenal is a thrilling experience for adventure-seekers and water sports enthusiasts. The lake’s steady wind and calm waters make it an ideal location for kitesurfing, and the backdrop of the Arenal Volcano and lush jungle surroundings only add to the beauty of the experience.
There are several kitesurfing schools and rental shops located around Lake Arenal that offer lessons and equipment rentals for all skill levels. Lessons typically include instruction on kite control, safety, and board skills, and are taught by experienced instructors.
Kitesurfing on Lake Arenal is a unique way to experience the natural beauty of Costa Rica while getting your adrenaline pumping. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced kitesurfer, the lake’s conditions and stunning scenery make it a must-try activity during your trip to Costa Rica.
Take a Cooking Class
Cooking classes in Arenal are a great way to immerse yourself in the local culture and cuisine of Costa Rica. Many classes are taught by local chefs who will guide you through the preparation of traditional dishes, often using locally sourced ingredients.
You can learn to cook popular dishes such as casado, gallo pinto, ceviche, and plantain chips, as well as desserts such as tres leches cake and arroz con leche. In addition to learning new recipes and cooking techniques, you’ll gain insights into the history and cultural significance of the dishes you’re preparing.
Cooking classes are available at a variety of venues, including restaurants, cooking schools, and even private homes. Some classes include a trip to a local market to select ingredients, while others may offer a farm-to-table experience where you can harvest your own ingredients before cooking them.
Sloth tours in Arenal are a unique and fascinating way to explore the rainforest and get up close with some of Costa Rica’s most beloved creatures. Sloths are known for their slow movement and sleepy demeanor, but they are also incredibly fascinating and full of personality.
During a sloth tour in Arenal, you’ll embark on a guided hike through the rainforest with an experienced naturalist who will point out different species of plants and animals along the way. The guide will also help you spot sloths high up in the trees and teach you about their habits and behaviors.
You might be lucky enough to see a mother sloth with her baby clinging to her belly or a solo sloth munching on leaves high up in the canopy. The guides are trained to spot sloths hidden in the trees, so you’ll have a good chance of seeing these amazing animals in their natural habitat.
Chocolate tours in Arenal offer a unique experience to travelers who want to learn more about the origins and production of chocolate. These tours often take visitors to a cacao farm, where they can see how cacao trees are grown and harvested. Visitors can also learn about the traditional techniques used to turn cacao beans into chocolate, including roasting and grinding.
During the tour, visitors will have the opportunity to taste different types of chocolate and learn about the differences between dark, milk, and white chocolate. Some tours also include a hands-on chocolate-making workshop, where visitors can make their own chocolate treats.
Chocolate tours in Arenal are a great way to learn more about Costa Rican culture and the country’s agricultural practices. They are suitable for all ages and are a fun activity for families or groups of friends. Most tours last around two hours and can be booked through tour operators or directly with chocolate farms.
Go on a Night Walk
Nature night hikes in Arenal are a unique way to experience the nocturnal side of the rainforest. Led by experienced guides, these hikes take place after dark when the forest is alive with the sounds of insects, frogs, and other nocturnal creatures. With the help of flashlights and other equipment, visitors can see a wide range of wildlife that is active at night, including sloths, armadillos, snakes, and spiders. The guides are very knowledgeable about the local flora and fauna, and will explain the different species that are encountered on the hike.
The night hikes are a great opportunity to learn about the complex and interconnected ecosystem of the rainforest, and to see some of the unique adaptations that allow nocturnal animals to survive in the darkness. They typically last between 1.5 and 2 hours, and visitors are advised to wear comfortable shoes and bring a rain jacket or poncho, as the weather in the rainforest can be unpredictable. The night hikes are suitable for people of all ages, and are a great way to experience the magic of the rainforest after dark.
Tubing at Club Rio
Club Rio is an adventure park located at the beautiful Springs Resort and Spa in Arenal, Costa Rica. One of the popular activities offered at Club Rio is tubing, which involves floating down the Arenal River in an inflatable tube. The river winds through lush rainforest, providing stunning views of the surrounding landscape.
Tubing at Club Rio is suitable for all ages and skill levels, and guides are available to provide safety instructions and assist with navigating the river. The park provides high-quality tubes and all necessary safety gear, including helmets and life jackets.
In addition to tubing, Club Rio offers other adventure activities, such as horseback riding, kayaking, and stand-up paddleboarding. Visitors can also relax in natural hot springs, take a dip in a freshwater pool, or enjoy a meal at the on-site restaurant.
How many days do you need in Arenal?
The number of days to spend in Arenal really depends on your interests and schedule. For those who want to do some of the main activities, such as visiting hot springs, hiking, and exploring the town of La Fortuna, a minimum of two to three days is recommended. However, if you also want to explore other areas around Arenal, such as the Venado Caves or take a white-water rafting trip, you may want to plan for four to five days in the area. Ultimately, the length of your stay will depend on your personal preferences and the activities you want to do.
Where to Stay in Arenal and La Fortuna?
Nayara Springs – This luxury resort in Arenal features adult-only villas with private plunge pools, outdoor showers, and stunning views of the Arenal Volcano.
Tabacón Thermal Resort & Spa – Located near the Arenal Volcano, this resort features natural hot springs, lush gardens, and spacious rooms and suites with private balconies.
The Springs Resort & Spa – This luxurious resort in Arenal boasts panoramic views of the Arenal Volcano and offers a range of amenities, including multiple hot springs, a spa, and a wildlife sanctuary.
Arenal Kioro Suites & Spa – This eco-friendly hotel in Arenal features spacious suites with volcano views, natural hot springs, and a range of adventure activities, including zip-lining and white water rafting.
Hotel Lomas del Volcán – Located in the heart of the Arenal Volcano region, this hotel offers rustic-style rooms with volcano views, an outdoor pool, and beautiful gardens.
Hotel Arenal Manoa – This family-friendly hotel in Arenal features spacious rooms with volcano views, natural hot springs, and a variety of on-site activities, including horseback riding and hiking.
How to Get to Arenal and La Fortuna from San Jose?
If you want the most flexibility during your Costa Rican vacation, renting a car is the best way to go. I recommend picking up a 4×4 since some of the roads getting into popular destinations like Monteverde are rough and bumpy.
If you’d rather not drive yourself, there’s a great network of hotel-to-hotel shuttles. You can pick a private shuttle or shared for a more economical ride. With private shuttles you can determine your departure time, which shared vans operate on set times. I loved this option on my first trip to Costa Rica because they picked me up and dropped me off right at my accommodations.
Between San Jose and Arenal you can go with Interbus, Tropical Tours Shuttle, or Zuma Tours.
If you’re looking for the most affordable way to get to La Fortuna from San Jose, you’ll want to hop on a public bus. Tickets need to be purchased in person at the bus terminal so be sure to get there well before the departure time to make sure you get a seat. Compared to the $50+ you’ll pay for a hotel-to-hotel shuttle, you can expect to pay as little as $5 for a city to city bus ticket.
Buses are not government owned and are all privately owned businesses so you’ll need to research which bus company goes to which destination. From San Jose to Arenal you can take Transportes San Carlos (firstname.lastname@example.org – +506 8356 1555) 3 times/day for approximately $7 and the journey takes about 3.5 hours.
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