So first things first: Arenal is not the name of a town in Costa Rica. Folks will refer to the area around Arenal Volcano as Arenal, but the closest town to the volcano is actually La Fortuna. Still, between Lake Arenal, the volcano, and the many places in the region referring to themselves as Arenal, it gets confusing.
This stunning part of Costa Rica is where you will find natural hot springs, lots of outdoor adventures, waterfalls, resorts, and immense natural beauty. Anyone who has visited Arenal Volcano National Park or La Fortuna, Costa Rica, can attest to how incredible the area truly is.
Wildlife viewing, adrenaline-pumping adventures, and relaxation are all major parts of the experience in Arenal depending on what you’re looking for. No matter where you are in the area, it seems like the mighty Arenal Volcano is watching you like a painting with eyes that follow wherever you go.
There are so many things to do in Arenal that you may never want to leave. If you’re looking for a slice of paradise in Costa Rica, you’ve undoubtedly found it here. We’ve also included some handy gear to bring along when you finally make your way to Costa Rica.
- Most Significant Landmark – Arenal Volcano National Park
- Best Park – Místico Hanging Bridges Park
- Best Free Activity – Free local hot springs
- Best Activity for Kids – Sloth Watching Trail
- Best Activity for Adults – Whitewater rafting
- Best Food – La Cascada
- Best Nightlife – Voodoo Bar & Cocktails
- Best All-around Accommodation – Arenal Springs Resort & Spa
Fun & Best Things to Do in Arenal, Costa Rica
1. Las Termalitas del Arenal
One thing that there is no shortage of in the La Fortuna area is hot springs. Many of the resorts are located where they are to provide their guests with more private hot springs time. Though not all of the area’s natural hot springs are relegated to one of the many resorts.
Las Termalitas del Arenal, for example, are public hot springs. Guests can opt to just spend the day in the pools or get their entry and lunch included in their ticket. If you decide not to get lunch or you just want to bring some extra food along, food and beverages are allowed to be carried in — that includes alcohol.
There are multiple pools at Las Termalitas to enjoy for a full day. Some are hotter or colder than others and one even has water slides to add a little adventure to your relaxing day. Keep in mind that the water slides are generally no-holds-barred, but it’s good to be careful anyway.
You can even stay within easy walking distance at the hot springs hotel, Relax Termalitas. Compared to some of the other nearby hotels, Relax Termalitas is pared down. But considering its proximity to the multiple hot springs, the convenience might be worth it.
See Related: The World’s Best Geysers and Hot Springs
2. Whitewater Rafting Tours in Arenal
There are lots of whitewater rafting companies in the La Fortuna area. The difficulty of the rapids is graded using Roman numerals, so if you’re brand-new to rafting, you’ll want to stick to the smaller numbers like Class II or III. Class V is the highest commercial rafting regulation designation.
Tours like those with Costa Rica Descents Adventure Company take you rafting but also provide coffee and chocolate tours as well as wildlife viewing at the same time. Costa Rican coffee tours are fascinating because you’ll see how our favorite caffeinated beverage goes from fruit to dried beans. Plus, these combination tours are an excellent way to experience a wide variety of activities in the area all at once.
Whitewater rafting honestly sounds scarier than it is. I was terrified about my first time rafting — which happened to be in Costa Rica with the folks at Amigos del Rio.
Part of our rafting adventure included a photographer following along in his own boat nearby. When we saw the photos afterward, there is not a single one where I don’t have a goofy, enormous smile on my face. It was one of the most fun and thrilling things I’ve ever done.
3. Visit Arenal Volcano National Park
If the weather is cooperative, you can see the peak of Arenal Volcano from much of the surrounding area. While we weren’t quite that lucky, always being in the shadow of that giant active volcano was pretty incredible.
Arenal Volcano National Park is actually home to two volcanoes: Arenal Volcano and Chato Volcano. Arenal is still active and has been consistently spewing lava since the 1960s, whereas Chato has been inactive for thousands of years. Because it’s not active, Chato partially collapsed and now a dreamy lagoon rests in its leftover crater.
There are two hiking trails: one, a little over two miles, and the other at one and a quarter, that lead through forested areas and former lava fields. The hike itself is fairly easy and flat. Feel free to take your time.
Keep in mind that the park rangers constantly watch the Arenal Volcano area. If the gas levels become too high or the volcanic activity increases too much, they do shut down areas of the park.
See Related: Is Costa Rica Safe To Visit? (A Guide for Travelers)
4. Check Out Tenorio Volcano National Park
Another place near La Fortuna to see some magnificent volcano action is Tenorio Volcano National Park. Named for the nearby active Tenorio Volcano, it is one of the youngest parks in Costa Rica.
Tenorio Volcano National Park is one of Costa Rica’s hidden gems with many hiking trails. Hikers particularly love to trace the trail created by Rio Celeste (Celeste River).
The river with its incredible blue color is only as vibrant as it is because it lives so close to the volcano. Sulfur is what brings out its celestial hues.
Although this park is not as big of a draw for tourists as Manuel Antonio National Park, there is plenty of wildlife to enjoy. Monkeys, tapirs, and many more critters call the park area home. Wildlife watchers can meander their way through the park’s trails keeping an eye out for the tricky squirrel monkeys racing from tree to tree.
If you’re up for a more challenging hike, one of the trails leads to the magnificent Rio Celeste Waterfall. Like many of the falls throughout Costa Rica, it takes a while to get there. Still, once you’re there, you’ll know the hike was worth it.
5. Check Out La Fortuna Waterfall
Near Arenal Volcano, the incredible cascade of La Fortuna Waterfall can be found. It’s shrouded by the thick brush of trees that have grown into the dormant Chato Volcano. Even so, hundreds of thousands of people trek through the forest to see the 200-foot falls.
Be warned: getting to La Fortuna Waterfall is not for the faint of heart. Several waterfall viewing areas around Costa Rica are accessible via hundreds of stairs and La Fortuna is no exception.
Expect to descend at least 500 stairs to the viewing area and back up again. Don’t feel rushed heading back up, taking breaks to enjoy the scenery or climbing up slowly are totally okay.
Once you gaze upon La Fortuna Waterfall or take a dip in its chilly waters, you’ll know why its name means “the fortune.” It is a stunning sight, particularly with the backdrop of rainforest behind and all around it.
See Related: Fun & Best Things to Do in Jacó, Costa Rica
6. Visit Místico Hanging Bridges Park
One of the tricky parts about seeing wildlife in the rainforest is that many of the creatures live high up in the canopies. Luckily for tourists, the famed Arenal Hanging Bridges, or Místico Hanging Bridges Park, gives guests an up close (and up high) view. From the safety of the hanging bridges placed throughout the forest, visitors witness nature from a whole new perspective.
The best way to experience the park is through a guided tour of Arenal Hanging Bridges, where an experienced guide can point out the wildlife you may not have spotted on your own. Plus the guides can teach you so much more about the rainforest while you’re experiencing it.
These hanging bridges are among the most photographed attractions in Costa Rica. For the La Fortuna area in particular, the hanging bridges are an enormous draw for tourists. So don’t forget your advanced reservations before heading out for the day.
If you’re nervous about the prospect of being up high on the hanging bridges, try not to worry. These are not wobbling rope bridges you see in movies. As someone who is terrified of heights, I understand the fear. But this is truly one of those once-in-a-lifetime places you need to see in Costa Rica.
7. Enjoy the Hiking Trails
From walking along a lava flow trail to hiking through the wilderness on the lookout for wildlife, the Arenal, Costa Rica, area is full of hiking adventures. There are even guided tours around Arenal Volcano that show you the region before bringing you rest your aching muscles at the hot springs.
The hike to La Fortuna Waterfall is a particular favorite, as are the several trails in the Arenal Volcano National Park. These are easy to moderate hikes, though the steps at La Fortuna Waterfall are no joke.
Hiking the Chato Volcano trail is said to be the hardest hike in the Arenal, Costa Rica, area. The majority of the trails nearby are fun and not very challenging. But be careful on hikes like Cerro Chato which should not be done unless you’re an experienced hiker.
See Related: Best Hiking Trails in the World You Must Visit
8. Wildlife Viewing
My favorite things to do in Arenal, Costa Rica, revolve around the local wildlife. As a big fan of sloths, I can’t help but center my Costa Rican experiences around seeing those loveable critters or any others that call the area home.
Because so many of the local animals are nocturnal, doing a twilight safari through La Fortuna is a great way to see them doing something other than sleeping — especially the sloths. Plus you can experience a myriad of other critters that you wouldn’t otherwise see like bats, owls, or possums. Even howler monkeys are more active in the evening or at night.
Something that visitors can forget about wildlife viewing is that insects count too! When you’re surrounded by rainforests, there are endless bug-viewing possibilities. Incredible butterflies, moths, spiders and oh, so many beetles are scuttling around the trees. If those are the types of critters you want to see, you’ll absolutely want to do a guided tour like the one at Ecocentro Danaus Reserve.
With a bug expert by your side, you will see so many itty bitty insects. I saw some amazing rainforest dwellers with our guide in Manuel Antonio National Park that I never would have seen without someone pointing them out. That’s probably how those little bugs have survived so long.
9. Take in La Fortuna Nightlife
La Fortuna is far from the party capital of Costa Rica (that would be Jacó) but that doesn’t mean they don’t have nightlife! From live music and cocktails at Voodoo Bar to traditional Costa Rican cuisine at La Cascada, you can’t go wrong with a night out on the town in La Fortuna.
Many bars or restaurants feature live entertainment and even dancing which locals and tourists alike can enjoy. La Fortuna town comes to life at night.
Even if you don’t want to venture out, many of the local resorts have some element of nightlife too. Whether you’re just looking for a chill cocktail to wind down the evening, a nighttime swim, or even a night tour, some things can be found right in the comfort of your home away from home.
My favorite area hotel, Arenal Springs Resort and Spa, even has a sushi bar in the hot spring pool. That means you can enjoy sushi without even leaving the comfort of a natural hot spring. It seems a little on the nose to eat fish in a pool, but I don’t regret a thing.
See Related: Best Costa Rica Excursions to Book Today
10. Enjoy an Arenal Canopy Adventure
Address: 142, Provincia de Alajuela, San Carlos, Costa Rica
In case you haven’t noticed by now, experiencing the forest canopy in Arenal, Costa Rica, is a big part of their ecotourism. Even if you aren’t sure you’d like canopy tours, I implore you to look into them.
I was so terrified to do the Superman zipline on my stomach over the rainforest canopies that I was shaking. When it was over, I was crying because it was such an unbelievable, breathtaking experience. I would do one again in a heartbeat, but only with my GoPro attached to the helmet because I wish I could relive that moment.
Arenal Canopy Adventure is one of the area’s premiere canopy tour operators. In addition to the zipline tours, they have a massive Tarzan swing as well as horseback riding. Some tours even include both the canopy tour and horseback riding for some above-the-ground and on-the-ground sightseeing action.
11. Go on a Rainforest Chocolate Tour
Address: La Fortuna – Río Fortuna Waterfall, Alajuela Province, San Carlos, Costa Rica
Rainforests are plentiful in Costa Rica, as is cacao. On a rainforest chocolate tour, participants can learn all about cacao. From its ancient roots to how it’s harvested, processed, and eventually turned into the sweet chocolate we know, you’ll walk away with a new appreciation for cocoa.
Chocolate tasting is obviously a part of this tour, though if you try a raw cacao seed, you may regret tasting it. What you won’t regret is a hands-on experience that shows just how much goes into making a very special treat.
This is a roughly two-hour excursion that may be more interesting for adults than children. Still, a curious kiddo might get a kick out of learning about cocoa. Maybe they’ll even like the bitter, unprocessed bean more than the finished sweet itself!
See Related: Best Things to do in Playa del Coco, Costa Rica
12. Hang With the Sloths
Welcome back to the sloth bandwagon! On the Sloth Watching Trail, you will experience 90 of the fastest minutes of your life on the lookout for these sleepy, silly fellows hanging out high up in the trees. Small group tours are the best way to experience sloth watching because you will undoubtedly need the guide’s telescope to see them up close.
In addition to my favorite upside-down hanging tree huggers, you also may see a variety of birds, insects, snakes, and frogs too. But obviously, the sloths are the main attraction.
Depending on the time of year, you may even spot a mama sloth hugging a baby. We got so lucky though we could barely see the little one nuzzled into mama’s fur.
The Sloth Watching Trail requires advanced reservations because they do trail groups of less than 10 people at a time. This gives everyone ample opportunity to use the equipment and hopefully see several sloths.
You will learn so much about these goofy animals along the way. Did you know sloths only come down from their tree once a week — to poop? That’s some important knowledge for you.
13. Go on a Rainforest Horseback Ride
A unique way to experience the Arenal Volcano National Park is to do so while horseback riding. Trekking to spots like the La Fortuna Waterfall is so much easier with a horsey friend to lead the way, especially on those muggy days in the rainforest.
Some horseback riding tours also teach you about the forest and the ancient peoples who inhabited them. For a few hours, you can be amongst the natural beauty of Arenal Volcano National Park without overexerting yourself by getting through the hiking trails.
Of the various places you can do a horseback riding tour around La Fortuna, doing one through the national park is one of the best. Not only will you see more of the park than you probably would on foot in the same amount of time, but you also get to be one with nature in a totally different way.
See Related: Best Sabbatical Destinations: Trip Ideas for a Career Break
14. Find Some Free Hot Springs
There is no shortage of hot springs in Arenal, Costa Rica, but many of them cost money. If you know where to look, however, several of the thermal pools are free to use and on public land.
Right next to Tabacon Resort, there’s a popular hot spring that the locals often use. You’ll know you’re close when you see the line of cars along the side of the road. There are several hot springs in the La Fortuna area that are free of charge, but this one is especially popular.
Some free-swimming holes are around La Fortuna too! Known to the locals as El Salto and El Choyin, these are cool swimming locations to check out. They’re cool in the literal sense — they aren’t hot springs. Though El Salto has a rope swing to add to the leisure.
15. Spend Some Time at Lake Arenal
Costa Rica’s biggest lake, Arenal Lake, or Lake Arenal, is a watersports destination for a lot of folks. Swimming, kayaking, windsurfing and paddle boarding are among the most popular activities to do when visiting the lake. Lake Arenal is named as such because of its proximity to the Arenal Volcano.
Fishing enthusiasts also love Lake Arenal because of its big population of rainbow bass and machaca. If you see a machaca, there’s no need for alarm.
They may resemble their cousin the piranha, but they’re harmless. Still, the population of the two fish is high enough that you shouldn’t be surprised if you see a lot of fishing around the lake at any time of day.
Although the lake is manmade, the wildlife is very grateful for its existence. Hike around Lake Arenal and see for yourself the hundreds of species that call the area home. You might even spot some tapirs milling around. Photographers, be sure to bring your best distance lenses to capture the creatures living nearby!
See Related: Fun & Best Things to do in Tamarindo, Costa Rica
16. Take a Dip at Baldi Hot Springs
Address: 142, Provincia de Alajuela, San Carlos, Costa Rica
Did you know that La Fortuna, Costa Rica, is home to the world’s largest hot springs? You can find it at Baldi Hot Springs Hotel & Spa. These thermal pools, 25 of them in fact, are open to guests of the resort and the public alike.
Day passes for Baldi Hot Springs are available for adults and children, with access to all of the hot springs. For an additional cost, guests can also have lunch and/or dinner included in their day pass as well. With so many pools to enjoy, this hot springs resort certainly has room for everyone.
Each of the hot springs has a different temperature at Baldi depending on how close or far it is from the Arenal Volcano. These natural thermal pools are warmed by the heat of their nearby volcanic companion. So no matter your own internal temperature, you’re bound to find an ideal hot spring at Baldi.
17. Check out Sky Adventures Arenal Park
Location: Alajuela Province, La Fortuna, 21007, Costa Rica
Sky Adventures is the perfect name for a tour company like this one. From ziplining experiences to hanging bridges, an aerial tram, or even hitting the water with a rafting adventure, there is so much to do.
The most adventurous visitors might want to take up the Sky Limit Arenal Excursion which combines much of Sky Adventures’ activities. Participants in this adrenaline-fueled activity will be ziplining, completing high ropes courses, rappelling, canyoning, and more. For those less extreme, the Sky Tram is always a good option as well.
In addition to their Arenal, Costa Rica, location, Sky Adventures also has a place in Monteverde Park as well. Monteverde is where the business started, though blooming from the cloud forests to the shadow of Arenal Volcano is a natural next step.
See Related: Fun & Best Things to Do in San Jose, Costa Rica
18. Visit Arenal Observatory Lodge
Location: 7 Km Southeast of Arenal Volcano National Park, Alajuela Province, La Fortuna, 21007, Costa Rica
Guests of the Arenal Observatory Lodge can wake up each morning to some of the most panoramic views of the nearby Arenal Volcano, the dense rainforests, and the rest of Arenal, Costa Rica. They might wake up to those vistas, but non-guests are also welcome to immerse themselves in the lodge’s unique vantage point.
Both entrance passes and day passes are available for purchase. The difference is that entrance passes allow access to the nature reserve and other areas like the observation towers or walking trails but the day pass includes food and beverages.
Of particular interest to visitors is The Nest, a 92-foot-tall observation tower on the property. From here, visitors can see monkeys and toucans in the forest along with lots of other local wildlife. You also get unparalleled views of the Arenal Volcano, the Chato Volcano, and the nearby Tilarán Mountains as well.
For an additional fee, visitors can partake in the lodge’s Waterfall-Farm tour. Guests will see some of the property’s hundreds of acres of protected wilderness, the Danta Waterfall, some gardens, the lodge’s farm, and the on-property lagoon. While some of the tour takes place from the comfort of a trailer-pulled vehicle, there are steep stairs leading to and from the waterfall.
19. Get Adventurous With Some Waterfall Rappelling
If rappelling down a cliff along a waterfall cascade has ever been on your list of things to do, Arenal, Costa Rica, might be the best place to do it. Not only are there waterfalls aplenty to choose from, but there are countless companies offering both canyoning and rappelling experiences for visitors. Some tours will take you to do both!
La Fortuna is considered one of the best places in Costa Rica for waterfall rappelling. I can’t personally attest to that; I’m not in the extreme sports/scaling cliffs category of travelers.
But if you need to get that adrenaline pumping after days of lounging in hot springs or staring at La Fortuna Waterfall, you’re in the right place. Each tour operator will bring you to multiple rappelling locations for all of the adventurous exploration you can handle.
See Related: One-Week Costa Rica Itinerary – See & Explore It All
20. Explore Venado Caves
Location: Alajuela Province, San Carlos, Costa Rica
Venado Caves are an hour outside of La Fortuna, though the six million years of history are well worth the mini road trip. There is an entrance fee, but it covers everything you need for a cave adventure including access to the swimming pool.
You can also just visit the swimming pool for a smaller fee. Imagine going on a cave adventure, and swimming in a pool before having a traditional casado meal (Costa Rica’s national dish of rice, protein, plantain, salad, and beans) afterward.
In total there are eight chambers to explore with all sorts of insects, spiders, fish, and bats to see. The limestone pathways have been carved by the movement of nature, like water currents and tectonic plate shifts. Now their innumerous stalagmites and stalactites glimmer throughout the cave system to the delight of visitors.
It takes a few hours to go spelunking through the caves, though you could easily spend a whole day here. Consider taking some time to further enjoy the caves after a guided tour when you know more about the ancient history of Venado.
What to pack when visiting Arenal, Costa Rica
Most of the adventures you’ll have in the Arenal region will likely be outdoorsy in nature. Because Arenal, Costa Rica, is so full of natural wonder, there are countless ways to enjoy it.
It’s practically the Adventure Capital of Costa Rica. Adventures for the whole family await but there is some gear you’re going to need.
- Water shoes: So many of the La Fortuna attractions are water-based, having water shoes on hand is the best way to prepare. Even places like Paradise Hot Springs or Tabacon Hot Springs to Rio Celeste can be elevated through proper footwear. Particularly around waterfalls, the rocks in the water are extremely slippery from being worn down through time.
- Insect repellent: As Costa Rica is one of the most biodiverse regions in the world, many of the national parks or reserve areas have rules about repellents or aerosol products. Even so, you’re going to want some bug repellent. No-Bite-Me by Sallye Ander is both a salve bug repellent and also an anti-itch cream in case the insects do get you.
- Hiking boots: Whether an Arenal Volcano hike is on your agenda, you’re visiting Costa Rica during the rainy season, or you plan on taking in some zip lines, you’ll want some hiking boots. Not only will they keep your feet dry, but they’ll also offer support for your ankles and feet for those long adventurous days.
- Dry bag: Like hiking boots, a good dry bag is an excellent investment for your travel gear. They’ll keep all your stuff safe and dry anywhere you go. Whether you get caught in a rainstorm or go on a boating excursion, the unexpected can always happen. Dry bags are often waterproof, can float, and roll down for added protection against the water. Sometimes they can be difficult to carry, so consider that when purchasing one that doesn’t have straps.
- Phone pouch: When planning your pack for Costa Rica, even if you ignore every other item in this list, a waterproof phone pouch is a must. The pouches keep water out, and your phone is safe and useable even from within the pouch. Photos may come out blurry because of water on the outside of the pouch, though it’s handy to be able to use your phone even in water.
How many days do you need in Arenal, Costa Rica?
At least a week is a good amount of time to conquer all of the things to do in Arenal, Costa Rica. From basking in the hot springs to seeing wonders like the Rio Celeste Waterfall, Arenal National Park, and La Fortuna town, there is so much to do. Plus you’ll want time to enjoy your hot springs resort if you stay at one.
Can you see lava at Arenal?
Arenal Volcano is still considered active, though its activity has decreased significantly since 2010. Currently, you cannot see lava flows from the crater or plumes of smoke coming from it because the volcano is “sleeping.”
What is Arenal, Costa Rica, known for?
Arenal, Costa Rica which is actually La Fortuna, Costa Rica, is known for its thermal pools, Arenal Volcano, and waterfalls. The area is also known for its wildlife and canopy tours as well.
Is it free to visit Arenal Volcano?
No, there is an entrance fee to get into Arenal Volcano National Park. However, you can see Arenal Volcano from the surrounding area at a distance, but the best viewing is from within the park grounds.
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