La Fortuna and Arenal Volcano

I spent my first night in Costa Rica at a nondescript but perfectly adequate Marriott conveniently near the airport. The free shuttle provided was welcoming and provided peace of mind for my first steps into Central America.

After that first night (and an accidental foray into a Costa Rican Black Friday sales event at Walmart), I was ready to explore, so I scheduled an easy transfer on a shuttle bus through Interbus (schedules and prices here: they pick you up and drop you off at your respective hotel locations, no mucking around with taxis), and I was on my way to La Fortuna – home of Arenal volcano!

Upon check-in to La Fortuna’s Hotel Bromelias in the “city” center, I was ridiculously pleased with what $30 is worth!

La FOrtuna Bromelias Hotel (1)

A private room with air conditioning, my own bathroom, a balcony, a pretty pool, and an included breakfast. Costa Rica, expensive? I don’t think so! (unfortunately that naive assumption was short lived)

La FOrtuna Bromelias Hotel (2)

I promptly booked a volcanic tour of the infamous Arenal, and began to get ridiculously excited to see my first ever volcano!

But, unfortunately, I didn’t.

What went wrong on my Arenal Volcano hike?

La Fortuna Arenal Volcano Hike (19)

I did see amazing forestsLa Fortuna Arenal Volcano Hike (19)

and even wild turkeys

Nothing – I went on the Arenal Volcano hike as advertised. And yes, it was totally awesome and I learned a lot. I was instantly impressed with the professionalism, timeliness (tourism people are on TIME in Costa Rica!), and knowledge of the guides.

La Fortuna Arenal Volcano Hike (12)

BUT the tour only goes a short way up the still-active Arenal volcano, for the safety of tourists. Before the restrictions were put in place, almost 30 tourists died over the years from exposure to volcanic gases and even falling from the rim.

La Fortuna Arenal Volcano Hike (3)

Now, on cloudy days, the peak is totally out of sight. I wouldn’t have known I was hiking on a volcano if it wasn’t in the name of the tour I booked.

La Fortuna Arenal Volcano Hike

Do I regret booking the tour and paying $60+ for the experience?

Not at all!

I got to experience my first glimpses of Costa Rican wildlife, including a pack of coatis and their babies on the side of the road, which the guide so graciously stopped the van to let us jump out and take pictures.

La Fortuna Arenal Volcano Hike Koati La Fortuna Arenal Volcano Hike Koati

La Fortuna Arenal Volcano Hike Koati

Why did the Koati cross the road? To get to the other side… as far as possible away from annoying tourists getting up in his biz taking photos

I also learned a lot about the damage that Arenal volcano had caused during its active period. In 1968, over 70 people died when the once-dormant Arenal volcano became active again, and laterally exploded, and Tabacon and Pueblo Nuevo villages were inflicted with hot gases. The next year a hot ash-cloud surge killed 8 people. Following these tragedies, the government cleared many villagers out of the danger zone, providing them with funds for rebuilding elsewhere, and flooded the entire area to create the largest man-made lake in Central America, and a major hydroelectric power producer for the country.

La Fortuna Arenal Volcano Hike

(you can see the man-made lake in the background)

Visiting Arenal Volcano provides a dramatic view of the devastation of a volcanic eruption, but also an optimistic perspective.

La Fortuna Arenal Volcano Hike

Already, a secondary forest has sprung up after the hot gases killed the primary forest.

La Fortuna Arenal Volcano Hike (19)

this orchid, a common sight in the secondary forest, blooms for only 1 day a year

Lava has formed jagged rocks, creating a very alien landscape, now punctuated by flowers and grasses.

La Fortuna Arenal Volcano Hike (19)

The resiliency of the forest is remarkable – a lesson in optimism for all who visit,


The Necessary Details

The Half Day Arenal Volcano hike can be organized by your hotel, or booked on Viator here (you can also drive by yourself but you’d miss out on valuable information)

Be sure to bring a rain coat, a waterproof brimmed hat, a waterproof dry bag, and possibly an umbrella

Wear non-slip, comfortable shoes (I love my Vibrams for this sort of hike!) as you’ll be hiking over pokey rocks, and quick dry clothing for the frequent rain

Staying in the La Fortuna city center (like at Hotel Bromelias) is cheap and convenient, and most of the arranged tours provide transportation.

Looking for more adventures in La Fortuna? Check here

Have you ever visited a volcano? What did you think?


A short vacation in Thailand turned into a life abroad with a canceled ticket home. Nearly a decade later and after living in Bangkok, Rio de Janeiro, Puebla, and Puerto Vallarta, Steph is on to her next adventure and living back in beautiful, cosmopolitan Mexico City. She is living, traveling, and working (both as an expat therapist and an international health insurance representative) around the world to find the beautiful, inspirational, and interesting while sharing it with you!

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  1. December 9, 2015 / 5:43 pm

    Glad to see you had a great time in la Fortuna! We love it there, so many fun things to do but I had the same sentiment about the national park hike the first time I did it. You can still see the volcano (if it’s clear) but people assume they can hike up which you can’t. Next time, you should do the Cerro Chato hike, it’s an inactive volcano next to Arenal and you can hike up to the crater lake. Tough hike but worth it!

    • December 10, 2015 / 1:38 pm

      Totally! It was just a miscommunication but still a great experience… and I was so psyched to see coatis!

      Cerro Chato looks amazing – and I will DEFINITELY do that one next time. I did hear it was really hard but I hope I can do it!

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