The Beautiful Rainforest… Arenal Volcano Area, Costa Rica

An active volcano, hot springs, the rainforest, and wildlife… all things we anticipated as we ventured to La Fortuna and the Arenal Volcano area, our first destination in Costa Rica. As we approached the area we couldn’t help but notice the lush green that surrounded us… everywhere we looked was bursting with life. It was raining a bit, but it didn’t really matter… the rainforest has that effect… life goes on as usual as showers come and go. We spent 3 nights in this beautiful area and loved every minute of it!

Where to stay

We stayed at Tabacon, which is a 15-minute taxi ride from La Fortuna and close to all the local volcano/rainforest activities. When we arrived at 2pm, our room wasn’t ready so we went to the Tabacon Hot Springs which are on an adjacent property. There’s a shuttle to the hot springs, but the walk is only 5 – 10 minutes on a paved walkway. Through our stay we noted that rooms typically aren’t ready until 3pm check-in… there are very nice changing rooms at the hot springs, so travelers can get started having fun right away. The changing rooms include lockers and showers.

So what about the hot springs? Wow sums it up! The hot springs area of the property has an expansive waterfall system that meanders through beautiful gardens with paved walk-ways. We went from waterfall to waterfall… it was beautiful and really relaxing. Daniel and Todd also had fun spotting all kinds of lizards! Is the water hot? Yes… 104 degrees!

There are also 3 pools in the hot springs area of Tabacon which are set to different temperatures. The main pool has a swim-up bar and waterslide. There’s also food service at the bar and a restaurant that overlooks the pool.

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Something to note about the hot springs… visitors who aren’t staying at the hotel can purchase day-passes to the hot springs. Because of this, we found that first thing in the morning is the best time to enjoy the hot springs… as the day goes on the hot springs get really crowded. Also, though there is an adults-only area, the whole atmosphere gets more adult appropriate later in the day/evening.

How was the rest of the resort? Really nice… our room was spacious, modern, and very clean. The breakfast, which was included in the room rate, was fantastic. There’s one pool at the hotel which was never very crowded. Food is available at various places around the resort, however we ventured out to La Fortuna for most of our meals other than breakfast.

There are lots of other hotels/resorts in the Arenal area… each has a different vibe and only some have hot springs. We talked to travelers who stayed at other hotels/resorts, and they were all fairly pleased. However, some were disappointed that they didn’t fully experience the hot springs.

La Fortuna

We had fun visiting La Fortuna for dinner 2 of our 3 nights in the area. La Fortuna has a fun and welcoming vibe, but caters to tourist so there’s not a lot of Costa Rican culture. The first night we were really hungry and stopped in at a casual bar/restaurant on the main drag that had a mix of Costa Rican and American food… we enjoyed our meals, but they weren’t extraordinary.

Before hopping in the taxi for our second visit we did our homework and chose a restaurant that was harder to find but has really fantastic reviews… La Parrilla de Maria Bonita. This was an experience… we arrived in the late afternoon and the restaurant was empty… we were very skeptical. On top of it, the menu is a fusion of Lebanese and Costa Rican food… we love both types of food, but didn’t expect this fusion in Costa Rica!

So how was La Parrilla de Maria Bonita? Fantastic… some of the best food we had on the trip! We had Fattoush salad, a steak dish, shish tawouk, and Daniel had a burger. Everything was super fresh, very creative, and delicious… truly the best blend of both Lebanese and Costa Rican food that we could imagine!

La Fortuna is an easy 15-minute cab ride from Tabacon. Tabacon arranged the taxis for us and they were very reliable. A tour company affiliated with Tabacon has an office in the middle of La Fortuna, and when we wanted to return to Tabacon we just went to the office and they called the cab. The longest we waited was about 10 minutes. The cab wasn’t cheap… $36 USD round trip. However, the food in La Fortuna is not expensive at all… we estimate that we would have spent as much or more just for dinner at the hotel as we spent for the taxi, dinner, and gelato in La Fortuna!

What to do

In addition to the hot springs, there are tons of outdoor activities in the Arenal Volcano area… hiking, white water rafting, zip lining, and hanging bridges are just some of the most popular. We went on the hanging bridges nature walk and had a great experience!

The Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges nature walk is a 2 – 3 hour walk through the rainforest. The cool part is that the “hanging” bridges allow us to see higher elevations of the rainforest. Because the rainforest is so dense, plants and animals at lower elevations get totally different amounts of sunlight than plants and animals at the higher elevations, creating different habitats. The “hanging” bridges are suspension bridges… we were a little nervous at first, but got used to them and felt totally safe. Park staff regulate the number of people on some of the longer bridges.

The walk is very well maintained and most of it is paved. Through the walk there are about 8 fixed bridges and 6 hanging bridges. There are also quick routes out if a visitor doesn’t feel comfortable completing the full walk.  

So what about the wildlife… awesome! One caveat… it’s really important to have a guide because a lot of the wildlife is very well camouflaged and/or high up in the trees. We had an AWESOME guide… Gerald P. Gerald is extremely knowledgeable about the vegetation, wildlife, and ecosystem of the rainforest. We learned a ton about flowers, how/why plants grow out of trees, what animals and plants thrive in different areas of the rainforest, and the animals that live in the rainforest. Gerald is also fantastic with kids… we went on the walk with one other family and the kids had lots of questions… Gerald did a great job of answering their questions and keeping them engaged!

What wildlife did we see? Sloths, snakes, spider monkeys, tarantula, tons of birds, and Daniel is very proud to have spotted a poison dart frog!

The Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park also has very well maintained facilities, a gift shop, a restaurant, and a great view of the Arenal Volcano. The gift shop has ponchos which we highly recommend for anyone without raincoats… it rains on and off, and is sometimes heavy. We were really happy that we had raincoats! One last thing… we wore closed hiking shoes (no slits or openings), which are required for the hike. Visitors who have shoes with slits (like Keens) have to sign a waiver.

Wrapping it up

We stayed in the La Fortuna and the Arenal Volcano area for 3 nights/2.5 days and felt it was a perfect amount of time. The area is great for kids and adults… tons to do for everyone!