Volcano Arenal is one of many active volcanos in Costa Rica and it attract visitors from around the World. Nearby city of the La Fortuna is the perfect place to stay with restaurant, hostels and bars, from where there is easy access to all major attractions.
We stayed in La Fortuna for 4 nights (3.5 days), and we could have easily stayed one day less and still be fine. This is the place where we did most of our tours, mainly booking them through Arenal Hostel Resort where we stayed. The hostel was great for a hostel- the room was super small but clean, we had a private bathroom and a fridge, and the AC worked great. You could buy breakfast coupons at the reception for Corner Restaurant’s buffet breakfast, or you could you just pay the restaurant directly (it was cheaper to pay in Colones).
Arenal Volcano National Park and Volcano Hike Tour
We booked this Arenal Volcano hike tour trough our hostel for about $65 per person, this is really a combination of two tours- one a nice hike through Arenal National Park (starting from Arenal Observatory Lodge and Spa), and the other one a little bit more challenging hike up the volcano and the lava fields, ending in local hot springs by the road. The first part includes a visit to the frog pond where we were lucky to see the amazing red eyed frog at the Frog Pond (totally worth coming to Costa Rica just because of this), went down to the waterfall where you can swim (although changing and getting into the water is challenging), crossed few hanging bridges, and then went back downtown to La Fortuna town for lunch. The afternoon hike up the volcano doesn’t bring you all the way up to the top of course, this is an active volcano after all, but it is good work out up the hill, through the jungle, and across lava fields. After the hike we went to a local hot thermal springs, which was our least favorite part as it looked like a sewer and was extremely slippery.
We booked the Original Arenal ATV Tour through our hostel, app $90 for tandem ride. This is a super fun activity, but not for everyone. Teenagers in our group who do not yet have a driver's license did great, while the forty-something experienced driver was too scared to ride it. The trail goes down steep and rocky hill, through creeks and the the jungle, to a small river and back, with a break for amazing tamales lunch at a nice lady’s house (bring cash for tip). Wear some old shoes as they will end up covered in mud.
Baldi Hot Springs
The Baldi Hot Springs was $45 per person through our hostel's travel agency for all day pass and dinner- the dinner is really not worth it- tasty high school cafeteria. The process is pretty straight forward- if you have a car you can park it there for free, you get your bracelet (Cost Ricans loves their bracelets), open a bar tab at the dry bar at the entrance, rent a locker (nonrefundable $6), and rent a towel for a refundable $10 deposit (you can keep exchanging wet towels for dry ones throughout the day). The only mystery was why would someone put a pool bar in a big jacuzzi where water temperature was 40C/104F — it was so hot we barely finished one Pina colada.
La Fortuna Waterfall
La Fortuna Waterfall is the one of the few tourist-oriented places in Costa Rica that you can easily do it your self. The entrance is $15 per person and parking is free (but come early since parking lot is small). Going down and then up 500 stairs is not a joke. Stairs are made with tourists in mind so you can rest every 20-40 steps, there are benches along the way, water fountains, and places to stop and catch your breath. The waterfall is beautiful and the water is cold, but it feels great after working up a sweat coming down in the heat. It is not easy to get in the water, rocks are slippery - but unlike the other waterfall we visited (I think in the park near Observation Lounge) there is a platform with plenty of space to change into your bathing suit, dry after coming out, get dressed, etc.
Kayaking on the lake arenal
The last day, on our way to Monteverde driving around the Arenal Lake. We booked the tour with a local company for $30 per person. The reason for this rather cheap activity (compared to other twice as expensive tours) became evident when we got to the kayak place and saw the kayaks. The kayaks were wobbly and didn’t appear overly safe. The ride on the lake, with the volcano looking over us, was great until the wind picked up. Still, if you love to kayak, do not miss this opportunity, maybe just find a place with better kayaks.