Costa Rica: Hike a Volcano, Save a Dog, Pura Vida!

A view of the Volcano near La Fortuna, Costa Rica

Aside a magnificent and near perfect cone volcano sits a small town named La Fortuna. The town’s name means”The Fortune,” as it was a refuge for survivors of the volcano’s unforgiving eruption in 1968. Just one year ago you could have found yourself in a front row seat for a relentless display of fire, steam and glowing lava flow, these days however, the volcano seems to be at rest — at least for now. This Costa Rican gem in the eastern valley of the fiery mountain is the perfect launch pad for your tropical travel adventures, easily accessed by either of Costa Rica’s major airports in San Jose or Liberia. La Fortuna is a small tourist town, and the surrounding area offers everything from adrenaline pumping thrills to serene hot springs and spas.

La Fortuna has something to offer everyone; if you want a peaceful retreat, rent a car and book a tree house, cabin, or villa outside of town and enjoy the sounds and sights of the tropical rain forest with the mystical volcanic backdrop. If you’re ready for the adventure of a lifetime, grab a room or cabin in the town limits and head over to a tour office. I recommend Costa Rica Descents to setup your action packed getaway. In just 3 unplanned days I was able to hike and explore the flanks of Arenal Volcano, zip line over the canopies of the dense rainforest, white water raft the class IV rapids of the Balsa River, tour a local farm for samples of organic cuisine, and I recovered from it all each night in steamy hot springs. Not enough for you? Try exploring the Venado Caverns and Cerro Chato Crater Lake, or go bird watching, kayaking, wind surfing, and wakeboarding — just some of the other unique experiences that you can sample in the shadow of the towering Arenal volcano.


Volcan Arenal, La Fortuna. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

Costa Rica Descents, located in the unmistakable town center of La Fortuna, offers guided rafting tours from lazy river floats to white-knuckled class V river rafting. This company’s guides won’t fail to entertain and surprise you with their experience, knowledge of the rainforest and river, and attentiveness to safety. We definitely got more than we bargained for when my friend and I went on a class IV  rafting excursion with this company down the Balsa River. Although I was trembling in my helmet and life vest and clinging to the shore at the site of the rapids we would soon face, I was nothing but smiles and screams of delight after I was coaxed into the boat and onto the raging river. Looking back, although I had never been white water rafting before (at least no more than a lazy summer float), I have no doubt I was in good hands, and I was well-prepared by our onshore lesson before we headed down river. The sites we saw along the way were breathtaking and completely wild! I highly recommend getting your adrenaline fix this way and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the serenity you’ll encounter at the same time.

Much of my time in La Fortuna was spent zip lining above the canopy and fields of a local farm and garden and relaxing in countless hot springs. For these adventures and post-adventure-cures I can’t recommend a specific tree top tour or hot spot as there are countless options, and you’re sure to find the perfect package for yourself. The zip line excursions offer a chance to soar above the treetops and between the canopies of the rain forest; some offer repelling (down a waterfall!) or Tarzan swings for those hearing the call of the wild. Many of the hot springs offer several temperatures and sizes of pools, along with tropical gardens, waterfalls, and water slides to keep you entertained if you’re not fully ready to relax into the steamy waters. The hot springs can be pretty pricey, so ask around and do some research before jumping in, we were able to book a zip line course that included access to the hot springs, water slides, and gardens at Los Lagos, which were almost as satisfying as the more well known Baldi Hot Springs we visited the day before.

A Beautiful Frog (Agalychnis Callidryas) in La Fortuna (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

La Fortuna also has a few secret treasures including the nearby Venado Caves. Reservations for tours were hard to come by and can take up the greater part of a day, so if you plan on doing this, plan ahead! Cerro Chato Crater, accessible through hiking trails from La Fortuna and the nearby Observatory Lodge is one of the area’s treasures we were not fortunate enough to experience. Although we had planned to tackle this treacherous hike and jump in the lake at the top, we were warned of deadly poisonous snakes and slippery landscape that should not be faced alone by amateur hikers. This crater lake is surely worth the rigorous day-long hike, but not my life! I plan to tackle this full day hike with an experienced guide (which can be arranged in La Fortuna) on my next trip. Lake Arenal at the base of Arenal Volcano is another of La Fortuna’s treasures. This lake boasts conditions perfect for wind surfing at one end while glass at the other for wakeboarding with Paradise Adventures (PACR). If you’re a pro, why wouldn’t you jump at the chance to glide across the perfectly smooth water with a volcanic view? If you’ve never stood on water behind a boat before what better place in the world to jump in and learn to ride? Just hold on and follow the boat! This company also offers a large houseboat for private day, evening, or week long floats around Lake Arenal, which sounds like a must for my next La Fortuna, Costa Rica adventure!

When all your playing, exploring and relaxing in the rainforest comes to an end and you find yourself packing your bags and buying those last few balsa wood souvenirs, stop by Lava Lounge Bar and Grill and checkout Scott’s Street Dogs foundation for rescuing stray dogs. Make a contribution to the cause by buying a T-shirt, meet some of the dogs, or better yet, take one home! Scott has several adorable muts up for adoption and ready for loving homes. You can’t beat a four legged furry friend as a Costa Rican Souvenir! .

Enjoy your travels in Costa Rica, Pura Vida!


Courtney O'Connor

About Courtney O'Connor

Court O'Connor is a flight attendant based in San Francisco, CA, which serves as the launch pad for this small town girl's spontaneous adventures around the world. Follow along on her journeys, pick up priceless tips, and experience the adventure of life in the sky.