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La Fortuna and Arenal with Kids

Updated: Oct 20, 2023

Nestled in the heart of lush rainforests and overlooking the iconic Arenal Volcano, La Fortuna offers adrenaline-pumping activities among its enchanting natural wonders. La Fortuna seemed to be busier (full of American holiday-makers) and more-touristy (more tacky shops, more expensive food etc) compared to anywhere else on our Central American journey. But if you can’t beat ’em, join ‘em! Famous for its rainforest canopy tours via some of the longest and tallest zip lines in the world, La Fortuna is not to miss in any Costa Rican adventure.

Getting there:


Travelling north from the Utiva/Manuel Antonia area, we broke up the 5-hour drive with two stops. The first was playa Hermosa, a fine black sand beache with not a soul on it, an hour up the costal road. We decided not to swim as there were 8ft waves (at least!!) - never seen anything like it! We had a nice time strolling, digging for a bit and watching some enormous beach lizards mooching about.


Another 40 mins or so up the same road, our second stop was Crocodile Bridge, which is kind of self-explanatory tbh! There is a busy commodore with parking a stone’s throw away from the bridge itself, the perfect place to stop for lunch before the nap-shift continuous push for the remaining 3 hours before arriving in La Fortuna for the largest shot of adrenaline yet!

Zip-lines:


One of our deepest of veins of research in anticipation of this Central American tour surrounded what zip lines or hanging bridges we might visit to get the spectacular views of volcanos and the lush, dense jungle of Costa Rica. With so many locations to choose from, from rainforest to cloud forest, and varying length, height, cost and different mixtures of thrilling activities, we elected for Sky Adventures in La Fortuna, with its unrivalled view of Arenal volcano and lake. I’m sure no matter what canopy tour you choose, you’re sure to see some incredible wildlife and landscapes.

We had a job deciding how to play it with the 4-year-old and 11-month-old both too young to partake in the zip line. We decided that Dad would take the youngest on a hike around the 7 or so hanging bridges for the two hours Max and I would be zipping through the trees. Then we all had lunch, Andrew had his turn on the zip lines while baby had a nap and the rest of us did a combination of walking, drawing and playing between the paths and café.

No joke, the zip line was one of the highlights of my life. The whole thing takes two hours, is an outrageous 300m off the ground and costs a metric-shit-tonne but totally worth it for another bucket list day. Despite being so fast, they’re so long you have time to pretend to be a tropical bird flying high above the forest with the beautiful view of the lake and volcano behind. Max blew us away by his attitude (after being a nightmare the previous day or two with all the travelling), he was nervous but pushed himself to do it. That’ll get him a scout badge I’m sure. To top in all off, on the hanging bridge jungle walk, we saw our first pit viper, the most dangerous snake in the region.


Mistico Hanging Bridges:


The day after we visited the other side of Arenal National Park and trekked the Mistico Hanging Bridges. We have entered the territory of “lasts” now and this would be our last rainforest hike as we approach the end of this amazing adventure. These 16 suspension bridges give a fairly unique perspective, allowing you to tour the canopy from above. We saw loads of monkeys and birds which we wouldn’t have been able to glimpse through the dense leafy cover if we were on the ground. We also saw an eyelash viper, one of the most poisonous snakes in the world. This one really brought to home how dangerous the forest can be as it was literally 6 inches from the path.

Word of caution: one of the more frequent battles we have pretty much every day on this trip involves literally begging the kids not to touch things. Yes, we are lucky they sleep and eat etc but my god they do not listen to simple instructions and not picking up random leaves, fruit, flora and fauna the forest floor is pretty important out here!


La Fortuna Town:


We really couldn’t prioritise the town centre with only a few days and a LOT of national parks to explore, but the town was pleasant enough for a lunchtime commodore stop opposite Parque de La Fortuna. The views down the main road are worth a stop for food for sure, but there isn’t much else going on.


Hot Springs:


Again, a challenge to choose between the many glorious hot springs of La Fortuna. Despite the dream of relaxing warm water and peaceful jungle sounds, our expectations were low for fear of busy, cramped or loud pools with outrageous $100 entrance fee (jeez Costa Rica is expensive!). After much debate we decided to go for a free dip at a spot popular with locals which we read about online. To get there, just pull over on the road between Palma and the National Park where you see a bunch of local cars parked up near a bridge at the edge of the road (also for free). We walked across the bridge, through some jungle towards the sounds of the bubbling, steamy hot water. It was amazing!! So hot we couldn’t spend too long there, but it was incredible. I love beating the system!

After 45 mins or so it was time to dry off and change in the forest and head for a picnic in the car and afternoon naps on the road to our penultimate stop in Costa Rica - Tortuguero.


Where to Stay:


One of the reasons La Fortuna felt like such a wonderfully chilled escape (surprisingly so given its popularity) was our wonderful AirBnB. For £60ish a night, we got a beautiful bungalow in the rural countryside 15 mins outside of La Fortuna proper (30-40 mins from the National Park), with a well kitted-out kitchen, 2x air-conditioned bedrooms, a garden complete with resident sloth, driveway parking and a deserted swimming pool out front. A bit of meal planning and a trip to a supermarket allowed us to cook, pack lunches and keep the costs down, while being away from the hustle and bustle of the busy town gave us the tropical paradise we love. Would definitely recommend.


In Summary:


La Fortuna/Arenal, is a paradise for adventurous families seeking unforgettable. From zip-lining through the rainforest canopy to soaking in natural volcanic hot springs, this region promises an abundance of excitement and cherished memories. It is worth nothing that for whatever reason, we actually saw a lot less wildlife here than we did pretty much everywhere else. But that didn’t stop us having the very best time making memories that will last a lifetime.

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