Young boy walks on hanging rope bridge through the jungle canopy in Costa Rica

La Fortuna, Costa Rica – a guide for a fun-filled family stay (2024)

La Fortuna is firmly on the list for many travellers itineraries for Costa Rica, and rightly so. It’s the base for SO many adrenaline activities, and the views of the Arenal Volcano, that looms up right next to the town, are spectacular. We based ourselves here for five days during our Costa Rica travels and we squeezed in a LOT of fun stuff. So buckle up, there’s quite a lot to get through in this guide to an action-packed family stay in La Fortuna!

Where is La Fortuna?

La Fortuna is located in the Alajuela province of Costa Rica, around 140km from San Jose. If you’re coming direct from downtown San Jose or the international airport, expect it to take around 2.5-3hours to get to La Fortuna.

We drove to La Fortuna from Tamarindo on the Pacific Coast, which took around 4-5hours in total (including a couple of stops).

What is La Fortuna like?

The Lonely Planet guide didn’t exactly rave about the town of La Fortuna itself so I wasn’t sure what to expect on our family travels here. In the end, we really loved it – yes, there are tourists but it doesn’t feel too busy or hectic. Like much of Costa Rica, there were few (if any) buildings over two storeys so it didn’t feel too built up and pretty much EVERYWHERE has a view over the Arenal Volcano (which towers above the town). 

There were loads of nice little restaurants (especially the ones slightly off the main road), good supermarkets and plenty of little souvenir shops (which the boys always love pottering around in).

We still had the hire car during our stay in La Fortuna, but it’s fairly easy to walk around and if you stay somewhere that helps book tours then most of the time transport will be included in the price. Whilst a hire care makes life super easy, it’s really not a necessity for La Fortuna as it’s well-connected to onwards destinations and easy to get around.

Where to stay in La Fortuna

A large part of why we enjoyed La Fortuna so much was because we had such a great base. There seemed to be absolutely loads of well-rated accommodation options in La Fortuna so it took me a while to settle on one, but Arenal Xilapolo seemed to tick a lot of boxes and it definitely didn’t disappoint. 

Like most of the places we stayed in Costa Rica, it’s not somewhere you could describe as ‘luxury’ – but you certainly got a lot of bang for your buck. We stayed in one of the two-bedroom apartments with a kitchen, living area and big outside veranda overlooking the river. The whole place was really spacey, and within about five minutes of arriving there were hummingbirds and toucans fluttering around right next to our veranda!

Wooden deck chairs and small tables sit on a wooden decked area with a small brown stream running behind. On the other side of the stream is dense foliage

The hotel is in a fabulous spot on a small river (which was covered in lush greenery), with amazing views of Arenal Volcano from the restaurant/communal space. They were just about to open a new swimming pool when we left which looked fab too!One of the things that really made our stay though were the fantastic staff – they went out of their way to sort out tours, book activities and provide general advice on the best way to see/do things. One of the reception staff sat with me for nearly 90mins on the first evening to go through our budget and all the possible things we could do. 

They offer a ridiculous number of tours/activities – it was hard to narrow it down to what we wanted to/had the budget to do. When we needed to shuffle things around they were so helpful – honestly, some of the most knowledgeable and friendly staff I’ve encountered anywhere on my travels over the years!

In total, we paid £240 for four nights in a two-bed family apartment (which sleeps up to 7). As a bit of a guide, this seemed to fall towards the more budget-end for a family stay in La Fortuna (and having a kitchen meant we could save money on eating out all the time, a big expense in Costa Rica).

And so to all the fun stuff….

Sloth-spotting with Armando

If you read any of the reviews of Arenal Xilopalo, 9/10 people mention the Sloth Tour with Armando as the highlight of their stay. We’d already seen a handful of sloths by this point but we were all excited to learn a bit more about them and hopefully spot some babies too! We booked this on the first evening for the next day, and Armando offered to give us a quick night tour around the hotel grounds that evening for free as we’d booked on to the sloth tour the next day. This was fab as we spotted lots of tree frogs, bullfrogs and poison dart frogs and Armando was able to talk us all through the differences between the species. It only lasted for 20mins or so but was so interesting!

Image of sloth curled up tightly in a ball in the top of a tree. Image is surrounded by a black circle as it was taken through a telescope. Image taken by our guide on our sloth tour during our family stay in La Fortuna
The head of a large Yellow Rat Snake - yellow and black - hovers above a tree branch surrounded by foliage. Image taken by our guide on the sloth tour during our family stay in La Fortuna

So the next day we rocked up at Reception for our Sloth Tour, hoping to see at least a couple of sloths. The tour lasted for around two hours and we saw 13 (THIRTEEN!) sloths, including two babies with their mothers. When we booked Costa Rica I was hoping that we might see a sloth (one!) so this was beyond all of our wildest sloth dreams! Armando was one of the best guides I’ve ever come across – full of facts about the sloths that the boys (and the grown-ups!) loved and just so full of passion for his work it was infectious. This is a guy who must have seen thousands of sloths but it still excited everytime he points one out!

We also saw a massive yellow rat snake (our first snake sighting in the wild in Costa Rica and it was a good one!) and several of the massive iguanas that we’d seen across Costa Rica but still find amazing (the sheer size of them!).

We were all absolutely buzzing with excitement by the end of the tour – I can’t recommend this one enough if you ever find yourself in Costa Rica. It worked out at less than £20pp, which was pretty good value considering the experience we had.

If spotting sloths is on your Costa Rica bucketlist, then check out our other post here for the lowdown on where to see sloths across Costa Rica.


Another thing on my (pretty long) must do list for Costa Rica. You can do ziplining in loads of places around the country but we’d waited until La Fortuna as we’d read that the Arenal/Monteverde region had some fab options for this.

We opted for the Big Ama (12 zipline) experience at Arenal Mundo Aventura. It was in budget but seemed to include a lot of ziplines for the money and was recommended by the staff at the hotel. In total it was £190 for the four of us (Granny sensibly decided to sit this one out). 

Following the safety briefing we had a short ride in the back of a tractor trailer up in to the forested hills nearby. There was a bit of a hike upwards from here to the first zipline (and a bit of moaning from the 7-year old). But the moaning soon subsided once we got going! 

Young boy hangs from the top of a zipline waiting to take his turn. The line is held by a tour guide in a yellow helmet; the zipline extends down through the canopy of a rainforest

There are various ziplines of different heights/lengths but they all send you flying through the jungle canopy – the views are absolutely incredible. Valleys far below you with rivers running through them, waterfalls, dense green jungle….all of which flashes past as you speed along the ziplines! I think the longest zipline is just over 1km, which is crazy!

About halfway through the experience it started to rain – and I mean, RAIN. The kind of rain that is so heavy it’s painful when it hits you. The cloud dropped into the forest around us and it became shrouded in cloud and mist. 

Which meant that when you launched yourself off the platform you couldn’t see where you were going, which added another level of excitement/fear to the whole thing! The water also made the ziplines even faster, which did mean that for a while the boys had to go on attached to a guide for safety (and the grown-ups had to use their brake gloves to slow down before hitting the end platform!).

The whole thing lasted about 3-4hours in total and it was so exhilarating – the speed, the adrenaline, the views. Another must-do for Costa Rica, I would absolutely not miss this one out if you’re planning a family trip to La Fortuna.

Sky Adventure Park

This was definitely the most expensive activity we went for during our stay in the region. You can buy several different combo packages for entry as the park offers hikes (including the famous hanging bridges), a sky tram up through the canopy and ziplining.

We opted for the pass that gave us access to the hanging bridges hikes and the sky tram – the ziplining looked fab but we wanted a day that all of us could participate in, and my Mum had already taken the decision not to go for the ziplining (she packed a hell of a lot in to her 2.5weeks in Costa Rica but the ziplining was pushing it a bit far!).

Young boy in shorts, blue t shirt and cream cap stands looking out over railings into the jungle and Lake Arenal in the distance. He is holding binoculors. La Fortune Family Guide

We were booked in for the Sky Tram first, which took us up through the forest canopy. The views were fantastic, but what made the difference was the guide who came up in the tram with us. She was brilliant – really engaging and knowledgeable. 

As most of the group went on to start the ziplining when we got to the top, our guide hung out with us for a while, talking us through the flora and fauna and even taking us to see a tiny Eyelash Pit Viper that had taken up residence in a tree round the back of the ziplining platform! 

Back down at the base, we then had plenty of time to hike round the various trails and cross the hanging bridges through the canopy. It was really interesting to see the forest floor (having been up through the various canopy layers on the Sky Tram). The bridges were much wobblier than we were expecting! Again though the views were amazing. 

There were some quite hilly sections so we opted for the shorter walk for Angus and my Mum; Steve and Griff carried on to the waterfalls and hiked the full loop (which only took them about half an hour longer than our shorter one, so still pretty accessible). 

Family of four - one woman, one man and two young boys, hold a sign saying Pura Vida. They are standing in a huge sculpted hand with view behind over Lake Arenal

The whole package cost £300. This was a great option for us with my Mum and the boys so I’ve included it in this family guide to La Fortuna but it was very, very pricey! If you’re not so bothered by the Sky Tram (which was good but not unmissable, given that we got to go up in to the canopy with the ziplining) you could do the cheaper hanging bridge walks at La Mistico.

Arenal Volcano Hike

There are loads of options for hikes around the volcano, of varying length/difficulty. As we were lucky enough to have Granny with us for this leg of the trip we took advantage of this and went for a grown-up hike (ie a bit longer and with less moaning) while the boys hung out with Granny (ie conned her in to  buying stuff from the souvenir shops!).

We opted for the Arenal 1968 hike up to the site of the lava flow from (you’ve guessed it) 1968. There are three hikes within this private reserve and we opted for the longest one, which took us around 2-hours in total. There were some slopes to navigate but overall it wasn’t too taxing (and I think that had we left plenty of time/taken plenty of snacks then the boys could totally have done it without too much difficulty).

Image of Arenal Volcano. The top of the volcano is shrouded in cloud. In the foreground it the canopy of a forest

The views of the volcano were pretty epic, and the geology was really interesting too – it felt like a very different ecosystem to anything else we’d hiked through in Costa Rica. And best of all, the hikes end back at a really lovely little cafe where we stopped for a quick drink at the end (before returning to parenting duties!).

Hot springs at Los Lagos, La Fortuna

La Fortuna is surrounded by natural hot springs due to it’s proximity to Arenal Volcano. These hot springs range from the totally free (down by the riverbank), to fairly cheap hotel day passes to luxury spa stays. We went for somewhere in the middle and paid for day passes to Los Lagos hotel and hot springs, which is just outside La Fortuna. The day pass was US$18 for the adults and US$10 for the kids, which turned out to be pretty good value as the boys LOVED it in the hot springs and could have stayed all day/night! 

These are by no means the most ‘natural’ hot springs you will come across (either in La Fortuna or elsewhere) but they were a lot of fun, especially with kids in tow. The hotel complex has several ‘normal’ (ie not hot!) pools with a couple of great slides, then a big hot spring pool (with swim-up bar and underwater lights in the evening) and a number of smaller pools, ranging from pretty nice privet pod type pools for 2-3 people through to bigger springs that you could swim around in. We stayed well in to the evening and the boys would happily have stayed even longer!

Family guide to La Fortuna – Everything else!

There is so much more you can do in La Fortuna/Arenal if you have the time and money – we fitted this in to our four-night stay and could probably have packed a bit more in if we’d really wanted to. The list of stuff on offer to book at Arenal Xilopalo included horse-riding, chocolate tours, whitewater rafting, tubing, guided hikes, abseiling, various wildlife tours, hanging bridges walks…it really is a fab base for doing so much stuff.

Planning a family trip to Costa Rica?

If this guide to a family stay in La Fortuna has been helpful, check out our other posts on Costa Rica with kids elsewhere on the blog:

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Where to see sloths in Costa Rica (2024)

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