On a clear day, clients staying in La Fortuna can catch a view of Arenal Volcano. // © 2016 iStock
Feature image (above): With all the hot springs in the area, guests won’t miss the beach. // © 2016 Kalambu Hot Springs Water Park
Heading to a part of Costa Rica without beaches may seem like a bad move for families. But at La Fortuna in Costa Rica’s Arenal region, families won’t miss the sea. This lush, green terrain in the northern part of the country is home to Arenal Volcano, ziplining, horseback riding, rappelling and many other activities. Plus, the area’s slightly cooler climate and five-star luxury hotels make for a comfortable experience for even the most adventurous of families.
La Fortuna, located in the Alajuela province, is home to only about 1,300 full-time residents (according to the 2011 census), but the actual number of people in town fluctuates drastically as travelers move in and out. The temperature stays around 80 degrees Fahrenheit, though the humidity can make it feel warmer. The town is well-known for its natural hot springs, and many resorts include these healing waters in their pools and spas.
Arenal Kioro Suites and Spa, for example, features a series of hot tubs that allow the hottest water to fill in at the top and trickle down, slowly cooling as it moves through the lower pools. This is the closest hotel to the base of the volcano, which means that folks staying in family suites, which can easily accommodate up to five people, are treated to unobstructed views. The Springs, a luxury property in the hills outside of La Fortuna, offers a hot-springs day pass for those looking for special water without the hefty price tag. Families traveling on a budget can still find comfort and a friendly staff at Hotel Kokoro Arenal.
Over the years, Costa Rica has become known for ziplining courses that bring riders through the rainforest and offer picturesque mountain views. Sky Trek by Costa Rica Sky Adventures has an excellent record, which is good for families concerned with safety. Attentive guides understand people can get scared while ziplining, and Sky Trek offers views of Arenal Lake that travelers won’t see elsewhere.
When families need to unwind after their adventure, they can head back to La Fortuna’s Kalambu Hot Springs Water Park. Parents can enjoy the steamy waters while kids have fun zooming down a waterslide. If families need a bit more adventure, Pure Trek Canyoning offers waterfall rappelling along with white-water river rafting, while La Roca Canyoneering Adventure offers multiple ways to explore canyons, including Tarzan swings and free-rope descents.
Families looking for a slower-paced adventure can saddle up with Alberto’s Horse for a horseback ride to La Fortuna Waterfall. Guides allow riders to take the trail at their own pace, even letting experienced riders trot and gallop in some spots. Tours are small, making it easy for a family to have a guide all to themselves. Critter lovers will want to take a night walk with Arenal Oasis Wildlife Refuge, where they can see red-eyed tree frogs, luminescent mushrooms, snakes, centipedes, spiders and other creatures that only come out at night. This is also a great way for families to learn the history of the area and its native people.
The town of La Fortuna is filled with tourist shops selling wood carvings, sarongs, sloth stuffed animals and paintings. Tourist bars are prevalent — many of them with kitschy names and decor — but the town doesn’t get too rowdy at night.
When searching for dining options, families should start at the main square in town, as well as at nearby resorts, as these tend to house some of the best restaurants. Don’t ignore the side streets, though. Plenty of sodas, little mom-and-pop shops that dish up home-cooked food, are set up there. Families can enjoy local Costa Rican cuisine at Soda Viquez and Soda La Hormiga; coffee at My Coffee Lounge; fresh seafood at Marisqueria Snapper’s House; and some of the best steaks in town at El Gran Abuelo Parrillada y Restaurante. Picky eaters can also find pizza, pasta, sushi, burgers, chicken wings and other American fare around the area.
La Fortuna is the best place for families to stay while exploring the Arenal region of Costa Rica. Families can spend three to four days here before heading to the coast or back to San Juan to fly home.
Though Costa Rica’s beaches are a big draw, La Fortuna’s adventure experiences might just create a more memorable vacation.