Top 5: Exploring Costa Rica’s Lake Arenal & Volcano

For the second portion of our trip to Costa Rica, we moved inland to the Lake Arenal area. Specifically to the town of La Fortuna. This proved to be a great home base for activities and today I’m going to fill you in on all the best things to do while visiting Alajuela Province.

The Lake Arenal region is about a 2.5-3 hour drive from the Papagayo Peninsula along some of the twistiest roads we’ve ever driven. As you enter the Arenal area, you’ll enjoy some lovely views of farmland, windmills, and the lake.

View along the western side of the lake as we drove.

Lake Arenal Top 5

Arenal Volcano View & Lava Trails

The visitor center at Arenal Volcano View & Lava Trails sits on the lava fields of the 1968 eruption. There are two paths you can walk, either on your own or via a guided tour. The first trail is fairly short. As soon as we got underway, we spied a number of coatis, exotic birds, and plant life.

Once you reach the panorama viewpoint, you can either turn back to the visitor’s center or continue along a much steeper, more rigorous trail that takes you along a lagoon. While we ended up doing both, the first trail should be more than plenty for most visitors! Enjoy a well-earned drink/snack at the visitor center and enjoy the lovely volcano and lake views.

Tabacon Hot Springs

A short distance from the Lava Trails (5-minute drive) is the Tabacon Thermal Resort & Spa. You can consider staying here or make a reservation for a day pass that will let you access the numerous river pools, all heated naturally by the volcano.

Bogarin Trail

You can’t come to Costa Rica and not see sloths, right? Well, the Bogarin Trail is the very best place in this area to view them! In 2000, a local guide volunteered to begin recovering a plot of farmland back to nature. This lush habitat now attracts (naturally and uncaged) a sizeable population of sloths, iguanas, frogs, coati, toucans, etc. What’s more, it’s wheelchair/stroller accessible.

Make reservations for the Bogarin Trail in advance and pay the extra fee to take a guided tour. Because this habitat is thick and lush, sloths (and all the other animals) can be quite difficult to spot. A guide will ensure you see everything and will even help you get close-up views via a scope and assist with photo taking.

We had the unique opportunity to spot this guy in the parking lot as we left. Sloths only come to the ground once every seven days to “do their business”. This was easily the highlight of our time in La Fortuna!

The Town of La Fortuna

The town of La Fortuna is anchored by a well-maintained park and is easily walkable. It has a fantastic, laid-back, bohemian vibe. Be sure to stop and admire the charming Catholic church and wander in and out of the various shops, art galleries, and bars/restaurants. Chocolate Fusion is a can’t-miss for edible souvenirs!

El Salto & Fortuna Waterfall

Slightly south of town, you’ll pass by El Salto, a popular river swimming spot with some small waterfalls and a rope swing. It’s a great place to stop and take an afternoon dip/cool down.

Five to ten minutes from El Salto is the famous La Fortuna waterfall. Easily the most visited waterfall in Costa Rica, it drops nearly 150 feet and sits at the base of another dormant volcano (Chato). Note that returning from the waterfall involves a steep hike up a 500+ step staircase rendering it a poor option for those with mobility issues.

BONUS: Rio Celeste

While we sadly did not have enough time to visit Rio Celeste, we met many people that took day trips there and it’s definitely on my to-do list for a repeat visit! The river is known for its pronounced turquoise color. A hike from the park entrance to the waterfall takes about an hour and there are also several little hot springs in the area. Tour companies can arrange for you to go tubing here.

Rio Celeste


We stayed at the Royal Corin Thermal Water Spa & Resort while in La Fortuna. This property is a short, 5-minute drive from town and offers free parking. They have 2 on-site restaurants and bars as well as multiple hot spring pools and jacuzzis. The spa is one of the best that either of us has visited!

The included buffet breakfast at the Emperador restaurant was extensive and dinner at the Lava restaurant is a must-do experience. The decor gives you the vibe of being in the jungle! Enjoying your meal with the Arenal Volcano looming in the background makes for a perfect, memorable evening.

Lobby Bar
Spring-fed pool & jacuzzi area by night
Rooftop, open-air Lava bar & restaurant

While they were booked on the dates we requested, El Silencio Lodge & Spa, right next door to the Royal Corin, was another property we had considered.

Thanks for stopping by! If you are planning a visit to Costa Rica, be sure to check out our other post covering the Papagayo Peninsula. Until next time…

Lake Arenal is an incredible place to explore, even on a short visit to Costa Rica. Today I'm sharing the Top 5 things to do in this lush region! #costarica #arenal #puravida

Author: Betsy Ramsey

Betsy Ramsey is the author of Natty Gal. Born and raised in Northeast Ohio, she now lives there with her husband and Bichon-Frise, Dolce. A mindful fashion & capsule wardrobe enthusiast, she travels extensively, visiting 56 countries to date. Betsy is committed to helping others live their most fulfilling life!

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