Arenal

View of Volcán Arenal from Místico Hanging Bridges Park

Arenal & La Fortuna: Parque Nacional Volcán Arenal, Místico Arenal Hanging Bridges, Mirador el Silencio, Free Natural Hot Springs, Catarata Río Fortuna, Sloth’s Territory, El Salto Rope Swing, Massage at Spa Bamboo
There is so much to do around here! Just to clarify, La Fortuna is the town, and Arenal is the volcano nearby. It used to be a popular destination because it was one of few places where you would be able to see volcanic activity on a regular basis; however, Arenal stopped erupting in 2010. This has surprisingly not taken too much of a toll on the tourism though, as there are numerous hot springs/spas, hiking trails, canyoning and adventure tours, and restaurants! Speaking of, be SURE to go to Chocolate Fusión by Parque Central- they have the best chocolates (so many options) and delicious ice cream!

Parque Nacional Volcán Arenal- Peninsula Sector
With your admission ticket, you can visit both the Visitor Center (very popular) and also the Peninsula Sector. We went to the Peninsula Sector first, shortly after they opened at 8am, and we walked down to the Tower and Mirador Lake Arenal. We only saw two other families there! On the way out, we had planned to stop at the Visitor Center and just drive to the mirador there/not do any hiking, but the line was insanely long… so we skipped it. To get to the Peninsula Sector you’ll actually pass the Visitor Center and take the next right (~100m past the Visitor Center) and follow that very rocky, bumpy road for 2km until you reach their ranger station. There are only 4 parking spaces, but you can park on the side of the road as well. It’s a short trail to the tower and to the lake (less than a mile) and it is entirely paved.
More info on both areas of the park here (courtesy of TwoWeeksInCostaRica)
Price: Adults $15, Children ages 6-12 $5
🚼 Stroller friendly, the entire way! I couldn’t believe it.

Místico Arenal Hanging Bridges
This was a fun afternoon excursion for us- it took about 2.5 hours (just as their website suggests) and we took our time enjoying the bridges and the sounds of nature. We even got to see some more birds, a snake, and a huge group of monkeys traversing the trees! We did the self-guided tour, which was just fine for us. I know we missed a lot of info an opportunity to see other birds/animals, but we had done the Sloth tour in the morning and were “guided-out.”
Note: You must wear closed shoes
More info on their site, here
Price: Adults $26, Children ages 11-18 $16, Children 10 & under are free, Seniors 65+ $21, advance ticket and time slot required
🚼The trail mostly had pavers, but there were a handful of sections that had steps/uneven ground. They rent Thule strollers (with big tires) at the check-in area, but I would not use a stroller here! I’d also be very hesitant to take small children.

Mirador el Silencio
I came across this on AllTrails, and I’m so glad we did this hike! It’s a hidden gem in the area- we ran into 1 other family in our 1.5 hours there! There’s a map at the entrance station with paper maps for you too, and the trails are all well-marked. AllTrails shows this as one loop, but there are several trails that you can explore within that loop too, and you can also just drive up to the Lava Fields if you’re unable to hike or don’t have time. Until you get to the “end” or mid loop, the trails are all in the forest so you’re completely covered with shade! The Lava Fields are a quick walk from the parking lot, but there are several big, natural steps to get to the top.
Price: 5,000 CRC, cash only
🚼 The trails are not stroller friendly, and there are some pretty big steps throughout the trails, so it’s not the best trail for kids, but I wouldn’t say it’s impossible. It would definitely be better with older kids.

Walking along the Lava Fields

Free Natural Hot Springs
We ended up skipping this because it was always a sh*t-show when we drove past. It’s located near the Tabacon Resort, but basically you park on the street (there are parking attendants who you’ll pay) and follow the herd of people down to the springs. I think it’s always so busy because it’s one of the last free activities in the area (besides El Salto rope swing). More detailed info here

Catarata Río Fortuna
We decided to plan our visit early in the morning and I’m glad we did- we didn’t have any issues parking (their lot was overflowing when we were leaving, even with the attendant helping!), and we also didn’t have a ton of people at the waterfall at the same time as us. Win-win. You’re able to swim at the bottom, to the left of the falls (don’t be confused by their website’s gallery… it shows people swimming at the base of the falls, but that’s not where the sandy area is!) but just note that the water is quite cold refreshing. Also, don’t be discouraged by the 500+ steps back up- if Mila can do them ALL at 1.5yo with her little legs, you can too!
More info on their website
Price: $18 for everyone 9 and up, Children 8 and under are free; advance tickets highly recommended (you select the day, but you don’t have to choose a time)
🚼 Their website says that children under 4 should use a baby carrier. We brought our pack, but didn’t use it at all and no one yelled at us, so I’m not sure if that’s a suggestion or if they enforce it sometimes.

Sloth’s Territory
There are a few options here- we did Sloth’s Territory and had a great time. We saw several birds and 6 sloths, 2 with babies! I’ve also heard good things about the Bogarin Trail and the Sloth Watching Trail (we didn’t go to these, and I am pretty sure they are two separate companies even though their locations are very close to each other). Based on a recommendation, we chose Sloth’s Territory for their 1.5-2 hour Diurnal Observation Tour
Price: Adults 13+ $28, Children 6-12 $17, Children 5 & under are free; message them on WhatsApp to schedule a tour
🚼 Not stroller friendly. I had Mila in her pack and she walked for some of it too

El Salto Rope Swing
I wanted to do this one, but we honestly just ran out of time! I was also a little intimidated by the parking situation and didn’t want to park somewhere else and walk there. It’s the other of the two free activities in the area (along with the Free Natural Hot Springs, above). The rope swing is near town on the road leading out to the south. More detailed info here.

Massage at Bamboo Spa
Adam’s mom and I went here for a full body massage + facial and it was FANTASTIC! It was a mix between relaxing and deep tissue, with hot stone treatments from head to toe. Usually I hate relaxing massages because they never work out the knots in my back, but she focused on my problem areas without me even saying a word. Plus, the setting is so relaxing- an open air studio surrounded by a beautiful garden.
Here’s their website. We just stopped in to make an appointment for the next day! Plus, it’s located in town so you don’t have to drive 20 minutes to one of the resorts and deal with all of that!

Other Notable Activities
-Hike the 1968 trail
-Canyoning (rappelling down waterfalls!)
-Zipline Tours
-White Water Rafting
-“Safari” River Floats (Rio Frio or Penas Blancas)
-Horseback Riding
-Venado Caves

Where we stayed
The first time we went, it was just Adam and I (in spring of 2014) and we stayed at Volcano Lodge per a recommendation from Adam’s cousin. It was a wonderful hotel- the grounds, hot springs, and views of the volcano were amazing!
When we went back in December 2021, Adam’s parents had come down to visit us, so we found an Airbnb that would accommodate the 5 of us (with a pool for Mila, of course).

View from our Airbnb

Adam at La Paz Waterfall Gardens

Poas Volcano and the La Paz Waterfall Gardens
We stopped at Poas for a quick hike on the drive up from San Jose to Arenal. We also took the trail to the mirador at Laguna Botos which was pretty!
Rates 2021 (tourist/visitor): $15 USD pp, children 2-12 are $5; parking ranges from 1000 CRC to 4000 CRC (cars are 2000)

The waterfall gardens are just off of the road, so it wasn’t even a detour! This is almost like a mini zoo, with an aviary, hummingbirds, butterflies, monkeys, sloths, jungle cats, and more.
Rates 2021 (tourist/visitor): $48 USD pp, children 3-12 are $32


Sky Walk Hanging Bridges, Monteverde

Monteverde & Santa Elena
We stopped in Monteverde to visit the Cloud Forest Biological Reserve before heading to Santa Elena for a couple of days. At the time we visited (in 2014) there wasn’t much else to do in Monteverde.
Santa Elena was a fun little mountain town! It was a little difficult to access with our rental car as the road into town is gravel with huge rocks and potholes to avoid, but we were young and optimistic (we had a Toyota Yaris… if we return I would opt for a 4×4). The main area is the triangle, so a lot of directions will reference that, and there are a bunch of restaurants and cafes here (be sure to check out the Tree House Restaurante!) From here we did a zipline tour… the longest zipline in Costa Rica! and we also did a hanging bridges tour.
Where we stayed
We stayed just off of the triangle at Cabinas el Pueblo. We had tours booked every day, so it was really just a place to sleep, but it was comfortable!


Rio Celeste
Full disclosure- we were on the fence about going here because it was a 2 hour drive, and we didn’t want to do it with Mila (she was teething and very crabby). BUT, we also didn’t want to have to leave someone behind with her… so we all ended up going and it was definitely worth it! It’s an out and back trail, and took us 3 hours to see everything. MyTanFeet has an excellent and detailed post about visiting Rio Celeste here, so I’ll just touch on the other important parts! We went early on a Friday (no rain, and with the bumpy roads it took us about 1hr 45min from La Fortuna)- we arrived right when they opened at 8am, and the line to get in was getting long when we were leaving around 11:30. They limit the number of entries each day, so it’s best to get there early as it’s first come, first served- you cannot purchase advance tickets. Put Soda El Pilón into Waze (it’s one of the restaurants at the main entrance, but putting in Rio Celeste will likely take you to the wrong location) and don’t mind all the signs along the way for Tenorio National Park… I think we turned at the third one. You can bring water and snacks into the park, but you cannot bring single use plastics. This includes your snacks, for example: granola bars can be in a Ziploc baggie, but you have to take them out of their wrapper. There are people checking bags at the entrance before you purchase your tickets. Bring 2000 CRC cash to park, and bring a Visa/Mastercard to pay your entrance fee (Price: Adults $12, Children ages 2-12 $5, Children under 2 are free)– no cash is accepted! There are bathrooms at the entrance after you pay, but no facilities after that point. The map lays everything out very clearly, and I recommend going all the way to the end (to Teñideros) first and stopping at the waterfall last.

Map of Rio Celeste/ Parque Nacional Volcán Tenorio


So, you’ll head down the trail past the Entrada a Catarata (waterfall entrance) with your first stop being the Mirador, second is the Laguna Azul (Blue Lagoon), third are the Borbollones (where the water naturally bubbles), fourth is the Teñidores (where the two rivers meet, so cool!). Then head back the same way you came in and go to the spectacular waterfall!

It’s just too beautiful to not share another photo!

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