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Costa Rica – from La Fortuna via the cloud forests to San Jose

Aussicht im The PAD Buen Camino
In “The PAD Buen Camino” we enjoyed the beautiful view.

We also came to Costa Rica on our 6 month trip. We also visited La Fortuna and the Arenal volcano, the cloud forests of Santa Elena and Monteverde and the San Mateo area - surprises included.

The town of La Fortuna has occupied an important place in our memories. When we were in the city under the volcano on our first trip, the Arenal was still extremely active. At night you could see the lava flows glowing and there was always a loud rumbling sound across the landscape. It was very impressive but a little scary. Since its last major eruption in 2010, the Arenal has been sleeping - although it is still considered active, it no longer spews lava and is silent. As soon as we entered La Fortuna we realized that a lot has changed here too.

The Arenal Volcano is very impressive even without lava flows.

The sleepy little town has become a well-developed and lively tourist town. Traffic has increased significantly and the number of restaurants, shops, hotels and tour operators has exploded. Fortunately, La Fortuna still has charm and the economic development also has its positive sides, for example the city park “Parque de la Fortuna”, which was already somewhat outdated at the time, has been renovated. And the selection of good (and not so good) restaurants is impressive.

The city park “Parque de la Fortuna” has been transformed into a well-kept oasis.

We checked in for four nights in the small bungalow complex Confort Arenal about ten kilometers from La Fortuna. We were lucky here because our standard room with breakfast was upgraded to a larger superior room with a volcano view at no extra charge. From the pool you also have a great view of the Arenal and there is a grill near the pool that guests can use. Cool thing.

On the way to breakfast we had to cross a suspension bridge at the Confort Arenal.

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Excursions we took in and around La Fortuna:

The possibilities to pass the time around El Arenal are incredibly diverse: rafting, waterfalls, ziplines, numerous hot springs, hiking trails, guided animal and nature observations, tours through the national park and, last but not least, the somewhat unusual “rollcano” - here you roll down part of the volcano in an inflated zorbing ball. Not for us! We have decided on the following relatively inexpensive activities:

  • City walk through La Fortuna: The small town of La Fortuna on the edge of the active Arenal volcano in Costa Rica almost showers you with impressions. There are countless shops, restaurants and a small city park worth seeing. The advantage: A walk is free and keeps you fit.

  • Sloth tour followed by a tortilla workshop: We decided on the sloth tour at “Hikes and Trails la Fortuna”. There are only two tours a day offered here and the trail is not overcrowded. Nature is still the focus here, and the animals can come and go as they please. For this reason, sometimes there are 15 sloths on site, sometimes just one. Our guide was very professional, spoke good English and also showed us several other animals, such as the extraordinary blue jeans frog. A highlight was the subsequent tortilla workshop followed by a tasting. In Costa Rica they say: Once the children can make tortillas themselves, they can leave home. Good to know!

We were also able to taste sugarcane juice at the tortilla workshop. Tastes great!

  • An evening in one of the numerous hot springs: After the Arenal volcano is no longer as active as it used to be and has been largely quiet since 2010, there were fears that many tourists would stay away in La Fortuna. With the hot springs, they were betting on a different horse and doing so extensively. There are now probably ten different thermal baths in all price ranges between Fortuna and the El Arenal dam. Since we weren't sure whether we could even stand the tropical temperatures in a thermal bath, we opted for by far the cheapest option and were more than pleasantly surprised. The Relax Termalitas costs around $9 per person and is one of the smaller facilities. We spent one of the most beautiful evenings of our trip so far there. The pools, which have different temperatures, are located in a beautiful garden and are connected to each other by narrow paths lined with dense greenery. We fully recommend visiting the Relax Termalitas - ideally from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., because when it's dark it becomes even quieter and more beautiful there. You can get an idea of ​​the Relax Termalitas in this Instagram video. Click here to go to the Relax Termalitas booking page Advertising: Affiliate link to Booking.

  • Hanging Bridge Garden: On our last day in La Fortuna we visited the “Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges” garden again after 16 years. It takes around 20 minutes to drive here from La Fortuna, but you can easily miss the driveway because it is located directly after crossing the reservoir wall. This park has also been expanded since our first visit. It has lost none of its attractiveness, on the contrary. If you would like to find out more about the park in the jungle and its animals, it is best to book a guided tour. We hiked through on our own and survived all six suspension bridges well - albeit with butterflies in our stomachs. The suspension bridges are a challenge, especially for people who are afraid of heights. Walking time through the entire park: around 2 hours.

For the hanging bridge garden you need fairly good nerves and a strong stomach.


Eating out in La Fortuna

If you travel a lot, you also have to eat regularly. Anyone who is traveling for as long as us (6 months) also has to keep an eye on the money. We agreed to cook ourselves as often as possible and sometimes just eat cold. However, in some accommodations we do not have a kitchen or cooking utensils. Then it's time to go out to eat! In La Fortuna there is a large selection of restaurants, snack bars and grocery stores, so if you have a little money to spare you will definitely never have to go hungry here. We ate in La Fortuna four times. Only one restaurant didn't satisfy us.


  • Lava Lounge: We still remembered the Lava Lounge. We ate here 16 years ago. We're still raving about the tuna burger, one of the best burgers we've ever had. On our first day, we visited this restaurant in the city of La Fortuna again. The prices for many dishes are the same as for us in Austria. Some dishes are noticeably more expensive. It is advisable to order typical Costa Rican food here - it is comparatively cheap and more than sufficient. The Lava Lounge menu offers a good selection and we all really enjoyed the food. You can go here.

Our tip: If you want to eat reasonably cheaply in Costa Rica, you should look out for the so-called sodas. Sodas are the places where the locals also go to eat. Here you can get almost exclusively local dishes such as casasdo (meat with rice, beans, plantains and salad), tortillas, quesiladas but also burgers and chicken fingers. If you're not picky, you'll definitely find what you're looking for here. However, you should definitely ask about payment methods before ordering, because not every soda accepts credit cards (dollars, however, are accepted almost everywhere). We went to three different sodas in La Fortuna, one of which didn't live up to its name.


  • Soda La Palma: The Soda La Palma is located around 10 kilometers after La Fortuna in the direction of the Arenal dam. We were lucky because it was right opposite our hotel (Confort Arenal). The open roadside restaurant is open daily from 6:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and is particularly busy at lunchtime. You have to expect longer waiting times, but it's worth it. The price-performance ratio is excellent here, and behind the restaurant there is a small, very well-maintained garden that you can take a look at. By the way, there is an ice cream shop next to Soda LA Palma. Highly recommended.

At Soda La Palma the garden and the food are great.

  • Soda & Restaurante Rodríguez: We went to this soda on the edge of the center because of the mostly good internet reviews. It would be better if we hadn't done that. The place itself is great. Small wooden plaques with sayings and messages from guests from all over the world hang everywhere and the soda is very winding. The waiter was also very nice and tried hard, but that was all there was to say positively. The restaurant doesn't seem too clean, there is no menu and the dishes are overpriced and not particularly tasty. The highlight was the plainly served cheese quesadilla for $6. No recommendation!

There is no good review for this quesadilla at $6.

  •  Soda El Turnito: Our third soda was another stroke of luck. Just a few minutes by car after leaving town on the left, Soda El Tournito is located in the middle of the “bacon belt” of La Fortuna. With country music playing quite loudly, we enjoyed impeccable Costa Rican dishes at fair prices. You should eat here.


Continue into the cloud forest

Our drive from La Fortuna to Santa Elena took a little over two hours. There are two magical cloud forests in Costa Rica: Monteverde and the Santa Elena Reserve. These two areas are virtually next to each other inland. Located almost 180 km northwest of the capital San José, the biodiversity there is particularly high due to the different altitudes. Here too, the tourist infrastructure is very well developed and there are many accommodations, restaurants and tour providers.

We had to experience a surprise and an unforgettable willingness to help and accommodate. When we arrived at our accommodation booked through booking, we found the doors locked. A big problem without cell phone and internet reception. We had to rely on the help of other accommodations.


Great willingness to help: Our tips for Santa Elena

Monkey Hostel Santa Elena: The charming receptionist helped us here. She let us use the WiFi for free and even called our booked accommodation. Here we had to realize that the mistake was on our side. Max had simply booked the accommodation for the wrong month (May instead of March)

Monkey Hostel
The Monkey Hostel in Santa Elena was very helpful!

Cassidini House: Jenny, the friendly owner of our incorrectly booked accommodation, was very understanding. She was willing to help us and let us cancel the accommodation free of charge. Thank you very much for that, we would have loved to try the well-rated breakfast at Cassidini House.

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Los Pinos Cabins & Reserve: This hotel was also very helpful. Looking for new accommodation, we also asked in the very beautiful Los Pinos Cabins and Reserve. Unfortunately there were no more free rooms there like in most accommodations in Santa Elena. The receptionist let us use the WiFi there too and called more hotels until she finally found an affordable room for us.

Hotel Montaña Monteverde: We finally got a room in this hotel for one night. The Montana Monteverde is located opposite Los Pinos and is beautifully situated on a hillside with great views of the cloud forest. We also had a great view from our spacious room and there is a private circular path with a pond on the hotel grounds where, if you are lucky, you can watch sloths. You can register for the a la carte dinner in the hotel restaurant until 5 p.m. (pizza with too much cheese!) and a small breakfast buffet is included in the morning. The hotel is likely to be very popular with US retirees and bird watchers - very pleasant and quiet guests. We felt very comfortable here. The night here cost 137 euros including breakfast for the four of us.

We felt very comfortable at the Hotel Montana: food good, drinks good, nature beautiful!


San Mateo: More than a stopover

Although we originally wanted to stay in Santa Elena for three nights, we decided to continue after one night. We wanted to spend the freed up two nights closer to San Jose and found “The PAD Buen Camino” an attractive bungalow complex in San Mateo. The journey from Santa Elena took us over the mountain roads of Costa Rica and part of the Pan Americana - one of the most famous roads in the world. Our low-horsepower Hyundai had to put in a lot of effort, especially the last 700 meters before the accommodation was more reminiscent of a mountain bike route than a car road. No wonder, as the PAD Buen Camino is located in an MTB park and is designed for sporty cyclists.

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After the adventurous journey, we moved into a very nice bungalow without air conditioning (the nights were very hot, however). Unfortunately, there was no cooking facility in the otherwise very attractive house (although a kitchen was listed on and we had to improvise and prepare our pasta in the kettle. There is a point deduction for this, otherwise the PAD Buen Camino is a hotel exactly according to our expectations. There are two pools and a baby pool, a hotel restaurant with a bar and daily happy hour, a great campfire area and a great viewing terrace. What more do you want.

At The PAD Buen Camino you can relax very well, just...

...we had to improvise when cooking because...

... we had expected a cooking option - there were noodles from the kettle.


One night near the airport

We actually wanted to spend our last night in Costa Rica at the La Guaria Inn & Suites, a very attractive hotel with a pool, breakfast buffet and free airport transfer. However, since our onward flight to Panama City leaves at 5:30 in the morning, we rescheduled at short notice and made use of our cancellation right. We chose an apartment very close to San Jose International Airport. Firstly, we were able to make up for the extra expenses from Santa Elena and San Mateo in the inexpensive KUBO apartment in Alajuela and secondly, the small apartment had a washing machine and a dryer. Very spacious and well equipped, absolutely recommended and great price.

Yes, mundane things like washing clothes become a very important topic when traveling - who wants to travel the world dirty and smelly?

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Costa Rica's wildlife delights anyone interested in animals and photography.



Our second Costa Rica trip was again a complete success. If you can put it that way. Even though the small Latin American country has experienced a lot of tourism since our first visit 16 years ago and the prices have increased even further (but where haven't they), Costa Rica is still a great holiday or travel destination. Regardless of whether you book a package tour and travel with a bus group, or travel individually like we did, you are always safe here. There is a huge selection of sights and correspondingly many accommodations for large and small budgets. Costa Rica is certainly one of the pioneers of ecotourism, but must be careful not to open the door to overtourism. Costa Rica is a country for people who want more than just a vacation. It is an experience for explorers and those who want to become explorers. Gladly again!

We would also be happy if you follow us on Facebook or Instagram,

Best regards,

Steffi, Max and the kids

More shopping tips for your Costa Rica trip:


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All of our trips and excursions are self-paid - we do not give paid recommendations! Exception: affiliate links. Most of the links in our blog are affiliate links, i.e. advertising. We are trying to recoup some of the costs of our blog and ask for your understanding.

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