La Fortuna Costa Rica on a Budget

Updated: Jul 2

When traveling to Costa Rica, I am glad that I had many people recommend that I go to La Fortuna, Costa Rica. The small town of La Fortuna is known for the Arenal Volcano National Park, hot springs, and waterfalls. (Unfortunately, we did not get to see a waterfall because our trip was so short, but I heard that they are beautiful in La Fortuna!)

My roommate and I flew from Charlotte, NC to San Jose, Costa Rica (which just so happens to be the capital). We spent a low-key night in the Costa Rica Backpackers Hostel for $11 before heading off to La Fortuna the next morning.

Pro Tip: Before leaving the airport, get a sim card for your phone & go to the money exchange station to exchange your money for Colones. We didn't realize that many of the taxi drivers and bus drivers didn't take a debit card. This left us scrambling. Luckily, a nice woman paid for our bus fare because she could tell that we were just a couple of dumb gringas. Haha.

In this blog, I will go over:

Related: Monteverde Costa Rica in a Day

*Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links that at no additional cost to you, and I may earn a small commission. I only recommend products and services that I love and use myself!

La Fortuna/Arenal Costa Rica Cost: What We Paid

Before diving into the specifics of the trip, here is a cost breakdown of our 2-day stay in La Fortuna.

  • Hostel: $11 per night

  • Car: $218 (not including gas)

  • Food: $5.65 per meal

  • Beer: $2.26 per Cerveza

  • Arenal Volcano National Park: $15/person

  • Hot Springs: FREE

  • Kayaking: $7

How to Get to La Fortuna

La Fortuna is about 3. 5 hours northwest of San Jose. You have a few options to get to the Arenal area including:

  • Bus

  • Shuttle

  • Rental Car

We ended up renting a car through Economy-Rent-a-Car (which was our biggest expense). As a warning, the rental car company will ask for a $500+ deposit plus the rental expense upfront. Be sure that you have some cushion in your bank account before renting a car.

What's it Like Driving in Costa Rica?

We were initially nervous driving in Costa Rica, but it was just like the States. The only difference is that you need to watch out for the massive potholes and bikers. They tend to swerve in and out of traffic a lot.

We are glad that we ended up renting a car because we learned of the difficulties that many travelers had of getting around La Fortuna once they were there. With the car, we were able to come and go on our own terms without having to wait to be picked up by public transit.

Where to Stay in La Fortuna for Cheap

We stayed at the La Choza Inn Hostel for $11 per night in an all-girls dorm. (It cost a little more to stay in an all-girls dorm. I think it cost $8 per night to stay in the co-ed dorm.)

This hostel stay included an authentic Costa Rican breakfast of Casado every morning. This hearty breakfast consists of rice, beans, fried plantain, and seasonal fruit.

If you wanted to go to town to pick up groceries for lunch and dinner, there was a small kitchen where you could cook your meals.

Oh, there is also free parking on site which is nice! We never had trouble finding a spot to park our car.

I love to use Hostelworld to book all of my hostel stays! I have found some of the best stays by using the platform (and best deals!)

What to Do in La Fortuna on a Budget

Our hostel clerk, Rommel, was extremely helpful in giving us free/cheap recommendations in the area. So, I cannot take credit for all the wonderful places he told us about! But, here are some of the recommendations he had.

Free Hot Springs in La Fortuna

The first place Rommel told us about was the free hot springs spot that is located right in front of the Tabacon Resort. You will see a bunch of cars parked alongside the side of the road, and you will parallel park with the rest of the cars.

You will be approached by men in orange vests that will ask you for about 2000 Colones in exchange that they will watch your car. They are very nice and will not do anything sketchy with your car. A lot of them were put out of work because of COVID and are just trying to meet ends meet. (2000 Colones = $3.23 USD)

The hot springs is a great place to relax and swim without having to pay an entrance fee. There are many resorts that you can pay to swim at for a fee, but this hot springs is free of charge.

Warning: Be careful at the hot springs during heavy rainstorms. The weather fluctuates quickly in La Fortuna, and flash floods can happen in a matter of seconds. When it starts to rain, leave before it gets worse. The trail steps became a waterfall when raining. Don't take your chances.

Arenal Volcano National Park

There are many tours you can take in the Arenal area, but you don't need a tour guide to explore the area.

We paid $15 each to hike around the Arenal Volcano and Peninsula trail. I don't believe there is a bus to these particular trails, so you will need to have a rental car to get there. (But, you can take public transit to other parts of the park to hike!)

The Peninsula trail was my personal favorite because it had a tower that had picturesque views of the Arenal Lake and Volcano from up above. Here is a picture of the views from the tower.

Kayaking in El Castillo

Another memorable part of our trip was when we got to kayak around the Arenal Lake.

There is a small town called El Castillo about 35 minutes away from La Fortuna, and the locals tend to hang around the water's edge right across the street from a blue store. (Those are the exact directions. Many places in Costa Rica don't have road signs, so directions are all based on the landscape.)

We went down to the water where a local woman had kayaks to rent at her tent. We ended up paying 5000 Colones or about $7 USD to paddle around the lake for an hour. It was absolutely stunning and a great way to see the volcano from a different perspective.

Where to Eat on a Budget in La Fortuna

Lastly, where can you eat in La Fortuna on a budget?

Many of the cheaper, local options will be called a Soda. Sodas are a great place to go if you are looking to eat authentic Costa Rica food while staying on a budget. We generally spent around $5 for meals or $2.26 for beers. Coming from the States, this was very affordable!

Ready to Plan Your Trip to Costa Rica?

Costa Rica was full of greenery, animals, and adventure. The locals are extremely friendly, and we were happy to have gotten to take part in a culture that was different than our own.

Costa Rica is a place that welcomes travelers with open arms no matter your budget. So, what are you waiting for? You better get started planning your backpacking trip to Costa Rica!


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