Top Things To Do for Families and Children in La Fortuna and the Arenal Volcano Area
I am the mom of an adventurous five-year-old who’s a bit of a wanderluster and enjoys going on trips with her globetrotting parents. But even at her young age, she claims La Fortuna is her “favorite place in the world!” It might also be her favorite place because that’s where we happen to live and work. However, we know it is a very special place, because it’s a safe destination to visit and it's welcoming to families and children.
In fact, Costa Rica has been named several times as a perfect destination for family vacation packages. I read in a recent U.S. News and World Report article that Costa Rica topped the list for the ‘Best Family Vacations in Central and South America’ because of its wide-array of family-friendly tours, hotels and restaurants. “(In Costa Rica) you can hike active volcanoes, zip-line through cloud-covered rainforests and surf warm turquoise waters within the span of a few days,” the article reported.
Costa Rica has well-adapted to family travel and several hotel properties now offer cabins and rooms with fully-equipped kitchens and connecting rooms. One of the greatest things about going on vacation to Costa Rica is the generally low cost of traveling here. Costa Rica fits all levels of budgets – from backpacker to luxury, there’s something for everyone! And recently they have added many new flights to Costa Rica, so keep an eye out for cheap flights. In addition, traveling in Costa Rica is especially easy for families because it is most English-speaking and you and your family can try your hand at using your Spanish and Ticos are very understanding and helpful.
So, here is the list of things you definitely shouldn’t miss during your family vacation to Costa Rica’s Arenal area:
1. Paddle a jungle river or SUP on Lake Arenal
There is no secret that people come visit the La Fortuna area because it is known as the Epicenter of Adventure and there are lots of fun activities for the whole family! Paddling is a great activity that can be enjoyed by the whole family.
Doing a Safari Float in a raft-style inflatable boat down a quiet, nicely-flowing river covered by rainforest makes the top of the list of things to do with small children. They will be wow’d by hearing the scary-sounding howler monkeys and seeing crocodiles in the river. Have your young kids practice their counting abilities by pointing out the numerous birds you’ll see along the way. This will be an entertaining and educational adventure for your children.
And your teenagers will want to head to the Río Balsa or Río Sarapiqui for exciting whitewater rafting tours. The Arenal Volcano area is lucky to have so many wild rivers, suitable for every level of paddler – The Río Balsa, a class 2-3 river, is recommended for ages 10 and above, and 13 years old and above for the heart-pounding San Miguel Jungle Run section of the class 3-4 Río Sarapiquí.
Another fun water-based activity is Stand Up Paddling on Lake Arenal. If you’ve never tried this sport, there’s nothing more enchanting than standing up on a boar and paddling in the shadow of the Arenal Volcano on the pristine, beautiful Lake Arenal. We provide our Explorer motorized boat in case someone gets tired and wants to ride it out. This is a beautiful experience to get the whole family to work together.
2. “I Spy with My Little Eyes” the Arenal Volcano
You and your kids will love trying to catch a glimpse of the elusive Arenal Volcano. Nearly every time we’re in the car and I see the impressive Arenal Volcano peaking through the clouds, I call out to our daughter “I spy with my little eyes, something that looks like a great big triangle!”
The Arenal Volcano is Costa Rica’s most-iconic volcano with a perfect cone-shape visible from just about anywhere in the area. Don’t be disappointed if it’s clouded over the whole time you’re visiting La Fortuna -- and the clouds roll in and out during the day. Sometimes people leave without even seeing our behemoth, picturesque mountain at all!
There are numerous hiking tours that get close to the base of the Arenal Volcano. The Arenal Volcano National Park hike includes a visit to the section of lava rocks lest over from the major erruption of 1968. The entrance fee to the Arenal Volcano National Park is $10 and a roundtrip taxi ride from the center of La Fortuna is about $40, so you’re actually much better off signing up for a tour. Our nature guides are great at pointing out the fascinating wildlife you can find along the trail and you and your kids will learn interesting facts about volcanoes in general and the vibrant history of the Arenal Volcano.
Do you have kids who are okay with taking a nice, easy-going hike along a rainforest trail filled with colorful, tropical birds and monkeys up in the trees? The El Silencio Nature Reserve is a great place for an informative guided-hike bordering the Arenal Volcano National Park and is looked after by a local family who uses their $10 entrance fee to keep the trails clean and protect the wild animals found there. The area forms an important biological corridor from Arenal to the cloud forests of Monteverde including the Children’s Eternal Rainforest reserve and Arenal National Park Conservation Area.
3. Hanging Bridges way above the tree-top canopy
The Arenal Hanging Bridges is a highlight for kids in the Arenal area. This natural wonderland has a series of solid, well-constructed bridges that connect above deep jungle canyons with almost 2 miles of trails. You’ll get great views of the Arenal Volcano and a waterfall. You’ll enjoy the natural beauty of Costa Rica as you walk the trails on your own, but you’re bound to see more wildlife and thoroughly enjoy the walk if you do a guided hike with one of our nature guides.
4. Just like Tarzan -- Ziplining above the rainforest canopy
It is rumored that the canopy zipline tour was actually invented in Costa Rica, so we like to think of ourselves as the zipline pros! So if you and your family are looking for a little more adventure, from s birds-eye perspective above the tree-top canopy, then ziplining is a must!
Do a Canopy Zipline Tour! Ziplining tours are found in just about every popular destination in Costa Rica, so there are many many to chose from. We at Desafío Adventure Company have done our homework and have tested multiple ziplines and can recommend our favorites for you and your family.
Most canopy zipline tours are suitable for all ages. The ziplines in the La Fortuna area will give you great views of the Arenal Volcano and Lake Arenal. Ziplining is definitely one of the most-interesting things to do in La Fortuna with your family.
5. Go chasing waterfalls
If you don’t visit the La Fortuna Waterfall, you haven’t been to Arenal! This 200-ft waterfall is impressive and the entrance fee ($10) goes to support local infrastructure projects and community activities. The path down is newly-built with easily-accessible steps, suspension bridges and platforms to get great photo ops of the waterfall. There is a nice, little restaurant that sells lunches, ice cream, drinks and snacks at the top with nice restrooms.
Once you make it to the bottom of the trail to the waterfall, there is an area for swimming to the left-hand side of the waterfall (due to strong undertows, it is not permitted to get close to the cascading waters). There are a couple hundred stairs leading back up to the top, so you’ll want to take your time, especially if you have small children. We also offer a horseback riding tour to the La Fortuna waterfall with a visit to an indigenous Maleku village. This is one of the many unique things to do in La Fortuna!
Waterfall Rappeling, canyoning or also known as canyoneering is one of the most adventurous La Fortuna activities for teenagers. You can rappel down a series of waterfalls and hike along a deep jungle canyon in our exclusive Lost Canyon. Your guides give thorough safety talks on how to descend the waterfalls and use your equipment. This is recommended for ages 13 and up. For teenagers and older, you may want to opt for a new-style of canyoning that is now considered Costa Rica’s Most-Extreme Tour: Gravity Falls Waterfall Jumping! And you do just that… jump from waterfalls into deep crystalline pools in nature’s playground!
6. Venado Caves are located about 45 minutes from La Fortuna in the small, typical Tico town of Guatuso. If you’ve ever wanted to do some spelunking, you will love the Venado Caves. You will be able to explore the caves and check out the special cave-dwellers such as bats, spiders, frogs, and bugs that live inside. You will get wet and dirty on this tour as your crawl around the caves.
7. Visit the El Bosque Campesino Farm with your kids for an interactive look at rural Costa Rican country life. You can help out with the care and feeding of the farm animals and learn about sugar cane production. This tour is educational and your family will learn all about the importance of taking care of our natural resources and can see how people can take advantage of nature without compromising future generations. There is a delicious lunch provided here too – you’ll be amazed how your kids will try new and different foods like handmade tortillas, fresh natural local vegetables, locally-sourced meats and of course our famous, rice and beans. Fried plantains are always a hit with kids, plus they can’t get enough of the fresh fruit such as pineapple, watermelon and papaya. This is really a great place for kids of all ages.
8. Ecocentro Danaus is a biological reserve near La Fortuna. This is one of the best ways to see wildlife in this area. You might see the two or three toed sloths, red eyed frogs, Jesus Christ lizards and alligators. There are lots of colorful birds to see here too. There is a butterfly farm where the kids can learn about their life cycle. One of the best things to do in La Fortuna with toddlers and children of all ages.
9. Arenal Natura is one of my 5-year-old’s all-time favorite places in La Fortuna. She always talks about how her nature guide Ana took her to see the blue jeans poisonous frog and big crocodiles. The marvels of nature come alive in this well-maintained private reserve area with nice trails, gardens and aquariums to get up close and personal with amphibian life of the Arenal Area.
10. Shopping Shopping Shopping
People save up their money to come to La Fortuna to go souvenir shopping and enjoy a meal at a truly local “soda.” There are tons of little restaurants, coffee shops, ice cream parlors and more! The bakery sells delicious, fresh-baked goods. The La Fortuna Central Park is a landmark in Costa Rica with its picture-perfect church the lines up perfectly in front of the Arenal Volcano. It’s fun to stroll through the center of the park. There are benches, flowers and paths.
10. Hotsprings and water parks
Your teenage daughters will love a visit to one of the local spas in town. There are several to choose from and they are quite cheap. You can get massages, pedicures, manicures, facials and even volcanic mud wraps! And you’ll love all of the hot springs facilities in town and you’ll find it hard to drag your kids out of the water once they’re in. Even many of the hotels now have their own hot springs pools onsite. We like Volcano Lodge. And Paradise Hot Springs offers many different pool options and delicious food.
11. Enjoy a boat ride with the kids at the Caño Negro Wildlife Reserve. You will have a great time spotting the sloths, monkeys, toucans, iguanas and more! This relaxing boat ride is a great way to see the wildlife. Stop at Las Iguanas restaurant on the way and see the hundreds of iguanas hanging out on the tree.
12. Pedal Power
The new thing in family vacations is trying new mountain trails all over the world and Costa Rica is a great place to explore on two wheels! We have top of the line name-brand suspension bikes like Trek and Cannondale and even have small-enpiugh bikes to fit five-year-olds who are ready to brave the windy, rural roads around the Arenal Volcano area – a far cry from the hustle and bustle of what most city folk are used to. We recommend the moderate Volcano and Lake Trail for most families for great riding and wildlife viewing.
There are literally hundreds of more tours that families can enjoy together during their vacations in Costa Rica. Choosing what to do depends on the age of the children, the interests of the parents and level of adventure. There is so much fun to be had for families in Costa Rica!
By: Christine Krishnan, Desafio Community Collaborator
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